Photography: Marie Harkness
Wok into Ian Wong’s restaurant and you won’t want to Wok out.
Because if his food doesn’t leave you tongue Thai’d, we don’t know what will.
The owner of Asiana Fusion, in Sunderland, is a legend within the city – always leaving his customers wonton more of his pan-Asian dishes.
He’s travelled to far-flung corners of the globe, including Malaysia, Hong Kong, Thailand and Singapore, and blends together the flavours and cooking techniques in all of his dishes.
His main influence, however, was growing up in a family of restauranteurs: his father and uncles owned Chinese take- aways and restaurants and his cousin still owns Loaf On, a Michelin-star seafood restaurant in Hong Kong.
“I was seven when I first earned my crust – mopping the floors in my mam and dad’s take-away,” laughs Ian. “I hardly saw them as a kid, they worked so hard running their business to look after our family.
“I was 11 when I could lift a sack of spuds – so I got the job of peeling them, too. That was nice!
“I did get paid though, £5 a week, and I learnt the value of money from a very young age. I was probably the richest kid in the playground. What was invaluable, though,
was learning about the flavours, ingredients and cooking techniques within our culture. My dad would spend a whole day making satay sauce from scratch.”
At 14, Ian was taught knife skills by his uncle and how to do ‘The Last Wok’.
“That’s the fried rice, the noodles, the dry stuff. My uncle Jimmy was strict on me. He was an extremely talented chef. He taught me timekeeping, to be patient and how to wok hei, which is the ‘breath of the wok’. It’s all about getting the right temperature of the wok, the right amount of oil and stir frying quickly. Do it right, and the flavours are incredible but it takes practice,” says Ian.
It was at Sunderland University – studying International Business Management – that he met his wife, Faye – who’s now co-owner at Asiana.
“I remember setting up the business three years ago. I was frightened, stressed, it was a big step. I spent £600,000 kitting the place out. I literally sold everything I owned, begged and borrowed and went for it,” says Ian.
Now he’s got a team of 25 and Ian oversees the menu with his head chef, Haishan Zheng, from Hainan in southern China, and sous chef Wenru Yang, from Shandong in eastern China.
“We infuse western ingredients with Chinese cooking and vice versa,” says Ian, whose most popular dish on the menu is ribs.
“In China, it’s traditional to eat most parts of the animal. Trotters are a big thing. Obviously, we wouldn’t put them on our menu!” says Ian.
With his Malaysian-style beef rendang, shin beef is boiled then slow cooked in spices and soy sauce for two hours.
“In Malaysia, it’s usually cooked with skirt beef but that’s far too gristly for the western palate. We have to adapt to suit our customers.
“We do a mean sizzling fillet steak flambé and our Shanghai braised belly pork always goes down well.
“I just love food, I love trying new flavour combinations, experimenting in the kitchen but most of all, seeing people enjoy what we do.”