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BEST OF MCR: Chinatown

Confidential's top picks for Manchester's most baffling district

Published on September 25th 2014.


BEST OF MCR: Chinatown
 

DECIDING on a place to eat in Chinatown can be a daunting task. Dazzled by the neons, the logograms and the sheer volume, before you know it you've ended up in a All-You-Can-Eat buffet. Fear not. There is plenty of good stuff to be had. You just need to know where to look.

In the last couple of years the solidly Cantonese nature of Chinatown has fractured and new waves of Mandarin-speaking immigrants, together with a large Chinese student body, have brought new life.

A bit of background first. Manchester’s Chinatown really got going in the 1970s, as the textile warehouses in the area gradually became redundant the restaurants moved in. This in turn led to a corresponding growth in the services developed to serve them and their customers.

This became more pronounced with the arrival of medicine shops, health centres, financial and legal service providers, shops, supermarkets and Sunday schools.

Thus Manchester’s Chinatown has become the Chinese village for the north of England: a role enhanced with creation of several old people’s homes in the city centre. 

There had been signs of decline recently in Chinatown as huge Chinese supermarkets developed on the city fringes. But in the last couple of years the solidly Cantonese nature of Chinatown - reflecting Britain's colonial links with Hong Kong - has fractured and new waves of immigrants from Mandarin speaking areas together with a large Chinese student body, have breathed new life into the area. Thai and Japanese food has become a feature too.

'Nuff of that though, let's get eating...

Chinatown ManchesterChinatown Manchester

Happy Seasons

Happy Seasons is a typical red and gold gaff, with those strange seats made out of bronze aluminium and faux-velvet seats and backs that seem to be standard issue up and down the Chinatowns of the world. The art work doesn’t disappoint either, stampeding horses that have been spending time getting a tan in Liverpool gracing walls that could, quite frankly, do with a lick of paint. The clientele are 95% Chinese, 4% Manchester Confidential and on one lunchtime visit 1% Oz Clark. On our visit we had ‘prawn and meat dumplings’, scallops, shot through with fresh ginger, and from the vegetarian menu (extremely well catered for, those veggies) three types of Chinese vegetables, all crunch and promise of sorting out your wrinkles. The stars of the show here though are crispy duck and the belly pork dishes. Very lovely. Cooked beautifully. These make the trip and the stampeding Scouse horses well worth it. MG

Happy Seasons, 59-61 Faulkner Street, Chinatown, M1 4FF.

Happy SeasonsHappy Seasons

Ho's Bakery

Ho's Bakery is at once the best and the worst kept secret in the whole of Chinatown. Marshalled by the wonderfully neighbourly matriarch (Mrs Ho, you'd imagine), Ho's is a Chinese Gregg's with infinitely better tucker and much lower prices. Her Roast Pork Bun's for only £1.30 are things of Manchester legend: hot, doughy, sweet, rich and more moreish than a cheese and chive Pringle. This bun is perhaps summed up best by one Confidential employee: "The truth is I had a problem, I was honestly struggling to come into the city centre without buying one." Spot on. DB

Ho's Bakery, 46 Faulkner Street, Chinatown, M1 4FH.

Ho's Roast Pork Bun and a cheeky pork dumpling at the backHo's Roast Pork Bun and a cheeky pork dumpling at the back

Hunan

Stairs off George Street lead precipitously to a handsome space, bar on one side, partitioned booth on the left and then further round the main room usually packed with diners. Hunanese cuisine reflects its south western Chinese origin in a sub-tropical region of the country. It's hot, occasionally very hot, and it's exotic and colouful too. The hotpot buffet at £18 a person will demonstrate the heat but also the sheer verve of the food while pork dishes are exceptional, and the dumplings a real delight. Kelp with garlic and soy sauce was a simple and chilly not chilli winner, while salmon heads covered in chilli's were the opposite and spectacular. The vegetarian offering is also exceptional. JS

Hunan, 1st Floor, 19-21 George Street, Chinatown, M1 4HE.

HunanHunan

Little Yang Sing

Nothing to do with the other Yang Sing, the bigger one, apparently. Something to do with a family feud. Regardless, Little Yang Sing is the best dim sum we've polished off in awhile. Trudging down into the restaurant's deeply claret underbelly (with mental asylum walls and a thousand tiny terracotta soldiers) you'd think you were in any humdrum Chinese gaff with naff tingling tangly background music. Wrong. Before you've even glance at a menu you should order the steamed prawn and pork dim sum with black truffle - three bite-size Chinese dumpling dreams for only £3.80. If you don't follow that with the salt & pepper baby squid (£4.95), crunchy with a forgiving crisp on the outside and perfect levels of salty chew on the inner (one of Manchester's great starters, by the way), they you're a fool Sir/Madam/Both... a damn fool. DB

Little Yang Sing, 17 George Street, Chinatown, M1 4HE.

Salt & Pepper Baby Squid - magicSalt & Pepper Baby Squid - magic

Phetpailin

Seating around 60, this bring-your-own-bottle (no corkage) casual Thai restaurant is accessed via a doorway next to ‘Long Legs’ gentlemen’s bar (afterwards, perhaps). The décor is warm and florid - imagine the lanky blue-peoples’ tree houses in Avatar, and you’re close. The pick is a whole steamed sea bass (Pla Neung Ma Nao) served in a fish-shaped ceramic bowl, with a verge of coriander, parsley, small, red chillis and diced celery on top, lemony stock around the side, it warms the bones and the heart for £16. For those who like it hot, the salads are a draw, spiced to a south Asian standard. Some say 'too hot', but give 'em a chance, you wuss. RA

Phetpailin, 46 George Street, Chinatown, City, M1 4HF. 

Phetpailin sea bassPhetpailin sea bass 

Red Chilli

This snazzy, sub-street level Chinese restaurant combines some of the area’s finest food with originality and flair. The bright, cheery decorations include bird and flower glass panel lights suspended from above, while square mirrors line the walls. Red Chilli provides classic favourites alongside authentic Beijing and Sichuan dishes and an unusual selection of cold starters, such as Red Hot chilli pork stomach shreds and poached tofu with sesame oil and spring onion. The restaurant specialises in seafood - try the Crispy seabass with sweet vinegar or the entertainingly titled crispy yellow croaker with tomato sauce for a truly individual treat. Vegetables are also exceptional, particularly the Beijing pak-choi. If you’re feeling more chilly than chilli, look no further than the lamb and molly clay pot, a thin yet hearty stew, or for more exotic try the Husband and Wife Lung Slices. JS

Red Chilli, 70-72 Portland Street, Chinatown, M1 4GU.

Red Chilli

 

Red Chilli

Siam Smiles

This half-Thai-supermarket half-Thai-noodle-diner is the most captivating entry on the list by a country noodle. Why? It's just so very unordinary. Siam Smiles is dried fish throat crisps and jellied chicken blood floating in bright magnenta soup, unidentifiable jars of gloop and uranium-powered energy drinks. Ok so you may not necessarily get exactly what you ordered but that's part of the fun (wouldn't bother if you're a veggie, mind). Still, if you can go for the Kuay Tiew Duck - a delicious duck, noodle and beansprout broth with small fishy frisbees for £5.50. Make sure to stir in a squirt of Nam Pla (fish sauce), Thai folk plop it on everything. DB

Siam Smiles, 48 George Street, Chinatown, M1 4HF

Siam SmilesSiam Smiles

Try Thai

Now that Try Thai has bolstered up its menu, its efforts to be one of the better South East Asian offerings in the city has been recognised. Confidential appreciates a trier. Long-term fans of the traditional restaurant know that you don’t simply try Thai food here, you get knee deep in the prawn massaman curry (£10.95), get tangled in the noodles in a spice-rich red curry soup (£9.00) and happily see-saw between all the savoury and sweet flavours. Tried, tested, tasty. LB

Try Thai 52-54 Faulkner Street City, M14 FH

Try ThaiTry Thai

Wasabi

The sushi conveyor belt is a cunning little machine. At compact noodle bar, Wasabi, going ‘from the belt’ is to risk hypnosis by slow moving sushi train. Before you know it you’ve fell into a rhythm of see, grab and eat, eat, eat, to the beat of the Japanese hip-hop videos that play on Wasabi’s plasma screen. At £2 per grey plate and £3.50 per red it’s easily done. Restrain yourself with the bargain set menus. For £8.95 (set B) you get three bowls from the belt, plus a pick of nine a la carte meals. Opt for the big pot of steaming and flavoursome grilled chicken ramen noodles. Be warned, it’s a classic case of ‘eyes bigger than the belly’ every time. The bowls soon stack up. That’s how they get you. LB

Wasabi, 63 Faulkner St, M1 4F.

Avocado Sushi Roll WasabiAvocado Sushi Roll - Wasabi

Yang Sing 

The biggest of the restaurants and the one with the international reputation. Born in 1977 through the efforts of the Yeung brothers, neither fire nor the occasional claim its standards are slipping have diminished its reputation for top-notch Cantonese fare. Harry Yeung (the older brother) is still here, cooking a storm, while the next generation, Bonnie, Yinhen and Yinting, are all involved. There is a truly epic-in-scale dim sum menu satisfying the lunchtime and shopping crowd; while the night is given over to the a la carte dining, fine wine list and there are even function rooms and banqueting halls. Confidential's Gordo went recently and loved it. 'Harry brought traditional dim sum first; what we call shredded-wheat prawns with a sharp, vinegary dipping sauce. Superb, crunchy with a firm meaty prawn filling, brimming with naughty prawny-ness. Char Sui pork buns were worth a Michelin star for the flawless execution of the dough mix and bake.' For me and a main try the crispy suckling pig with jellyfish. Marvellous. JS

Yang Sing, 34 Princess Street, Chinatown, M1 4JY.

Suckling pig and jellyfishSuckling pig and jellyfish

Yuzu

Yuzu Japanese restaurant in Chinatown is traditional and wonderful. The decor might be austere but is effective. Staples of the menu include sashimi (raw fish – the fish bit, if you like, in sushi), easy-to-pincer sticky rice, cucumber pickles, finely shredded white daikon radish and miso soup. You get all that for £7.95 and it’s typical of a menu that serves simple ingredients, cooked with care. The prawn gyoza (£3.50) were a fine example, little pockets of joy, crafted seared prawn, ginger and shallot in the soft pastry case. Nothing is quite as you expect at Yuzu. Wooden tables and natural light serve up sensory sustainence and healthy food comes your way. But the overriding impression I have is of care – and that care is what makes this the best place in the city centre for fragrant Japanese dishes, cooked with love and respect. JS

Yuzu, 39 Faulkner Street, Chinatown, M1 4EE.

YuzuYuzu

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30 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

AnonymousSeptember 25th 2014.

Ha, when I saw the heading 'Best Of MCR: Chinatown' I assumed it was written in the 1980's.

Helen TaylorSeptember 25th 2014.

Well Manchester Confidential, you've managed to pick all my favourite places, which just proves what excellent taste you have! 95% of Chinatown is depressingly awful and an embarrassment though - I'm looking at you Pacific, and Pearl City, and the once-glorious Kwok Man. Sort it out.

2 Responses: Reply To This...
Robin TongSeptember 26th 2014.

Pearl City may lack in the tasteful decor department, but food wise it's one of the best...in my opinion of course!

AnonymousSeptember 26th 2014.

Pacific has the best Dim Sum in the city IMO.

JonathanSeptember 25th 2014.

No mention of Red&Hot, my personal favourite and 10 out of 10 for their easy to read photographic menu of authentic Sichuan dishes... The 'once-glorious' Kwok Man still is glorious in my opinion if you ignore the tired decor.. in my view, since the closure of the Tai Wu the KM offers the best dim sum in Manchester

AnonymousSeptember 25th 2014.

Fu's cafe is fantastic...just so long as you ask for the 'other' menu. And it's probably the cheapest of the Cantonese restaurants. I am Pho is always spot on. I find it hard to get past the Banh Mi sandwiches.

2 Responses: Reply To This...
AnonymousSeptember 25th 2014.

Re. Fu's. Don't tell everyone about the 'other' menu. They'll put the prices up! You're right though, in general. Sometimes they fall down on quiet nights. ('B' team on perhaps?)

AnonymousSeptember 26th 2014.

The 'other' menu is posted outside - hardly a secret... But yeah Fu's is great for lunch - feels a bit weird in the evening. Oh and the manager once refused to sell me another beer as he wanted to shut. It was 10pm and I was not pissed!

James EvansSeptember 25th 2014.

Red Chilli for me every time.

Hanni HayesSeptember 25th 2014.

hunan is surprisingly good quality !!! 10/10!

AVOSeptember 25th 2014.

For an old school, no frills chinese Kwok Man is decent. Good sui mai and other dim sum, a decent plate of barbecue meats to rival Happy Seasons and the ribs in OK sauce are the best in Manchester. Also open until the early hours.

AnonymousSeptember 25th 2014.

Having tried most restaurants in Chinatown, Hunan takes the top spot for me. Different style, exciting flavours and great quality.

1 Response: Reply To This...
Jonny JewSeptember 25th 2014.

I have tried all the Eastern restaurants in Liverpool's historic Chinatown and the general area around it over the years and I have to say that for me, Hunan, located on George Street is by far the best with the most exotic flavours and exciting choices. I'm not typically a fan of spicy food, but the chilli dishes are excellent. This menu must be tasted in your lifetime and you almost definitely won't want to eat anywhere else after you do. 10/10

AnonymousSeptember 25th 2014.

The place is a dump......

2 Responses: Reply To This...
AnonymousSeptember 26th 2014.

How so?

AnonymousSeptember 26th 2014.

How so? Does he still work at Kwok Man?

Hero
RevaulxSeptember 25th 2014.

Phetpailin is brilliant: top scores for food, service and value. Try Thai has lovely service and massive portions, but everything I've had there tastes over sweet. Red & Hot is beginning to look a bit tatty and the service can be slow and inattentive, but the food is as good as ever. I miss the Wong Chu

1 Response: Reply To This...
AnonymousSeptember 26th 2014.

Yes the Wong Chu was classic - special on rice 'chinese style' i.e. with offal was off the chart good. Sadly missed!

AnonymousSeptember 25th 2014.

Where's the dish in the main article pic from? Making me hungry!

3 Responses: Reply To This...
Staff
David BlakeSeptember 26th 2014.

That is dim sum from Yang Sing (big one). Little Yang Sing also do cracking dim sum.

AnonymousSeptember 28th 2014.

Little Yang Sing dim sum is nice but I wasn't blown away, suspected it was bought-in rather than made-in. Also not much choice. Nominations for best dim sum in MCR without spending a fortune anyone?

AnonymousSeptember 29th 2014.

Pacific

AnonymousSeptember 26th 2014.

where's Wings? :O

1 Response: Reply To This...
AnonymousSeptember 26th 2014.

It's not in Chinatown. The clue is in the article title "Best of MCR: Chinatown"

Patricia WilsonSeptember 26th 2014.

Looking forward to my first visit to Chinatown MCR tomorrow. Have taken all your comments on board. Thanks people. :)

J PhillipsSeptember 28th 2014.

I like the Great Wall, décor is pretty much non-existent but food is tasty and good value

James SmithSeptember 28th 2014.

Don't understand the street level car park in the middle of Chinatown, complete waste of space, would it not be better utilised as a market or something? That would be draw to the area. Imagine a bustling Asian market every week. Gets my thumbs up.

2 Responses: Reply To This...
AnonymousSeptember 28th 2014.

It was proposed but the people who use chinatown for the supermarkets etc wanted to keep the car park, when Sunday charges were introduced china town suffered massively.

AnonymousSeptember 28th 2014.

Hey, if only there were other ways of getting to China Town...

pollolocoOctober 13th 2014.

Yang Sing is a dinosaur living on past reputation... and very expensive and mediocre food offering, surly and indifferent waiting on staff.

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