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La Mei Zi review

Jennifer Choi finds her inner spice girl at La Mei Zi

Published on June 9th 2010.

La Mei Zi review

You may not think it, but when it comes to true Sichuan food, even most born and bred Chinese find themselves in uncharted waters.

A ceramic potful of expertly filleted pieces of cod with bean sprouts in a multi-pepper, ginger, garlic, soy sauce, five-spice broth affair, is thickly covered by no less than 100 dried chillies and a few sprigs of coriander. Gently fiery, soupy and moreish in equal measures, it's the ultimate comfort food.

It's nothing like the subtle regional differences between black pudding and haggis, or whether a bacon butty should really be in a barmcake or even an oven bottom. Offal and chillies were largely unheard of within Hong Kong (and Guangdong province) households, when I was growing up. Sure we know about Sichuans' famed exports like pock-marked tofu and husband and wife lungs, but that depth of knowledge is more akin to 'knowing about' Japanese food after a trip to Wagamamas.

This brings us to the brave new world that is La Mei Zi, the latest addition to the burgeoning food hub that is Chester Street, close to the present site of the BBC. This place serves unapologetically bold Sichuan cuisine.

Latest addition to Chester Street food scene

The name La Mei Zi means 'spicy girl'. The name refers to the girls of Sichuan and the regional hankerchief folk dance – bear with me on this. This has a song that tells of a girl who loves her spice so much that she brings her own peppers wherever she goes - in case there is nothing hot enough on offer. (Have you got her address? Editor) La Mei Zi is a restaurant that doesn't let you hide behind tamer Southern choices like spring rolls and battered squid; it plunges you into a tongue-numbing adventure.

Water-boiled fish, not as scary as it looks

Happily these sensations are often preceded by a welcoming tang of vinegar, the warmth of garlic and a mild, lingering aftertaste of Sichuan peppers. This is a gastronomy laying great emphasis on that balance of five flavours: sweet, sour, bitter, pungent (hot) and salty. The end result in each dish is harmony. And the best part? You don't need a chef's palate to tell.

Take the hot and fragrant pig's tail (£8), wok fried with soy bean paste, sliced red and green chilies, sesame, and shards of celery. The meat is richer than oxtail without tasting gristly or greasy, thanks to the accompaniments. You don't see the sichuan pepper, but should you happen to crunch on one of these reddish-brown dried berries, its lemony, peppery taste and its unconventionally painless spice is not one you will easily forget.

Whilst pig's tail and sichuan pepper maybe an acquired taste for some, the water-boiled fish (aka poached fish in hot chilli oil, £10) is novel yet accessible. A ceramic potful of expertly filleted pieces of cod with bean sprouts in a multi-pepper, ginger, garlic, soy sauce, five-spice broth affair, is thickly covered by no less than 100 dried chillies and a few sprigs of coriander. Gently fiery, soupy and moreish in equal measures, it's the ultimate comfort food.

Hot and fragrant pigs tails/center>

If 'water-boiled fish' sounds bland yet tastes anything but; a later dish of Sichuan Gold Sand fried soft-shelled crab (£12.50) was the opposite. The crabs may have been sweet-fleshed and crunched in all the right places, but under that mound of sodium-heavy, chilli-flaked panko breadcrumbs we could never tell.

Attempting a little forage outside Sichuan and under the excellent guidance of the owner, (who boasted sourcing chefs and ingredients direct from Sichuan for an authentic taste,) we ordered the 'Shanghai' noodles (£7).

Even in recreating a signature dish from another region, La Mei Zi stayed true to its roots and served up a jazzed up, spicy and tangy version. Made fresh in-house, the thick noodles are a tastier, more rustic and toothsome udon. The meat and veg are upgraded from the usual pork, chicken and cabbage to a marine combo of crab, prawn and squid. The simple soy-sesame seasoning is swapped for an orange oil infused with chilies and vinegar. Purists may protest, but I found forgiveness in the face of these incredible Sichuan flavours.

Salty breadcrumbs with a bit of crab, possiblyp align="center">

Far away from home comforts of dim sum and sweet and sour pork, La Mei Zi was to me like a second awakening to Chinese food.

I am hooked, and looking around, so are the rest of the Oriental diners in the two-month-old restaurant. The world-famous Sichuan hot-pot (£18/head) and some skewered chicken hearts are already jostling for position in my next visit, although a brief exchange with the ever resourceful owner may yield further discoveries still.

'Shanghai' noodles, but better
Breakdown:8.5/10 food
4/5 service
3.5/5 ambience
Address:La Mei Zi
Chester Street
0161 228 0668
(Tip: handy mini-market for Chinese groceries below)

Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, cafes against the best cafes. Following on from this the scores represent: 1-5 saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9 get a DVD, 10-11 if you must, 12-13 if you’re passing,14-15 worth a trip,16-17 very good, 17-18 exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 perfect. More than 20: Gordo gets carried away

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

Leigh ScottJune 9th 2010.

Lovely!I'm off there for tea!

DescartesJune 9th 2010.

Great review, we went to La Mei Zi just last week - absolutely cracking food and my new top recommendation to friends. Definitely on the more adventurous side of things mind, so watch out if you're a timid eaten.

The owners are great too, really friendly and spent a fair bit of time with the six of us explaining the food and telling us more about it, way better than most of china town ;)

gooseJune 10th 2010.

Been here twice, and it's so much better than most of the homogenous stuff you find in Chinese restaurants these days. Definitely spicier too.

The most intriguing thing I found, at risk of dealing in clichés, is that on both visits, the restaurant was pretty much full, and on both occasions we were the only table of caucasian diners in the whole place, which is ususally a good sign and all that. Though that did lead to some comedy moments, as the staff aren't necessarilly accustomed to dealing with western requests like sharing a bottle of wine (we got one each initially!)

Peter HarrisJune 10th 2010.

Sounds like another good place for Gordo to do a deal with for a Mancon menu.

Peter HarrisJune 10th 2010.

Anyone been to Red N Hot on Faulkner Street? How do they compare?

Scott NeilJune 10th 2010.

i've been to the one in Brum, Pedro (they're a mini-group: here, Brum and Ldn). that was alright. i must say the above sounds like they've pushing more envelopes though (not been to the above yet).

NortherngeezerJune 13th 2010.

The Red Chilli group also do a range of 'alternative' offerings..............owt wi black fungus dont sound reet clever but it works.

GordoNovember 16th 2010.

Jen, great write up, I was away when this was published, I am going!

Wan Xin LeeJuly 23rd 2011.

Well, the food in La Mei Zi there are too oily and not worth for such expensive price... tried order food with minced meat and you will understand.
Conclusion, i rather go to Middle Kingdom or Tai Wu if you really looking for real and proper chinese food..

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