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Middle Kingdom review

Simon Binns feels comfortably numb in this bargain basement

Written by . Published on January 6th 2011.

Middle Kingdom review

Maybe it’s because we all think we’re brave and adventurous foodies, or maybe it’s because we’re all closet ‘I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here’ fans, but many of us love to push the boundaries of what we’re prepared to eat.

We should have all phoned a friend each – portion sizes are definitely on the generous side. After we had thrown in three portions of rice and two beers, the bill was just slightly north of £60 – fantastic value and a meal that could have easily catered for six people.

The more outrageous the better; gastronomic bravado is one step short of dropping your pants at the table and waiting for a round of applause.

So when Schofield turned up with a menu for Middle Kingdom, a new Chinese restaurant in a Princess Street basement, offering, among other things, chicken’s gizzards and feet, jelly fungus, duck tongue and tripe, it had to be worth a visit.

I took two brave souls, Richard and Gawen. Between us we’d eaten our way through the Red Chilli menu on almost weekly visits throughout the last year. Red Chilli being, of course, the first of the authentic eat-the-whole-beast Chinatown restaurants.

Upon entering, I noticed the expansive, but not quite finished below-ground restaurant was full of Chinese students – not a bad sign.

The cute and attentive waitress looked at us as if we’d wandered into the wrong place. “Have you been to a Chinese restaurant before?” she asked. We nodded.

“Can you use chopsticks?” We smirked. She smirked. Nobody asked for a fork.

So to the menu – a This Is Your Life-sized book of words and pictures that conjured up wonderful images and offered some alternative lunch choices.

We decided that although we are reasonably adventurous, we were also pretty hungry, so decided to mix and match some safe stuff with the more abstract.

A selection of starters included sliced beef in five spices (£7.50) which was delicately flavoured and served lukewarm, which was fine. The pork belly in chilli oil (£6.80) was a winner too – a mound of moist, cold meat accompanied by a porkey sauce that went down really well. A triumph of simplicity.

The came the pigs’ ears. I wanted to like them – a generous pile of smoky shavings of meat, almost akin to pancetta or a good cured streaky bacon.

But they were just too gristly. A thin strip of cartilage ran through every slice, which made it just too tough to chew. Richard wasn’t that bothered though, steaming through it with aplomb. Gawen ate the coriander off the top.

All of these dishes were the size of a main course and could have comfortably gone around five. When the mains arrived, they could have fed an army.

It would have been a crime to ignore the hot and numbing beef (£8.50) if not for any other reason than to compare it to my Red Chilli favourite of hot and poached lamb. Middle Kingdom is in no danger of being sued for false advertising.

It was hot in temperature, but also the spiciest thing I’ve eaten for quite some time. The huge bowl of meat, greens and dried red chillies was also loaded with Szechuan peppercorns which you couldn’t avoid but bite through every now and again. Call the Fire Brigade it was bliss.

Richard chose the same dish but with squid (well-cooked, five –inch long strips) and fire exploded kidney flowers (tender, chunky, hearty), priced at £9.50. Again, it was met with approval but it was so hot, you were left wondering if there was more flavour in there that the heat wasn’t really giving a chance.

Gawen ignored the bravado and ordered arguably the tastiest dish, fish fragrant shredded pork (£7.80), which was like eating a scoop of ice cream after the hot and numbing experience. This was full of subtle flavours and well balanced. Great stuff.

We should have all phoned a friend each – portion sizes are definitely on the generous side. After we had thrown in three portions of rice and two beers, the bill was just slightly north of £60 – fantastic value and a meal that could have easily catered for six people.

Later that afternoon, Gawen emailed to say his pork was repeating and Richard claimed he was having hallucinations from the hot broth. But we had overeaten, and were already planning our next visit. The bone in a chicken’s foot jellifies when cooked, and it’s only a matter of time before we dare each other into eating it.

Middle Kingdom is worth a visit. Just don’t ask for a fork.

Rating: 15/20
Breakdown: 8/10 food
4/5 service
3/5 ambience
Address: Middle Kingdom
86 Princess Street
0161 228 7060

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.

Peppered PigDecember 20th 2010.

Ive never understood the idea that just because a restaurant attracts people from the country the cuisine represents gives it some sort of approval. I think its a huge presumption to say that every single Chinese person has excellent taste in food and Chinese people who dont care about food have to eat somewhere so who is to say they dont all eat in this particular restaurant?
Just sayin like.

NeilDecember 20th 2010.

Have to agree - it's like saying that McDonald's must serve great British food because of all the white teens that are always in. Sort-of.

But - this restaurant does sound good. I'm a big fan of Red Chilli so will definitely try this place.

Anon TooDecember 20th 2010.

Not sure about the McDonalds comparison but I always take heart when the Chinese community support a Chinese restaurant. It normally means they're doing something right.
The food is good in here though - hope it does well.

BanesDecember 20th 2010.

I both agree and disagree.

The writer does not claim that the presence of Chinese diners means the food will be "great", only that it is a "good sign". Good job, because as noted the principle that being 'foreign' gives people automatic good taste is ridiculous.

To me the "good sign" of indigenous diners eating in a restaurant of particular ethnicity in the UK is that the food will probably be 'authentic' to their homeland.

Because if you are a keen foody looking for new gastronomic experiences (and it seems from the article that Simon is) then what you really seek is authentic and distinct cuisine, not Westernised versions dumbed down for English palates.

So Chinese restaurant full of Chinese people? Probably a good sign in terms of an uncompromisingly Chinese dining experience. McDonalds full of English people? Not so much. As it's an American restaurant chain...

Merry Xmas one and all!

AnonymousDecember 21st 2010.

The fork was invented a long time ago, why can't they catch up to its far superior usability?

Paul MastersDecember 21st 2010.

"Nobody asked for a fork". I am sure the nice lady would of got them a fork had they asked

HOPPY2MDecember 22nd 2010.

@PAUL......Surely you mean 'would HAVE got them a fork'!!!

Andrew RevansDecember 30th 2010.

Took the family there Tuesday night. We were all highly impressed; even the lovers of "vanilla" Chinese food, who by the way are well catered for.

I didn't find anything too hot; it's the Szechuan peppers rather than the chilli that produce the "numbing" sensation.

I would recommend the aubergine starter as well.

Finally, it seems to be an offshoot of the Red & Hot on Faulkner Street, which is also excellent.

Hot &amp Spicy IntestinesMarch 1st 2011.

We went here last night on the basis of this review and the latest write up that Simon Binns wrote.

I would suggest Simon lay off the Hot & Numbing dishes, as they seem to have incinerated his taste buds.

If I'd ordered Posh Spice for starters I'd have got more meat on the ribs and she would have been a lot warmer too!

My partner had the dumplings - and so did I later.

No matter. We were looking forward to the 'destination dish' - sweet and sour sea bass - purported to be "visually stunning"!

Simon, if by 'visually stunning' you mean it in the same way as looking at Medusa the Gorgon then I'd have to agree.

The poor bass looked like it had got on the wrong side of Tony Soprano and was ready to be sent back to sleep with his piscean pals. It was entombed in enough batter to rival Alex Reid in it's density.

The Fish Fragrant Pork to be fair tasted as described - like a pig that had spent the past 100 years in Moby's stomach.

Unfortunately Middle Kindom is more "Ming" Dynasty than Zhou Dynasty.

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