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Red Chilli review

Ruth Allan is 'haunted' by the cod episode at Moso Moso's replacement on Oxford Road

Published on September 23rd 2010.

Red Chilli review

Unlike the Yang Sing chain, whose Oriental hotel in the city centre has just closed down, Red Chilli is blossoming. Opening a new restaurant on Oxford Road reflects this confidence, even if it is in the bunker-like space that was home to Moso Moso.

Aimed at the students, medics and music fans who hang out at the far end of Oxford Road, Moso Moso didn’t cut it as a venue. I remember the launch party; there were rickshaws, models of lucky cats and waiters swishing about with champagne. As an alternative to the nearby Curry Mile, I thought it would do well, even though the location was untried for Chinese food. Solid British-Chinese fare it was, nothing to write home about but nothing to write in about either.

Red Chilli is a different offering. Specialising in Beijing and Sichuan dishes, the food served here is fragrant, hot and memorable, just as it is at their other outlets which are scattered across the north of England.

In an earlier review of Tai Wu, I waxed on about Sichuan cooking, how it’s mentally hot and how it takes what you might call off-cuts (knees, heads, intestines, lungs, and so on) and recasts them in leading roles at the dinner table. Texture is as important as flavour, so fat is a major presence in this style of cooking, alongside flesh, skin and bone.

As you might have guessed from this description, Red Chilli serves some dishes which could be described as challenging. Creatures that you’d swim away from in real life (jellyfish with spring onion, £4) and gut-based offal (baked intestine with green chilli, £7.50) are just two of the menu’s more adventurous options. By comparison, fillet steak rolls (£4) looked like a safe starting point.

Coated in fine, tempura-style batter, the strips of steak lacked the hallmarks of poaching. Boiled beef is commonplace and flaccid in many Chinese dishes, so I was glad to find the batter filled with hot, seared fillet. My son’s dad, Mark, was impressed. “It’s like a meaty McDonald’s apple pie, isn’t it?” he enthused.

Next up was a portion of ‘five spice pig head’ (£4). Resembling satellite snaps from Google Earth, the thin wedges were marbled with dark-hued meat, creamy fat and a seam of something which was crispy, bendy and crunchy at the same time. Tucking in, my son Arthur described his as “funny” before nudging the rest onto my plate.

His dad liked it, chowing through at least three hunks before moving back onto steaky terrain. The flavour was diverse and intense, a bit like a posh take on corned beef. I thought that it would have been nice melted on toast.

Between courses, I nosed around a bit. Although I didn’t manage to check out the function room upstairs, the handover from Moso to Red Chilli has had little impact on the decoration. If anything, it looks more minimal than before. Functional booths and wide, round tables with rice bowls for decoration are about as thrilling as it gets.

More thrilling was a bottle of white Burgundy. Sublime and peachy, the Puligny Montrachet (2004/2006, £34.90) is at least a tenner more than the rest of the chardonnays on the list. Made by one of the region’s most famous producers, it’ll turn you back onto French wine in a sip and the toasty flavours tackled the smoke, sweet and spice of our main courses gamely.

First up was Sichuan smoked duck (£15). Spread across a large platter, like an edible lawn, it was moist and rich and came with hot little pancakes on the side. The only thing missing, we thought, was some kind of sauce.

Second up was sliced cod with tomato (£8). With a name like that, you’d expect at least a hint of tomato, wouldn’t you? Instead, the strips of stir-fried cod arrived surrounded by some kind of black fungus or seaweed. It looked just like the dish listed above ‘cod with tomato’ on the menu which is called ‘stir-fried cod with black fungus’ (£8). Beckoning one of the staff over, I asked if we’d got the right thing.

“This is the dish,” our man said, obliquely.

“You mean cod with tomato?” I said.

“Yes,” he confirmed. “This is cod with tomato.”

I didn’t know what to say next, so we tucked in. It was good; packed with juicy battered cod, in just the right amount of light, sweet sauce and pocked with smooth objects which might’ve been seaweed and might’ve been mushrooms.

‘Jade’ fried rice (£7.50) was a meal in itself thanks to a kitchen’s worth of spring onions, peppers, juicy prawns and more thrown in, and we had one of my all time Red Chilli favourites on the side too; stir-fried lily bulbs with celery (£7.50). If you like chewing on the soft, white bits of grass shoots in summer, you’ll love this. Sweet, fresh and slightly resistant to the bite, it's a house speciality.

Red Chilli don’t do pudding, so we made do with a complimentary orange segment each before heading home. The cod episode, however, continued to haunt me. I felt convinced that we’d been brought the wrong dish, so I went back a couple of nights later to find out. Ordering cod with tomato again, the same, untomatoey dish arrived. You’ve got to hand it to Red Chilli; they’re consistent. But perhaps they’ll let me write the dish descriptions next time they update the menu.

With the chain’s ongoing expansion – there are branches in Bacup, Atherton, York, and Leeds now too, with London and Nottingham next on the list – the food quality could have slipped along with the menu descriptions. On the back of two visits, I’d say that’s not the case. In this branch, as elsewhere, Red Chilli continues to do its unique thing very well, and long may it continue.

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

alexMarch 11th 2009.

Think the cod was cooked in a tomato-ey sauce hence cod with tomato. You should try the mung bean pastry salad served as a cold starter especially if you like it a little sour and if you can take spicy you should the stir fried chicken with crushed peanuts and pepper or the lamb with coriander is really nice as well!

JoMarch 11th 2009.

Love this place!

cleoMarch 11th 2009.

avo - you once told me that you hate taking photos of your food....

marieMarch 11th 2009.

Moso Moso certainly didn't launch in 2006 - I was a fresher when it opened so must have been 2002/2003. Was down the pan by 2006.

alec kMarch 11th 2009.

Been a big fan of Red chilli @ China town for years, it’s good to hear they have got another 1 in Manchester. When to Oxford Road to see what the latest have got to offer. The Menu seems to have more choices than the china town branch, tried the roast duck which had the chef in front of us carving it which looked great, the dim sums are a must try. Presently surprise with the service, since the service over @ china town had been on a steady declined especially after the refurb, just hopes they know how to keep the good service @ Oxford road.

EdithMarch 11th 2009.

Made an impromptu visit to Red Chili last week and LOVE the place. The roast duck was amazing and there were endless new interesting dishes to try, much more exciting than your standard 'seen a thousand times' menu. There were even some fab options for the vegetarian of the group and a dishy member of staff for the rest of us. Will absolutely be going back for more.

cleoMarch 11th 2009.

i'll bear that in mind....

cleoMarch 11th 2009.

anything avo?

johnthebriefMarch 11th 2009.

Of course he will Cleo - he's a lawyer, after all

JoMarch 11th 2009.

Who needs to be paid to eat at Red Chilli...?Now if you were talking about somewhere substandard then fair do's!

gorMarch 11th 2009.

I pissing love red chilli!

gorMarch 11th 2009.

spicy poached beef hot pot and beijing dumplings. heaven

AvoMarch 11th 2009.

Schofield. Gimme a tenner and I'll go down there and order the stir fried cod with black fungus to see if it's the same as the cod with tomato that Ruth ordered. I'll even take a picture of the dish for you.

becMarch 11th 2009.

Been a couple of times for the lunch special... cos I work in admin at Man Univ...It's very generous portions - soup - then dim sum and then main course...excellent choice of main dishes...Good service too... but they are definately giving tai pan a run for their money... £8 for the lunch special though which is a bit steep for round there and £2 more than tai pan...Much much better than the tired Moso moso lunch buffet... good luck to them...

QuarnfordMarch 11th 2009.

The food here is absolutely awesome!I hear they are planning refurbishment in the near future to bring it in line with the other red chilli's which have a great ambience, so watch this space...Until then, the quality food here more than makes up for any shortcomings in the decor.

Jonathan SchofieldMarch 11th 2009.

Avo, if you want to go and take a pic, please do and we'll give you the bus fare down Oxford Road and a nice cup of tea on your return.

LBMarch 11th 2009.

I ate here last night. It was shockingly, shockingly awful. Food: 2/10, Service: 4/10, Ambience: 5/10. Moso Moso was never amazing, but fairly reliable for the area (five years ago, anyway). At Red Chilli we found poorly-executed, salty, greasy food made with low-quality ingredients; complemented by extremely cold, unfriendly service. The shredded pork was identical between dishes and seemed to have been sitting in a pot of mulch in the kitchen for a very long time. It looked like pieces of small intestine and tasted as if it came from a tin. The liver was leathery. The sliced duck was made from cheap cuts and drowning in soy sauce. All four of us left most of our meals and declined the offer to wrap it up to take home. I shouldn't have been surprised, as this is the only good review I've read... but it was really quite astonishing how bad it was.

EditorialMarch 11th 2009.

Thanks Marie. Change made.

LBMarch 11th 2009.

Sorry, that should have been... Food: 2/10, Service: 2/5, Ambience: 2/5. (May 2009)

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