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Tai Pan, Upper Brook Street

Jonathan Schofield gets the cold shoulder and porky feet at a long running Chinese restaurant

Written by . Published on December 1st 2008.

Tai Pan, Upper Brook Street

The last time I went to the Tai Pan was so long ago everything was in black and white.

I was there to meet Andy Rourke, formerly of The Smiths, and Gary Whelan, who was in-between various incarnations of the Happy Mondays. We were wondering whether to put together a tour of music sites across Manchester.

I think that was the reason anyway. It’s gone a bit fuzzy.

We might even have been attempting to raise the people and seize the State, usher in an age of peace and prosperity unknown outside certain fantasy worlds in Star Trek.

In the end none of our plans amounted to a hill of beans – or even a mound of egg fried rice. Nor do I have any memory of what we ate.

Other people have total recall over restaurant dining. My fellow Confidential reviewer Gordo, has this aptitude. Say he'd been to the Tai Pan a decade ago and something had caught his attention it would have stuck. He does this all the time, reminded of long gone but dearly loved dishes, his eyes lose focus and he drifts off into a food reverie.

For the Tai Pan, he might have said something like: “there was a tight little ostrich steak in honey and pepper sauce; rich, very good, seared just right, might have done with a little more heat in the sauce.” Utter gourmand our Gordo, he measures his days by his meals. By the way that ostrich steak is the signature dish and a winner, apparently.

But there was no Gordo grub reaction when I told him I was off to the Tai Pan. Instead he offered a nugget along the lines that gangsters used to love the place. Apparently having a car park close to a road from where a quick get-away could be effected swung it.

This is one of the Tai Pan’s virtues I’d never thought about. In case you don’t know the restaurant is in a warehouse above a supermarket on Upper Brook Street, behind the University and just south of the Jag franchise.

Our waiter on a visit last week was a gangster. He committed crimes against customer service. He mugged making guests feel welcome and hospitalised service with a smile. If he has a theme song it’ll be The Smiths‘ classic, ‘Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now’. Andy Rourke should go back.

My dining partner this time, Confidential’s esteemed cocktail writer, and I, agreed about that truculent waiter but disagreed over the food. I thought it was good value, she was less sure, thinking it functional rather than inspired.

The trotters were the problem. To her they were a blubber of excess fat and goo with a bland sauce. She said she liked her meat with substance, something to sink her teeth into and keep her molars happy. Proper steak girl.

I found the trotters lush, the meat slid off the bone and the mouth was filled with intense cheap cut flavours. I attacked them with gusto, loving the fattiness as well as the substance. The sauce worked fine when spooned over the rice – a nicely timed rice.

I also adored the enticingly named ‘pickled fungus’. Looking like a cross between burn-victims’ ears and farfalle pasta, the glutinous texture and the smoothness of the unspecified funghi should have been horrible but was intriguing and pleasant. It had the consistency of tripe, or what you’d imagine that fern-like seaweed on the beach would have if eaten, but there was crunch under the impression of chewiness. It was enlivened by some spectacularly hot peppers hidden in the folds of the funghi. Loved it.

The duck was the best for my dining companion. This was a finely crafted dish of good flavour, with plenty of richly nuanced duck that avoided greasiness. The sauce enhanced the whole.

These were the dishes that worked for us. We largely passed on the dim sum, for which the Tai Pan has a bit of a reputation. The total bill was £55 with a pleasant bottle of Muscadet for around £17 thrown in.

At Tai Pan you can tell that the kitchen knows what it’s doing, is under tight control, but that alone is never enough in a restaurant visit.

One of the Joe Public bloggers, on a lesser website than Confidential, entitled his long comment about the Tai Pan as ‘The restaurant with the handy car park’.

The car park is a stand-out feature. The place is good for food but is uneven elsewhere. There was our miserablist waiter, tired décor (I’m sure unchanged from 1998), and a general feel of ‘commercial traveller’. The seasonal tinsel did nothing to lift the mood.

The careless attitude away from the kitchen is evident elsewhere too. My pen ran out of ink during the meal, so I checked the prices of the individual dishes on the website.

The only Tai Pan restaurant website was in Cwnbran. Maybe Manchester’s offering is between websites, maybe the can’t-bothered-waiter had said he’d do it and then hadn’t been bothered.

But he could be bothered to ask for a tip. We couldn’t believe it as he unwrapped his first smile of the afternoon, handed me the credit card machine and asked for some service dosh. I rewarded his cheek with an insultingly tiny sum which made me feel better.

Over all it might be another decade before I’m back at the Tai Pan.

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

JanineDecember 1st 2008.

I went last week with a party of relatives who'd just arrived in the city - we had 90 minutes before we were due elsewhere, and I confess it was the handy car park that drew us in. However, my father was born in Malaya and has spend 70 years enjoying Asian food. The staff were friendly, quick and the food was great. My parents asked for something that wasn't on the (huge) menu and they produced it staight away.When they proferred the machine for the credit card, I explained I'd leave a tip on the table....no problems. It was great value for a good family meal in a car-frendly place.But I agree on the decor - if you want excitement or romance, look elsewhere. For a family Chinese meal, it was just the job. We'll go back.

JoDecember 1st 2008.

Red Chilli is fab, their trotters are a delight I have to order them everytime I go!

George SDecember 1st 2008.

You're right Avo. Isn't it so long that it's the only human thing that can be seen from space along with the Great Wall of China. Which is another fine Chinese restaurant.

NeilDecember 1st 2008.

Try Pacifica in eccles...absolutely fantastic. Much, much better than anything in Chinatown. And the service has never been anything less than friendly and efficient. Parking just around the corner as well.

GadgeDecember 1st 2008.

Surely, on this occasion, a get-away can only be effected.

JoDecember 1st 2008.

Anonymous, re your comments on Red Chilli...what a load of tosh! That is your opinion...I have been going there for years and I would know if the quality had dropped, I don't care where you are from - you can read some of the reviews it has been given by some of the professional food critics as well so you seem to be on your own.

s.manbordeDecember 1st 2008.

As a frequent visitor to Tai Pan I was surprised at your article. My friends and I usually attend for our birthdays as on a Mon 2 Thurs the banquet is only £10 instead of £20.00. The food has always been nice and can't find any complaints about the waiter service who have always have been friendly, especially to the children.Had to laugh about the gangster bit, with car park being near by as I have actually seen a couple to go to town on a feast a bit of everything then surprise, surprise they did a runner. Must say the last visit in November we struggled eating the special fried rice that tasted well off key but the rest of meal was great there was nothing left for Rex!!!!

Kevin TurnstyleDecember 1st 2008.

Chippy man 'mugged or stabbed in town'. You are silly. Or maybe you're one of those gangsters.

vaselineDecember 1st 2008.

sounds ominous!

AvoDecember 1st 2008.

Ahhh scoteee! I was wondering what those glory holes in the toilets were for!

SteveDecember 1st 2008.

Have to agree, the dim sum at lunchtime are pretty decent. Recently took some freinds in the evening and it was dire. They have recently introduced a Szechuan Menu however I won't be forsaking my beloved Red Chilli anytime soon.

Mark Garner, The PublisherDecember 1st 2008.

lets try that a third time without the caps on, which clearly baffles the software. See me in my office with your camera, Schofield.

salfordsallyDecember 1st 2008.

I agree with Jonathan. Used to go to Tai Pan and have recommended it. Last time we went for a birthday, unfriendly staff, overcharged us and we felt they couldn't wait to get us out of the door

burt CodeineDecember 1st 2008.

There's a bit of a language barrier at the thoroughly good Red N Hot, but that didn't prevent fine customer service getting in the way. I've driven past this place thousands of times and admittedly judged the book by the cover (it appears to have gravitated from a north midlands mining village...). The interior shots make it look like an office party theme night/day. Chinatown really is a short distance from here...I think I'll stick to the wonderful charms of faulkner street and it's surrounds.

scoteeeDecember 1st 2008.

That wasn't a pigs trotter I showed you last Saturday Avo!

AnonymousDecember 1st 2008.

Well, as a China born Chinese I find it is hard to cope with the terrible service in chinese restaurants here. No smile, always rush you to finish your meal. The deco is awful too. Tacky is the only word to say. Red Chilli used to be just about acceptable but the head chef has been relocated and now is in charge of Red Chilli Leeds branch. Last friday I went to Red Chilli Manchester and the food was crappppppppp. It is now full of English dinners (no offence here) which tells me it is not a place to be anymore if you want have some authentic Chinese food. So I went Leeds Red Chilli on Sunday. The Leeds one is much better. Better service, slightly better deco and flavour.Red&Hot has a very bad reputation in chinese community for its terrible food and poor hygen. It is more like a chinese students' canteen than a proper restaurant. If I have to pick good one, Taiwu is the one. P.S.I am a proper Szechuanese, I know what is good and bad!

AvoDecember 1st 2008.

No seriously, the queue is that long that it stretches under the Mancunian Way and onto Oxford Road.

Mary ClareDecember 1st 2008.

I love the food at the Tai Pan but the service is so slow. We used to go in our dinner hour but we can't afford to wait the length of time it takes to get served. However, they do half price dim sums between 3 and 5 in the week. They are lovely and my husband and I usually have a good selection with a beer each for just over £10 on Friday afternoons - what better way is there to start the weekend. However, it has to be noted that the staff are not attentive and one in particular is extremely bossy. He tried to be bossy with me once so I told him where to get off! We sat and waited for the bill for ages so we went to the till to pay and got told off - what a cheek! Another time, I ordered vegetarian singapore noodles. The meat version comes with a variety of meat and vegetables but my vegetarian version was just noodles. So I asked for vegetables and he said I should have ordered them! Again I told him where to get off. If he thinks I am going to pay £6.50 for a plate of noodles worth about 50p he's wrong and I told him so. So he went off and got me some vegetables but couldn't resist muttering 'next time order vegetables'. I wanted to scream at him!

GrahamDecember 1st 2008.

Avo... Ahhh Tai Wu... home of the German Cockroach Infestation (October 2006)news.bbc.co.uk/…/7200629.stmHaha…... i'm sure it's sorted now, but i used to eat there back then and it's put me right off!

AvoDecember 1st 2008.

George S, you are so right. The Great Wall of China on Faulkner Street is the only man made object that can be seen from space due to the incandescent vat of sweet and sour sauce which they keep in their backyard which glows with the intensity of the Sun. Apparently, the glare from the sauce dazzles the eyes of those working in the Russian space station, Mir.

andyDecember 1st 2008.

this is the first restaurant i took my girlfriend 10 years ago and she was very impressed. back then this was a busy place the service was great. i have gone back since to rekindle our first meal together but have not been impressed. it has lost all its buzz and charm.

Phil TaylorDecember 1st 2008.

For real dumbing down, try Red Chilli, Bacup (nope, I'm not joking, the town they were going to film League of Gentlemen in, but was too near the plot). There's even an Atherton branch!I was at Red and Hot in Birmingham in September, and despite undergoing a refurb, it still offered an excellent set of pig components.

ChippychapDecember 1st 2008.

Sorry Guys I can't agree with anything you said, apart from the location.Most of the staff do not speak good English and may appear surly, would you rather they stand there grinning and gurning at you to make up for no conversation.I ALWAYS pay at the desk and nothing has EVER been said, you sure you weren't halfway down the stairs...:-) The half-price DimSum is a steal and always cooked fresh.The staff are so horrible that often they tell me how to pronounce it in Chinese and write it down for me.............utter b#stards.Why risk being mugged or stabbed to death in town when, did I tell you they had a great car park?

AvoDecember 1st 2008.

Its difficult to comprehend how I can be salivating at the thought of a pigs trotter yet here I am, at my desk, dribbling away. I suppose I've lusted after worse...on a Satruday night...in a drunken stupor.

burt CodeineDecember 1st 2008.

'Why risk being mugged or stabbed to death in town when, did I tell you they had a great car park?”' ?It sure is a wild west out there in the city isn't it? Batten down them hatches ol chap.Surprised to read that Red Chilli has quickly gone downhile - was there a couple of months back and thought it was very good. Red N Hot was equally good. Perhaps I don't know Chinese food as much as I thought I did then. Tai Wu is superb but I'm not entirely heartened to hear the best restaurant is now outside Chinatown - might an article on 'taking Chinatown forward' be forthcoming? It's another gem in the city but doesn't seem to be growing as much as I anticipated. The car park space could do with being developed for a start (although given the current 'climate' god knows when such talk start to walk).So Wings and Tai Wu the current best the city has to offer?

EditorialDecember 1st 2008.

The get-away was very camp hence affected. What we mean to say is thanks Gadge, it's changed.

GadgeDecember 1st 2008.

They would be queuing on Oxford Street. I believe that the Oxford Road starts at the boundary with Chorlton-upon-Medlock, which is the river Medlock a few hundred metres to the south, Manchester fact fans.

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