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Tai Wu

Ruth Allan isn’t sure about Oxford Street’s massive Chinese representative

Published on December 18th 2008.

Tai Wu

Shrouded in special offer banners, tinted glass and neon lights, I’ve never taken Tai Wu seriously as somewhere to eat.

Last week though, my friend Bridget persuaded me to give this central Cantonese restaurant a try. Banging on all the way from Piccadilly to Euston, ‘the Szecheun menu is amazing’ she raved. ‘They’ve got loads of mad stuff like chicken feet, and the aubergines are great too’.

My ears latched onto the word Szechuan. Asian food writer, Fushia Dunlop, describes Szechuan cuisine as ‘making the ordinary, extraordinary’, which makes it sound pretty good doesn’t it? And it is, although it’s not for the sensitive of stomach. Chillis and the lip-numbing Szechuan peppercorn are chucked into most dishes, while offal plays a major role too. One of this food critic’s favourite restaurants in town is Red Chilli on Portland Street (and the editor loves Red’n’Hot on Faulkner Street). To have another good quality Mancunian Szechuan restaurant to add to the list would be good news.

Akin to many Chinese restaurants, Tai Wu has two distinct sittings and two distinct crowds. Lunch is all about dim sum and noodles chomped through by an older Chinese crowd, while by night the Szechuan menu comes out, along with the rest of the city’s demographic. As it’s nearly Christmas, and as it’s not very expensive, I decided to go for both lunch and dinner.

Brightly lit and red in equal parts, Tai Wu’s vast dining room was crammed with diners when my friend David Sue and I turned up at midday. We were ushered to a table at one side of the conference-style hall, where the couple beside us were tucking into some good-looking grub. Square little pancakes with spring onions, steaming dumplings and a platter of glassy noodles all looked like lunch to me, but ordering similar dishes proved difficult.

The main problem was that only one of our two menus had been translated into English. Old-fashioned family favourites such as chow mein and fried rice were listed on the one I could read, alongside more out-there choices, pickled chickens’ feet (£4.80), for example, and sliced pork shank with jelly fish (£8.80).

I finally settled on seafood and aubergine noodles, (£9.80), as our waitress explained that the other menu was for dim sum. Could she choose a couple of interesting dishes for us, I wondered?

She could, and a handful of steamed baby cuttlefish in satay sauce (£3.10) were first to arrive. Tender, whole squid-style pieces with their baby tentacles still on, David hooverd up at least six before I’d got my chopsticks out.

Next up were meaty Shanghai dumplings (£2.80), which looked exactly like those gyoza parcels that you get in Wagamama or Tampopo. After several tastings, David and I were unable to identify what was in them. Pork or beef perhaps, mixed with herbs and intense, sweet spices. Nice at the price, we thought, unlike our main course.

Swathed in XO sauce, the thick, flat udon noodles of this stodgy dish supported a shower of braised aubergines, king prawns, mushrooms, cod, and ornately-carved, over-cooked squid. The prawns and aubergines were okay. The tinny mushrooms which tasted like disinfectant weren’t. Prodding the untouched noodles with our chop sticks, David said, ‘bog standard’, and I agreed.

Night time offered a few improvements. Belly pork, pigs trotters, and five takes on sea bass were all highlights of the Szechuan menu, but it was the unusual rib eye steak with fresh chilli that secured my vote alongside sliced pork shank.

Astringent in taste, a bit like that Caribbean sauce which you get at Buzzrocks (the Caribbean takeaway in Hulme) , the steak stew was no match for Red Chilli’s balanced hot pot, although both appear to be crafted from the same chilli (tons), lettuce (loads) and meat (a bit) recipe. The pork shank took top marks. Juicy, moist, fatty and on the bone, my four year old son announced that it was ‘delicious', a statement usually reserved for chips.

Pudding took me back to my late nan’s house in Hastings. A smooth mango jelly thing (£2.50) was quaintly dowsed in evaporated milk, while a steamy cube of butter sponge pudding (£2.80) would’ve been more fun with custard, but its porous texture made sense after eating an army of chillis.

In retrospect, I don’t think that I’d squeezed the best from Tai Wu on this occasion. The beef stew wasn’t great at all, and neither were the noodles, but my gut feeling is that there’s more to discover here, particularly if you know someone on the staff. The panache and drive of a destination restaurant are lacking, but for a relaxed dinner with friends or a filling, express lunch, I'd recommend it.

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

Mary ClareDecember 18th 2008.

Don't forget this is the restraurant that was fined £7000 earlier this year for cockroach infestation. Be careful what you order and check what's on the plate. I for one would not entertain such a place!

John WareDecember 18th 2008.

The dim sums are great, the main courses aren't. At least, that's my experience

debbieDecember 18th 2008.

if I want to have bad grammer mongo its my choice.Get a life instead of looking for faults look in the mirrorHave a good day now

edDecember 18th 2008.

Tai Wu deserves a far better review than this. The Dim Sum menu(half price between 12-4pm)is just amazing.The singapore vermicelli noodles and the salt and chilli squid just has to be tried-i challenge anyone to find fault with them. It makes a mockery of china town as there's not one better restaurant of it's kind in Manc..and i've tried many. I was first alerted to this place by a cantonese friend and have been a regular visitor since. As for cockroaches? Doubtful, but they could have a diseased-elephant infestation and i'd still go there.

BlueDecember 18th 2008.

I remember a Debbie Showman from my youth. Dunno about her grammar back then but she was the best-looking girl in Manchester and that, as they say, is a fact.

AvoDecember 18th 2008.

Well I don't know a Debbie Showman if that is indeed your real name.

The hotter the betterDecember 18th 2008.

I'm a fan of Tai-Wu, but you do have to be careful what you order...there is some very standard stuff in there, but I could eat the minced pork with chilli oil and glass noodles all day.

Dave showman(debbies slimmer sister)December 18th 2008.

ahhh sooooo....She will wuv vat!!!

AvoDecember 18th 2008.

debbie showman - given your very basic grammar and spelling mistakes, I would hazard a guess that you are affiliated to Tai Wu and are attempting to improve it's perception with ManCon readers.

Dippy DetectiveDecember 18th 2008.

Ahhh, it all makes sense now, Zabzy is american, and female! Check it out: profile.myspace.com/index.cfm…

AnonymousDecember 18th 2008.

You're right. Tai Wu is all about its dim sum on offer. Sunday lunches are the best!

east lancsDecember 18th 2008.

Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind...

wrong unDecember 18th 2008.

I return here time and time again to eat the prawns in rice paper off the dim sum menu, one of the tastiest things I've ever eaten.

zabzyDecember 18th 2008.

Marie Clare stop being such a jerk, Cockroach = Character

LibbyDecember 18th 2008.

My (chinese) boss took me here a couple of weeks ago and we had one of the best meals ever, the food was exceptional. we tried some Dim Sum, lobster, duck... all absolutely delicious!

scoteeeDecember 18th 2008.

oi mancon why you move my rant ?!

Bad WaiterDecember 18th 2008.

Who order the Flyed Lice?

SteveoDecember 18th 2008.

Ditto. The half price dim sum lunches and the sunday dim sum trolleys are what the Tai Wu is about.

AnonymousDecember 18th 2008.

I totally agree that this is possibly the worst Chinese restaurant in town that I have EVER been too. My partner and I went here 3 weeks back, having booked a week before hand (a table for two for 8pm) we arrived there at 7:55pm only to be shouted at by a grubby looking gentleman or a so called waiter, "YOU! very early!". It's only 5minutes but didn't mind waiting a short while. Oh but how long them 5 minutes were. After nearly 15 minutes! of waiting, having even watch two family's and a couple walk in past us and given tables, we were finally seated and had two menu's shoved under our noses. We were rushed to order our food that arrived just slightly warm (it obviously looked like it had been cooked a few hours before hand and heated up) we asked if we could have a small portion of noodles with our dishes. By the time we had nearly finished our mains the noodles finally arrived. I asked them to take the noodles back but instead the waiter just chucked them on the table knocking our wine bottle all over place. Apologies were coming from everywhere from the staff but no replacement wine turned up. So, in the end we asked for the bill and that took forever to come. I wouldnt of minded that much, but they charged us for the bottle of wine that I had only had a 1/2 a glass out of - the rest of it was all over the floor! Service from staff "0/10"Value for money "0/10"Food "3/10" I definatly wont be going here ever again - they didn't even have scollops even though they were advertised on the menu!

burt CodeineDecember 18th 2008.

...if I see (hear?) another bad Chinese waiters accent on this page again....ggrrrr

Il BaroneDecember 18th 2008.

The half price dim sum lunches and the sunday dim sum trolleys are what the Tai Wu is about. The trolleys are as good as the famous City Hall dim sum in Hong Kong and the wait for a table lasts a similar amount of time. Forget the main courses and the szechuan menu, this is a Cantonese dim sum palace. Oh, and Jamie H is dead right about the disgraceful Yang Sing. The flagship Chinese restaurant of the 1980s and 1990s has finally completed its transformation into a soulless, 'pack 'em in', poorly serviced, ludicrously priced, small portioned, corporate hellhole of a place. What a shame for the wonderful cooks and backroom staff who made the restaurant THE place to eat Chinese food in the UK. Rest in peace, Yang Sing, everyone else go to Red Chilli.

lunchtime foodyDecember 18th 2008.

Good Lord, how can you rate this place just 5/10 for food, but award This'n'That 8/10? Everyone knows this is the best place for Dim Sum (in a group) in Manchester...

Dippy DetectiveDecember 18th 2008.

Or are you David Szabo Jn, Facebook's wine sniffer extraordinary?

NeilDecember 18th 2008.

What's Yang Sing got to do with this? And those two long reviews look like they've been copied and pasted from somewhere else.I really like Tai Wu. Agree that the starters and the dim sum are the highlight. The buffet downstairs is probably the best Chinese buffet in the city but nowhere near as good as the main restaurant upstairs. The queue for Chinese lunch of Chinese OAPs is a sure indication.

crazyjohnDecember 18th 2008.

It always seems packed full of Chinese people which makes you think 'well, they must be in the know'. To prove my point Wetherspoons Piccadilly is always packed full of English dignitaries and what they don't know about eating the contents of the vinegar, mayonnaise and mustard sachets for tea ain't worth knowing.

Eric CartmanDecember 18th 2008.

Ah, Hewo Pwease! Maybe give them a call? Bring bring!

Thoroughbred MancDecember 18th 2008.

Oh Avo, how I combed your comment for a typo...

AnonymousDecember 18th 2008.

A reply to Neil.....I was agreeing to the rant about Yang Sing stating a fact that it's the worst possible Chinese in town. I didn't copy and paste from somewhere else as you think I did I was expresing my view on the place. I have to say though I have no faults with Tai Wu - the buffet is AMAZING! Especailly because it's only £10.50 for all the crispy duck n pancakes you can eat before you burst!

debbie showmanDecember 18th 2008.

just been to the tai wu for dimsum it was very good. No cockroaches anymore I belive the kitchen are very clean now .

scoteeeDecember 18th 2008.

No way! They told me they were soft shell crabs!!!!

AnonymousDecember 18th 2008.

I think you need to spend some time just seeign what comes roun don the carts- the dim sum is brillaitn and far more authentic than most of the rest of China tow- where you have to request the chinese menu for things like fish stew. I would totally recommend it- its one of my fave places to eat!!

Typo FanDecember 18th 2008.

Oh Thoroughbred Manc, comb again...

zabzyDecember 18th 2008.

Avo - good spot man ha haaa thats well funny "I belive the kitchen are very clean now"

zabzyDecember 18th 2008.

yes its all true I am an american female, also once i picked a dog up by its hind legs and walked it around like a hoover

AnonymousDecember 18th 2008.

I go to Tai Wu to eat Dim Sum on a regular basis, and its the closest youl get to an authentic Dim Sum restaurant outside of Hong Kong, and the half price offer is unbeatable. I think ul need to order from the chinese menu to get the real taste of chinese dishes. Ask for the banquet menus if theres a large group of you, its good.

Debbie ShowmanDecember 18th 2008.

On another note Avo I know who you are and there's no chance I'd risk being seen in public with you. I have a reputation & good character to consider.

Mary ClareDecember 18th 2008.

Zabzy - if cockroach = character - then you must be full of character!

leighDecember 18th 2008.

Are you winding us up? Have a word with yourselves this place is at best fukin awful!Prattish statements and crappy images...those images of the food are horrendous.Who on earth would be attracted by the GIANT mucus plug on one plate followed by what can only be described as secondary 'catchings' at the bottom of a maternity table...get a life Mancon, it's disgusting!Perhaps the 'steamed'thick brown paper envelope in the bamboo basket had an influence?!

chinawomanDecember 18th 2008.

Do they still do half price dim sum on Sat ans Sun afternoons?

debbie showmanDecember 18th 2008.

I apologise for being rude avro I didnt read your emailproperly.I am not an undercover agent for the tai wu just bad at grammer.

debsDecember 18th 2008.

Dave you great carry on at weight watchers , your beating me all the way .

DebbieDecember 18th 2008.

Have I got the wrong person Avo? I don't know you then? How fortunate....

jamie hDecember 18th 2008.

SUBJECT: YANG SING RESTAURANT – PRINCESS STREET I think everyone should know – THIS RESTAURANT IS A DISGRACE – for the following reasons: Quality of service 1/10 Attitude of management and staff alike 0.5/10 Value for money 1/10 Food 6/10 We had the misfortune of visiting this restaurant on Tuesday 16th December 2008. We (my elderly mother, auntie, my cousin and I) had booked our table three weeks in advance. Upon arrival we were frowned upon and ushered to the table like cattle, promptly barked at by the restaurant manager “You out of here by 8pm – this table booked for next party, you out by 8pm – YES!” We smiled politely and said we would be and sat down. The ten minutes following this rude interjection to what is allegedly (and I use that word allegedly quite literally) the best Chinese restaurant in Manchester, we were asked NINE times if we were ready to order. Not only were we asked nine times, but four different waiters and waitresses asked us! We then ordered at around 6:45pm. Our food arrived promptly and we ate it as such, feeling both unwelcome and uncomfortable. We finished our once a year get together /Christmas meal at 7:30pm and asked for the bill, we had finally had enough of what can only be described as one of the most stomach turning events of my entire social calendar. Once we had paid the bill, another manager in a grey suit (and a black eye, it looked like his wife had been beating him round the soup kitchen with the chow mein ladle) came to our table and hastened us to leave as (and I quote) “We have another table due here now, quickly quickly” we were told. Of course by this point they had already received over £100 of our hard earned money, which by the way got us a couple of starters, a few main courses and a bottle of wine that tasted like Jesus’ sandals rather than Jesus juice. And the best bit?! When we complained to the grey suited, black eyed man, he told us “Our other customers get preferential treatment because they book in advance, you booked last minute” WHAT??!! Three weeks in advance? How soon do we have to book to get preferential treatment? Three years?! I think everyone should know how appalling the YANG SING ON PRINCESS STREET is and I would implore you all to avoid it at all costs. Manchester has a huge variety of Chinese restaurants – eat here at your peril! Or if you do, say hello to the rats I noticed scurrying around the side of the restaurant eating the bits of food the kitchen hands had dropped out of the bin bags. ”

AnonymousDecember 18th 2008.

couldn't agree more about the Yang Sing comments. the food is overpriced rubbish, the service I got wasn't nearly as bad as some of you are describing though. maybe i just lucky.

SteveDecember 18th 2008.

Agree with comments on the Yang Sing. Went with the wife on Saturday and had truly awful dim sum, quite obviously not fresh. This place has gone to the dogs. Since Hally and jelly fell out they seem to have lost all interest in the place. Far better dim sum at Glamorous and Tai Wu.

SteveDecember 18th 2008.

Went to Glamorous yesterday and had fantastically fresh dim sum and it was packed out at 12pm. What really gets on my pip though is that so many Chinese restaurants still have a seperate menu in Chinese. I see lots of great looking dishes being served and have no idea what they are!!! Red Chilli has all of the menu translated into English...Gordo can't you throw your weight about and put some pressure on these restaurants, after all it's a great opportunity to showcase authentic Chinese dishes to the unititated isn't it?

TbizzleDecember 18th 2008.

Oh please, how sad to pick people up on spellings and grammar! This is a rant page and not and English A level!!! The whole point of the page is to get people's view out there isn't it??? I thought this rant was about Tai Wu and not nit-pickery, (so I best get on with it really)!!!Back to the point, I think the restaurant does have good and bad days dependant on who's there and who's running the show. No excuse for this, but a reality of restaurants all over. Producing a constant product is a must, and rude service is often a given in Chinese restaurants in general I'm afraid. The separate exciting menu for chinese people really does my head in as well. Why don't they want to sell everything to everyone???

AnonymousMarch 31st 2012.

Having lived in Shanghai and been to some very good restaurants in China, this is by far the most authentic and tasty Chinese restaurant I have been to in this country.

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