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Bubbles, Chinatown, review

Jennifer Choi is effervescent about her new Vietnamese fix

Published on March 8th 2010.

Bubbles, Chinatown, review

Seven pm and Chinatown is just warming up for its punters, but for Bubbles café, it's clearing up time.

It also has a virtual monopoly in Manchester with this Vietnamese niche. To my mind nowhere in town can offer you all this quality, let alone for a tenner a head. Put it on your to-do list.

The night before we'd arrived closer to 8pm and left empty-bellied. Tonight, however, quick-thinking Vietnamese owner Kelly has agreed to turn her depleted stock of ingredients into a feast of bún bò hu noodle soup (£6), spring rolls (£3.80), and a goi ga salad (£4.90) for us.

So drinks whilst we wait: a red bean Yosa milk tea and a house coffee (both £2.50) scored high on novelty, authenticity and taste. The milk tea, despite the actual content of red bean being a little dubious, was a fun drink, all bubblegum pink and frothy from the froyo with tapioca pearls and jelly dancing at the bottom. The coffee was a Vietnamese variety, with a layer of condensed milk to be stirred in when the curious filter gadget it came with finished dripping. The resulting taste was stronger yet more mellow, with the milk offsetting the bitterness and imparting a creaminess into an all-round thumbs-up bevvie.

Our mains were a mixture of hot, cold, wet and crisp but there was an overriding freshness.

The noodle soup, to be distinguished from the typical phở, is a lemongrass infused Hue-region speciality (translation: beef and pig's knuckle vermicelli). It was seasoned with mam ruoc (fermented shrimp paste - stop reading in the brackets if you wish to be shielded from the truth) and although Kelly's access to her herby repertoire was restricted, and coriander's absence was sorely missed by my companion, there was more than enough to flavour in the pork and beef broth.

Piled on top were bun (round rice vermicelli), beef shank, pork, raw onions, bean-sprouts and some decorative slices of chillies. Everything was made to order (as it would've been in the street stalls of Vietnam), with all ingredients blended together immediately before serving to retain their distinct tastes and achieve some taste-related harmony. With a squeeze of lime we tucked in. Yum.

Next up, our spring rolls. These were seductively wrapped within minutes of ordering, all nipped and tucked in the right places with their translucency leaving little to imagination. Stuffed with more bean sprouts and crunchy onions as well as fresh prawns, there was definitely a whole lotta spring in these rolls. A limey, garlicky and sweet fish-sauce dip gave them just the right juiciness to round the dish off.

The salad, understatedly described as having pork and cabbage, turned out to be so much more. A little mound of raw onions, pickled lotus, prawns, carrots, spring onions with just the right vinegary zing and topped with peanuts and chillies was a dazzling array of colours as well as flavours. The taste buds rejoiced at the combination.Froyo is free with any food order and ours was a guiltless palate-cleanser for both the diet and wallet.

With a clean modern decor, bar stools lining the window seats, and flat-screen internet terminals, Bubbles is chic enough to hang with the Northern Quarter crowd. In its current location and price band, it attracts a mix of students and office workers, all hungry for well-priced, wholesome grub with produced and presented with panache. It also has a virtual monopoly in Manchester with this Vietnamese niche. To my mind nowhere in town can give you all this quality, let alone for a tenner a head. Put it on your to-do list. The only upset comes with those early closing times, then again Kelly's place is tiny.

Rating: 16.5/20
Breakdown: 8.5/10 food
4/5 service
4/5 décor
Address: Bubbles Café
72 Portland St, Manchester
(next to Red Chili)
M1 4GU
0161 244 5755
Click here for the website
Mon-Thu 10am-8pm; Fri-Sat 10am-9pm; Sun 12pm-8pm

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Leigh ScottMarch 8th 2010.

A lovely review with the best quality pictures I have seen on Mancon for some time- adding weight to your description.

TaffetaMarch 8th 2010.

I can go at nine tonight....doh

HungryMarch 9th 2010.

Me, me, me. Want, want, want.

AnonymousMarch 9th 2010.

This review seems to be overestimated or very much biased? I do not think the pictures are so good, just normal.

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