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Rice, Chester Street

Jonathan Schofield goes casual dining and indulges in a Sci-fi fantasy

Written by . Published on January 15th 2009.

Rice, Chester Street

Not sure about the phrase ‘casual dining’.

The mind’s eye conjures images of laid back American teenagers in a diner with dialogue like: “Wanna doughnut?” “Whatever, man.” Something for slackers.

Rice is casual dining. But nothing like the above hormone-racing adolescent torpor. It does good food in pleasant surroundings with the minimum of fuss for reasonable prices.

There are a several representatives of this home grown chain around. There’s the original in Piccadilly Gardens, one in the Trafford Centre and one in Selfridges. The new boy in town is on Chester Street in an anonymous row of outlets just off Oxford Road, close to the BBC.

Inside it’s a sharp looking thing with a high ceiling, a long bar and a statement set of very high banquettes. These are so high small people should bring stepladders. There’s also a projection of the action taking place in the kitchen against one of the walls: chefs chopping, chefs, arranging, that sort of thing.

It's a schizophrenic place. There’s the area just described which is so brightly lit you know it’s not intended for lingering meals. Then there’s the private room at the back in that Sultan’s Boudoir style that’s been popular for the last few years: black and gold, show-off vases of flowers, risqué prints and candles. This space is advertised for special events and business meetings that require seclusion. I wish them well trying to sell it.

The customers that came in whilst we were there were lovely. Located next to the Metropolitan University and down the road from student accommodation, Rice attracts a delightfully global crowd. I almost went misty eyed: Star Trek Voyager has been repeated on one of the digital channels recently and Rice seems as mixed and harmonious as that futuristic crew. Although the Rice diners’ clothes were less tight, and unfortunately there was no Seven of Nine waiting on.....

The equally globe-trotting food does just what is says. It’s filling and usually flavour-packed as well. Two of the Confidential starship crew particularly appreciate Rice, Piccadilly’s veggie Thai green curry (“a spicy coconutty treat”) and the pad Thai (“a strong, smooth blend of chicken and prawns”).

At Chester Street there were six of us and we all enjoyed the grub. One of the number was an eight-year-old who likes it simple and the manager, a very helpful and efficient chap, was more than pleased to sort something out.

The three top dishes were the prawn nasi goring (£7.49), the kimchee chi-gae beef (£5.99) and the Persian fish kebab (£7.99). The nasi goring, or fried rice to give it its more prosaic name, was a sharp balanced dish with fat juicy prawns and chilli and, what was probably, tamarind. The Kimchee thingy-dish was a big broth with bite: spices and fat strips of beef with cabbage, bean sprouts, pak choi. Overall a great winter draught-excluder. The fish kebab looked all right but the ever-hungry 16-year-old had eaten it all in about four minutes. It was good he reported, a nice chilling sauce over the gently spiced salmon below.

With these three dishes we’d moved several thousand miles from Iran to Korea. Yes folks, this is a fusion menu. Often this indicates food bedlam and nothing done well, but the easy-going style and highly competent kitchen at Rice completes the journey fairly effortlessly. Next time I’m going to give the sushi a go and the pretty looking maki rolls at £5.99. The Chester Street recommendation contains rice, crabmeat, nori, avocado and mayonnaise.

Couple of points to improve matters. The smiley waitresses need to be watched. Above all they need to make sure people get what they ordered.

As for that projection of the kitchen staff on the wall, I studied it for a while and realised none of the customers was watching. I reckon Rice needs to draw attention to it: maybe stage a pretend knife fight in the kitchen and see how long it takes for people to notice. Or turn it off.

Finally they could think of employing Seven of Nine – that way they wouldn’t need the screen, nobody would be watching anyway.

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

ancoats boyJanuary 15th 2009.

Mayonnaise with anything!

GavinJanuary 15th 2009.

it's a fast food cheap joint with tasteless below average scran. go to barburritto close by. far better value and better food.

DaveJanuary 15th 2009.

To put two things straight: Gavin - Barburritto's not exactly close, is it? Anonymous - Barburritto is not "bought in, ready made" food.

AnonymousJanuary 15th 2009.

and Barburritto is ......let me think? Bought-in, ready-made fast food. I give up

Wayne RyanJanuary 15th 2009.

It's not mayonnaise layered on thick like in a Boots sandwich people. You may not know it but there are various types of sushi preparations. Uramaki rolls - rice on the outside, nori on the inside - can use mayo very effectively as a component part.

esquiloJanuary 15th 2009.

That sushi recommendation with crab, nori, rice, avocado and mayo sounds suspiciously like its just the American take on sushi for people who don't like sushi: the California Roll.

ancoats girlJanuary 15th 2009.

Sushi with mayonnaise? Travesty!

LoannaJanuary 15th 2009.

I love Rice and would recommend it to anyone! If you fancy something quick, fresh and tasty it’s perfect. The staff really know about the food served there, my friend even asked them to change a dish to suit her dietary needs and they were more than willing to accommodate. Rice Flame Bar and Grill off Oxford Rd has really quirky intimate booths that give the restaurant that extra je ne se qua. I recommend the Thai green curry – it’s the best I’ve ever had!

JeffJanuary 15th 2009.

Geoff.... Shhhhh! Don't tell everybody about Umami. The salt & pepper squid in there is to die for.

LianeJanuary 15th 2009.

Rice dishes... there used to be more non-spicy options than there are now. Shame. The variation was good. Sushi... I really like the order-by-piece concept, but the execution wasn't great. Quite tasteless and too heavy on the rice content.

AnonymousJanuary 15th 2009.

Dear Jonathan, I am wondering why you did the review for this place? You could introduce us much better and/or far more interesting places, then I would be glad...

jayJanuary 15th 2009.

I live around the corner from this place and have visited twice a week since it opened and had numerous take aways; I still haven't tried everything i want off the menu. The only place I've found that does better noodles at a decent price is Fuzion in Fallowfield. Rice is far better than Waggamamma in my opinion. Oh and incase anyone from Rice is reading can you please sort the draught beer out please, everytime i've been in I have to drink bottles

GeoffJanuary 15th 2009.

I've been to this place and unfortunately the food wasn't as good as Wagamama, although it costs about the same, and was considerably inferior to Umami, just a ways further down oxford road, which is much cheaper. Disappointing!

FionaJanuary 15th 2009.

I can't comment on the sushi as I haven't tried it yet, but all the meals i have had at the Chester St restaurant have been great and not broken the bank. I loved the Thai green curry and am addicted to the Pad Thai take out - those noodle boxes feel so NYC!

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