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Saigon Lotus Reviewed

Jonathan Schofield has a new favourite restaurant

Written by . Published on March 10th 2014.


Saigon Lotus Reviewed
 

I HAVE lots of favourite restaurants and now I've got a new one.

Saigon Lotus is a Vietnamese restaurant run by Vietnamese in a rundown range of shops on the fringe of the city centre on Oldham Road. It lies opposite the Post Office's main sorting depot and a little up from the Wing Yip supermarket and Glamorous Restaurant. It sits two or three doors away from Vnam (click here).

Also nearby is the Vietnamese deli. This part of Ancoats was once Little Italy, perhaps it's time to talk of Tiny Vietnam. 

This is a new star for Manchester, a finely crafted, elegantly delivered, restaurant. Those who love food should deviate into Ancoats to sample asap.

Despite the semi-dereliction or 'redevelopment potential' of the neighbouring properties, Saigon Lotus is a super-slick operation.

The former shop unit hasn't been given a fly-by-night sticking plaster make-over but has been transformed into a crisp, well-formed, neighbourhood restaurant with gentle Eastern references. It hit the ground running too with an elegant website complete with a contact page already loaded with Twitter and facebook. 

Several well-known major players in Manchester with casts of thousands have opened in the last couple of years. Strangely, they arrived with a splash but without those customer winning social media commodities. Saigon Lotus is a step ahead.

Nice work

Nice work

The menu is as crisp and to the point as the interior. 

"Teach us Vietnamese food," I said to the waitress. "What would you recommend?"

With genuine astonishment on her face the waitress said with a lovely lilting accent, "But I like it all, it's very genuine, just like we cook it at home."

She seemed sincere. No bull here, goat yes, but no bull. 

Clarity on the menu

Clarity on the menu

Eventually she confessed she was a big fan of the rolls and the salads for starters. So we went with that. 

Timed to perfectionTimed to perfectionThe spring rolls (£3.40) are the best I've had in Manchester for years. The description on the website is spot on. 'Seasoned ground meat, mushrooms and diced vegetables such as carrots, kohlrabi and jicama, rolled up in a sheet of moist rice paper. The roll is then deep fried until the rice paper turns crispy and golden brown'.

I had to lock one of my sons in the car outside to stop him stealing them all - by the way there's free car parking after six on weekdays and Sundays and after 12.30pm on Saturdays. 

The key to the rolls - we had the pork and prawn - was the rich flavour between the perfectly timed fried rice paper.

Spring rollsSpring rolls

The summer rolls (£3.90) were very different, a translucent skin of rice paper this time over carrots, cucumber, prawn and herbs plus a dip of sweet fish sauce that lifted the whole. A spring onion stem stuck out from one end so they resembled edible butterfly cocoons. Marvellous again, lovely-looking too, but missing that crunch of the spring rolls; still high class nosh though. 

Summer rolls

 

Summer rolls

The mango salad (£8.40) was right up there with the rolls. This felt like you were eating a cool breeze on a humid summer's day. The way the ingredients were mixed, mango, prawn, meat, vegetables, herbs and crushed peanuts, was a marvel. The palate boost of mango was balanced just so, delivering a refreshing liquid feel to the dish.  

It's a mango salad

It's a mango salad

Mains came as a threesome. Hue vermicelli (£7.40), pho beef (£7.90) and rice and goat meat (£9.40).

My absolute favourite was the rice and goat meat followed by the pho. Had the goat meat been marinated? Certainly there was some sort of magic that made it very easy to eat, the opposite of tough as old boots. This seemed to come from something way beyond a quick stir fry. The key here was the lemongrass content which added finesse and then heat which added kick. The rice was divine. 

Goat - not a silly billy

 

Goat - not a silly billy

The pho was a mighty noodle soup. We chose it with brisket that had again been so well prepared it tickled and broke in the mouth without resistance. Side plates delivered herbs, bamboo shoots, chillis and lime for us to add as we wished. The Hue vermicelli was as good with beef and a more spicy broth, but both dishes will leave you full and uplifted.   

Friend and pho

 

Friend and pho

For pudding we were presented with a fresh orange, segmented and placed simply on a plate. The feeling of well-being continued, as though food in Saigon Lotus was part of a health diet as well as being delicious. 

Leaving the place we felt strangely worthy. This food is the opposite of our Best of...Dirty Manchester Food article we posted last week.

There are other desserts, the lotus seed and soft green lentil sweet soup seems a real winner, but there was a large party in the restaurant and things were slowing up. We had to get on. 

We'd seen enough anyway to know this is a new star for Manchester, a finely crafted, elegantly delivered, restaurant. Those who love food should deviate to Ancoats to sample it as soon as possible. 

One last point, Saigon Lotus is waiting for its licence so in the meantime they offer a Bring Your Own service - £2 corkage. Or you could continue the health theme - the homemade lemonade at £2.90 is gorgeous. 

You can follow Jonathan Schofield on Twitter here @JonathSchofield or connect via Google+

Saigon Lotus,146 Oldham Road, Ancoats, Manchester. M4 6BG. 0161 914 6777

Rating: 16/20 (please read the scoring system in the box below, venues are rated against the best examples of their kind) 

Food:  8.5/10 (spring rolls 8.5, summer rolls 8, salad, 8.5, pho 8, goat 8.5, hue vermicelli 8)
Service: 3.5/5
Ambience: 4/5

PLEASE NOTE: 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, we get carried away.

Hue vermicelli

Hue vermicelli

Light in the nightLight in the night


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

GordoMarch 10th 2014.

Nipped in here on the way back from me Mum's yesterday on Jonnos's recommend, I had the goat dish. Terrific, but could have done with thirty seconds more in the wok. But, what flavour; it hadn't been worked to death either and the mouth-feel was awesome, with a lush sauce. Loved the freshness of the lemon grass cutting across the rich goat. Going back for lunch this week.

2 Responses: Reply To This...
AVOMarch 10th 2014.

Try the Vietnamese coffee over ice next time you're in Gordo. With the condensed milk, it's sweet, cloying and strong.

GordoMarch 10th 2014.

Avo, strangely, for me, I did for the first time. Not recommended for diabetics! oooh it was lush.

AVOMarch 11th 2014.

20% off food in their first two weeks of opening too.

AlainMarch 14th 2014.

Visited here the other night on this recommendation. The goat was fantastic although more value with the 20% off, as the portions are a tad on the small size. Spring rolls were fine. I feel a little bad saying this as the staff are nice and clearly trying their best but the service and general organisation was terrible, a few highlights: - We waited 20 min just to give our order - 1 starter came with 1 main, 1 main came 15min later, 1 starter came 15min after our main and the other starter they didn't inform us they didn't have until 10 min after the final starter (50min or so after ordering!) - They seated people at random forgetting who had come in first - We were asked to check the bill because they had got it wrong for other people Good food, a tad expensive for the portion sizes. I'd wait until they get the hang of this restaurant owning business before/if I go again

Mark DMarch 16th 2014.

Being an avid visitor to restaurants (I eat out several times per week), I believe I am in good position to say that this one of my favourite restaurants in Manchester. Upon setting into the restaurant I was greeted by friendly welcoming staff, and it really did feel like I was teleported to Vietnam such is the decor and the ambience. Next onto the food, there was a good variety of food and the wll portioned. The best thing of it was that the taste and quality of the food was top notch too. Then the bill came out and there was not big dent in my wallet. I will definitely be coming back again and I will recommend to all my friends and family

Mark DMarch 16th 2014.

Being an avid visitor to restaurants (I eat out several times per week), I believe I am in good position to say that this one of my favourite restaurants in Manchester. Upon setting into the restaurant I was greeted by friendly welcoming staff, ajnd it really did feel like I was teleported to Vietnam such is the decor and the ambience. Next onto the food, there was a good variety of food and the dishes were well portioned. The best thing of it was that the taste and quality of the food was top notch too. Then the bill came out and there was not big dent in my wallet. I will definitely be coming back again and I will recommend to all my friends and family

Fiona SMarch 16th 2014.

I had lived in Vietnam from 2002 for 10 years and only came back to the UK in 2012. Since being back to the UK, I have been searching for actual authentic Vietnamese cuisine. I have sampled all the other Vietnamese restaurants in Manchester, Newcastle, Leeds and London and was always disappointed. However, finally Saigon Lotus has answered all my wishes...the restaurant is beautifully decorated, the food is delicious and stays true to its Vietnamese roots. Since Saigon Lotus had its grand opening I have been three times now and will return regularly for sure.

AVOMarch 16th 2014.

Two positive rants in overly stylised English posted around 3am within 30 minutes of each other? Oh come on! I'm Vietnamese and went last week on a Tuesday night. To start with the positives, the food is amazing. Much better and more authentic than that offered at other places such as IamPho where I recently went. For example the chicken used in the salads and pho is older broiling chicken which is what is used in Vietnam. It has a tougher texture but due to the maturity of the bird, the meat has more flavour. One minor gripe would be that the prawn crackers were of the generic thin plasticky ones as served in chippies. They should switch to the thicker, more authentic ones. Regards the service, I'd echo what Alain D has said. The staff are all wonderfully friendly and offer a sincerely warm welcome. Throughout the duration of the meal, they couldn't do enough for us and also recommended we pick up alcohol from the off licence a few doors down until they had their licence in place. Unfortunately, there was no structure and it was all a bit haphazard. There were two of us dining and both our starters came out relatively quickly, immediately followed by one of our mains. Then there was a long wait for our other main which was a bowl of pho. This had been mistakenly sent to another table where it sat for at least five minutes. When the waitress realised her mistake, rather than send the dish back and prepare a fresh one, the bowl which had been sat on someone else's table was just redelivered to ours. I also had a problem with our bill where a more expensive dish was charged for instead of one of the starters. I'd go again just for the food alone as it is really good but they need to sort their service out.

1 Response: Reply To This...
Fiona SMarch 20th 2014.

Well it must be that I have been going during off-peak hours where it was not so busy. So there was no hitch in the service that I received. What I can say about the staff though is that they're very friendly, caring and genuine. On my first visit I simply asked my waitress "how does the food compare to the other Viet restaurants?" Her answer was simply "I will leave it to you to be the judge of that". But in my opinion the food at Saigon Lotus is by far superior to all the viet restaurants I have been to in Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle, Bury and London. That I have no doubt about.

Uncle Ho Chi MinhMarch 16th 2014.

After dying, being embalmed by the Russians and lying in a mausoleum in Hanoi since 1969, I mysteriously awoke on the morning of 7th March with a hunger. A hunger for authentic Vietnamese food. A hunger bigger than fallen comrade Bob Crow's council house. My hunger didn't take me to the perfumed city of Hue, the hustle and bustle of my namesake city or even Hakkasan in London. My hunger took me to Saigon Lotus in Ancoats where I was served the most authentic and delicious Vietnamese food I have ever tasted. I then went and got a shellac French (Revolution) manicure from one of my own country men on Piccadilly.

AnonymousMarch 17th 2014.

Went on Friday and was very impressed. Food great, service slow and nervy but can't do enough for you. Food came out in bits and bats but was told this when we ordered so no problems. As it seems everyone else has, we had a struggle with the bill - completely wrong bill at first then wrong amount in putted into the card machine. Definitely give it a try but don't expect immaculate service etc but for me this is the reason to go! really relaxed atmosphere and will go again

Pedro1874March 27th 2014.

Really loved the stir fried goat and a whole fish with really tasty, crispy skin

Pedro1874April 25th 2014.

You really should have "Vietnamese" link under Food and Drink now - there is a new Vietnamese coffee shop opening a few doors down - wonderful sign over the cafe and there is a Vietnamese/Asian deli there also.

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