Monday 13 October 2008

Manchester: Red Chilli

An impromptu trip to Manchester lead me to realise that Glasgow is not the culinary wasteland I thought it was, not that is, in comparison to Manchester. It baffles me how bleak the food scene here is. As usual I did my pre-trip research. I Googled 'Manchester food blogs' and only one blog came up which was affiliated to a newspaper. I had to resort to Chowhound and egullet both of which yielded nothing, and then onto old newspaper reviews. It seems that Jay Rayner feels similarly.

It's not that Manchester is all bad, the people are friendly enough, although we did witness a girl getting her bag nicked in the train station but hey that happens in Glasgow too, and the shopping is excellent, probably better than Glasgow, and they have preserved some cool buildings and built some modern ones too. So, in a city with an obvious disposable income (before the credit crunch, maybe) do it's citizens really prefer to spend their money on clothes and booze? Or, is it that they are all really good cooks and choose to stay at home.. Who knows.

Anyway, for the first night I thought we would have tapas, hoping to re-create the experience we had in Nottingham at Iberico. Grado, which offers tapas in addition to larger dishes,had disappointing reviews so we chose El rincon de rafa a place popular with the locals. At the last minute I mentioned to HI about a pork belly dish that Mr Rayner had referred to whilst reviewing Grado, a dish not found at Grado but at Red Chilli a Sichuan restaurant.

'Why don't we go there?' said HI. Why not indeed.
I had been reading up about Sichuan food after reading reviews for Bar Shu and Baozi Inn in London and Grand Sichuan International in New York which made my mouth water.

With this in mind off we trotted to find Red Chilli, located on Portland street in a basement. We were seated quickly without a reservation in a restaurant that was almost full on a Wednesday night. Reassuringly 70% of the people eating there were of Chinese/Cantonese origin, that and the dark red and laquered wood interior and intriuging spicy smells made me think we had left Manchester. I felt like I was in the beginning of that Indiana Jones movie which starts in Shanghai and HI thought we were in Hard Boiled. The menu at Red Chilli is large and populated by often quoted unusually named dishes such as 'Husband and wife lungs' and 'Miss spotty bean curd' or something similar.

We started off with two dishes from the cold starter menu.I chose the cucumber with garlic dressing.

This was amazing. Very tasty. I could have eaten another plate of it. HI of course, had to choose something odd, and settled for the pig's head.

Not very nice. Texturally a bit hard with chewy grisly bits in it. Eew.

We soon realised we had ordered way too much. The portions here are huge compared to what you would get in Glasgow and we had enough food for four hungry people. I had ordered the stir-fry chives and bean sprouts, hoping to get a plate of chives resembling those I had bought when making my Vietnamese salad.

We ended up with a huge dish of mostly bean sprouts with chives in that was still quite tasty. The spicy hot poached beef turned out to be a huge bowl of beef lurking in a potent fiery red chili soup.

Tasty and very hot, mouth numbing hot which is what you want from Sichuan food. The pork belly hot pot was altogether more of a delicately flavoured dish. The liquor was beautiful, hints ginger and spice on a porky flavourful broth. You really could eat a bowl of this on a cold winters night and feel better for it. It had fine vermicelli noodles in it and lots of bok-choi to give it a healthy edge.

We ordered Dan-Dan noodles as I had read people rave about the ones you get at GSI. The noodles were ginormous in size and came with shredded pork and chili on top.

The dishes we chose went well together and created a very tasty, fiery meal. I was however aware of the layer of oil covering all of the dishes and felt that this in addition to the huge portions, meant that the meal was probably not going to be one of my healthiest. On the plus side, they say chili helps speed up the metabolism so maybe I won't come off too badly, and I did come away wishing we had something similar in Glasgow.

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