Archive | June, 2012

Yang Sing – Gastro Club (Chinatown, Manchester)

21 Jun

Have a look around the dining room

Tucked away on the edge of Chinatown is a bedrock of the Chinese restaurant community since 1977. Yang Sing is a restaurant that’s often mentioned yet never have I visited. I’ve got my favourites in Chinatown: my favourite Cantonese restaurant, favourite Sichuan, favourite bakery, so why do I need another restaurant? In hindsight that’s a bit like saying “I’ve already got this block of gold, what the hell do I need another other one for?’

Yang Sing appears palatial upon entering through the entrance of rich dark woods into a dining room decorated in ornate wall paper and seemingly intimidating aura. The reality couldn’t have been further from the truth. Even after turning up (fashionably) late thus forcing the staff to put an extra seat at the table, the service was nothing short of delightful. Polite but still friendly and our host for the evening Bonnie was accommodating to a level I’ve rarely seen from a restaurant, especially considering the number of people in the group. 

My first visit to Yang Sing was as part of the Gastro Club and as such, a fine banquet of a meal. To see how fine, I’ve included the menu below:

Menu from the Gastro Club evening at Yang Sing

 

Now before you get too swept up in the pageantry of this menu (easily done), just take not of one interesting part of it. Specifically the part that says: ‘Our ostrich comes from a farm in Preston

A Preston based Ostrich farm? Really? Really! And here it is – Preston Ostrich Farm

But we’ll come back to that in due course. Firstly, you need an overview of this seemingly overfacing menu, so let talk about some of the highlights on offer here. First and foremost is a great dish, the Steamed razor clams crowned with vermicelli, golden garlic and premium soy.

Steamed razor clams crowned with vermicelli, golden garlic and premium soy

On being presented with this dish, it looks like it’s just washed up on the beach and been scooped up onto your plate. I mean that in a good way of course; the noodles and the soy make this look like an assortment of seafood fare that’s been caught up in a razor clam in the tide. Great presentation and thankfully backed up with great flavour. The clams were excellently cooked with a good bite but soft texture. The soy adding the salt that the slightly seafood sweet clam balanced and the vermicelli giving the final substance to the dish. You could probably have a whole plate of these, but whose got room for that when you’ve got more dishes on the way.

From the mains there were two great dishes, the King Prawns in Saffron had a wonderful flavour of fresh garden peas. Considering the vibrant colour and mildly creamy texture of the sauce this was the last flavour I would have expected which led to me spouting the sentence ‘ It tastes like peas’ with a level of amazement that might suggest that I had just discovered the taste of peas for the first time and needed to inform the others. The prawns kept up their end of the deal in this dish to being plump and just the right amount of meatiness. The colour that the saffron infused into the sauce to give it a brilliant yellow without fear that you may be about to swallow a small chemistry sets worth of food colouring and e-numbers (I hope).

King prawns with saffron sauce

Can you see any of the garlic in there? Trust me, its there.

The Stir Fried Cheshire Pak Choi acompanied by longevity, prosperity and garlic cloves gets top marks for a poetically pleasing name but also for its taste. Pak Choi was crisp in a broth base with the flavour of garlic and duck eggs mildly seasoned and spiced to give this dish a refreshing quality typically only found in chinese dishes. The part I particularly enjoyed was the whole garlic cloves which had been mellowed by the broth leaving them with just the subtle undertone of garlic as you bit through them.

Tjhe one dish I wouldn’t have expected to be talking about by the end of the night was the dessert. When someone says to you strawberries and popping candy, it doesn’t put you in mind of a Heston Blumenthal classic. Having said that though, this dish prompted more conversation around the table than any other. The strawberries were perfectly ripe and packed with the sweet, moreish fruit juice that you hope for but never get in supermarket strawberries. The popping candy melted into the side of the soft strawberry flesh and was already partially popping before you got it in your mouth. Then you just sit back and let the popping candy do the work. The simplicity of this dessert was such a great decision at the end of this lavish meal that it felt refreshing and reinvigorated the room. Wouldn’t have traded it for any other dessert at that point.

Strawberry and popping candy mash-up

By the end of the meal, that seemingly intimidated dinning room seemed a lot cosier and a more relaxing place to be. I think that’s part of the charm to this restaurant, that beneath the imposing appearance is a warm inviting place to eat. You may even want to just drop in for some dim sum and a sit down, but should you want the full banquet experience, there’s enough here to satisfy.

Yang Sing on Urbanspoon

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Thai Spice – Chorlton

7 Jun

Thai Spice – photo courtesy of toms-travel.net

Up front with this post I feel compelled to point out that I  hadn’t eaten much before we went out to dinner so by the time our meals arrived I was starving. Therefore my attention was off for this one and I may be missing some details, but I will try my best.

Different cuisines have differing levels of ‘public consciousness’. By this I mean if you stop the average man or woman on the street and ask you to tell them what they know about a type of food, they will be able to rattle of some standard items. If you were to do this with Thai food, there are a few standards: Phad Thai, Thai Fishcakes, Thai Green Curry. The recurring theme here is the fact that you rarely come across a cuisine which self references in the way that popular Thai dishes do. Despite this, there still isn’t really a great deal of public consciness around Thai food and certainly not of the great quality and variety of flavours it can offer. I have to be honest and say that I got a bit of a reminder of this myself recently at a restaurant called Thai Spice.

Thai Spice is a little restaurant on the end of the uber-trendy Beech Road in Chorlton. Home to some interesting little eateries and cafes, this is one place I’ve never set foot in despite having been intrigued by it. The small space creates a cozy atmosphere and a warm welcome at the door always helps. After being seated, we were straight down to the food and drinks (as I stated earlier, I was quite hungry). Being with friends who were willing to operate a share and share alike policy, we all ordered and shared. I picked out the Phad Prik Khing, which has a Thai Red Curry base.

Years ago I went on a Thai cookery course when I was in Chaing Mai and while I forgot most of it, I do remember the difference between Green curry paste and red curry paste. Its the chillies; Red uses dried red chillies and green uses fresh green chillies. So this dish had some kick to it. The kick was well offset by the sweetness from the sauce.Another little piece of retained knowledge I kept from that cookery course was the use of sugar. Unlike in parts of India where creams are more commonly used to balance the spice in dishes, Thai cooking commonly uses sugar as the key ingredient to do this, with cream added for flavour. The downside of this can be syrupy sweet Thai curries, a trap that was well avoided here, The green beans were fresh and crunchy and while the beef was too thin and flimsy for my liking, this dish was well-balanced and delicious.

Beef Phad Prik Khing – If you considered laughing at this name, you may not be as mature as you think… which is not necessarily a bad thing

Having done a number on my own dish, I prowled the table for my next target. I came upon a a cod dish which I have since been unable to identify on the  menu and would appreciate some assistance in identifying. As a sidenote, one of the reasons that I’m not really cut out for the food reviewing game is that I’m just there for the food. The idea of sitting and taking notes, takes the fun out of the moment. The downside is that I forget some of the details… I may have to start stealing menus.

The unidentified cod dish

Anyway, back to the dish. This seemingly luminous sauce hides some excellently cooked cod fillets. Flaky, beautiful cod and a light batter which has resisted the urge to become floppy and soggy under the pressure of that sauce. The sauce is almost too much for this excellent piece of fish but it stays just on the right side of sweet and spice offering up a sharp tang with the fish. (Descriptions like that are why I really need to start remembering the names of dishes. If I go back now, all I have to work off is this photo.)

Now add into the mix the substance of the meal. Sticky rice is something I usually don’t go for as I have a massive boiled rice addiction (I just bloody love the stuff), but on this occasion someone ordered some for the table, Presented in a small wicker basket and still wrapped in its steam bag, it was a great example of the side dish. Flavoursome, glutenous to the right degree and well bonded enough to required a spoon to scoop up a chewy clump of lightly flavoured rice pillow.

After the polishing off of the mains, the dessert menu came to us. Normally most South-East Asian restaurants don’t have interesting dessert menus, in the same way you wouldn’t really expect to peruse the burger menu at a Belgian patisserie. It’s just not really its key selling point, but today something caught my eye. The Chilli ice-cream had to be tried.

Chilli ice-cream in large amounts – cause and cure of ice-cream headaches all-in-one.

The flavour had to be tried and the result was interesting. The cream tends to hide the spice up front so at first it tastes like a strawberry ice cream. Once it’s passed the back of your mouth, the spice sneaks in and kicks your tonsils on the way down. It’s a pleasant tingle at the end of a cold hit and the ice cream quality itself was of a good standard. My only issue was the size as I was struggling to get anyone to share this thing with me, I once again had to declare defeat to this dessert (as with my last post, this is becoming a bit of a habit of mine).

I’ve never been that favourable to Thai curries in general, either here or in Thailand as the sweet and chilli flavours are a bit hit and miss with me. On this occasion, they hit and I’d certainly give this place another go, just to find out what the hell that cod dish was.

http://www.thai-spice.co.uk/

Thai Spice on Urbanspoon