[Manchester, city centre] Red Chilli

This was our first trip into the city centre since before lockdown in March. We were early for our reservation so had a quick walk round Chinatown. It was surprising just how quiet it was. We walked past one restaurant that is usually busy and it was, literally, empty. So, it wasn’t really surprising that when we got to Red Chilli, there were also no other customers (later one person came in to eat). The restaurant has got its Covid-secure arrangements in place – tables were distanced, staff were wearing masks, there was sanitiser to use. You couldn’t really ask for them to do more. This was Thursday evening and the manager said they had been quite busy earlier in the week. People had come because of the government supported “Eat Out to Help Out” discount scheme. He feared that this would just concentrate the customers into that half of the week and the second half would be dead – and the evidence was clearly there to support his fear.

As for food, we just went with main courses, knowing they are always very generous quantities. My companion in life often becomes vegetarian in Asian restaurants and this visit was no exception. A pleasant enough stirfry – silky soft aubergines (presumably precooked), crisp green and red peppers. The inclusion of chunks of potato I think marks the dish out as coming from the restaurant’s Sichuan/Beijing background (but I’m obviously no expert here). There’s a little savoury sauce but enough to keep things moist. When I first started to visit Red Chilli, maybe ten years back, the internet was often full of talk about a poached lamb dish that was very heavy on the chilli. I always wimped out on trying it. Now, years later, they’ve added a poached pork option and I thought “Just get on with it, Harters”. It’s served in a casserole dish and it was really nice. Yes, there’s certainly chunks of dried Sichuan chilli, but it doesn’t kill the flavour of the broth. And this is a thin broth, not a sauce. There’s thin slices of pork, strips of Chinese cabbage, beansprouts. I enjoyed it. Maybe not enough to order again – there are other Sichuan dishes I think I prefer more. But I’m no longer a poached chilli meat virgin.

A pleasant, if slightly odd, evening.

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This sounds to me like dì sān xiān (地三鮮), which is from north-east China (Dongbei). I have some links and a brief discussion in an article I wrote a few years ago.

Thanks, Kake. Yep, the Chinese characters on the menu are the same as you have.

It’s such a simple dish, but one of my favourites from that part of the world. I don’t generally love potatoes, but when treated like this they really work for me.

We were last here a year ago, when Chinatown was more Ghost Town. Now, there are people in the restaurants, although it’s still quiet.

We shared a starter. Beijing style matchsticks of cucumber, with a scattering of peanuts and dried chilli pieces, a slightly sweet, slightly spicy thin sauce, served warm.

Gong bao chicken is my go to dish whenever I’m in a Chinese restaurant that offers Sichuan food. It’s been a good choice here in the past but was disappointing this time. Maybe there’s been a change of chef or maybe it’s been dumbed down for an increasingly Anglo customer base but it had lost all of its vibrancy and, in particular, much its heat. I suspect it’s the latter as, when I mentioned this to the restaurant manager, he replied that I could always ask for it to be spicy next time. Veggie Vera had a pleasant enough dish of stir fried vegetables – nicely fried so still crisp. There was a good selection, including “black fungus” apparently prized by some (although not us) for its slippery texture. Rice was slightly sticky – a good thing for those of us who have minimal chopstick skills.

This was an OK meal but I’m not sure it was worth the schlep in to the city and I think we’ll give it a rest for now.

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Making noodles. Phongdien Town, Cantho City, Southern Vietnam.
Credit: CiaoHo