Opening in 1960, I think the Rice Bowl is Manchester’s longest established Chinese restaurant. Whilst I’ve been to probably every restaurant in Chinatown over the years, this was our first visit here. It was handy for a late meal after we’d been to the Royal Exchange Theatre – even though I do have an irrational prejudice against restaurants in basements. They just never seem to be as good as they should be. Irrational, I know – but based on some experience. The family who own the restaurant originate from Shanghai but the main thrust of the menu is the fairly standard Cantonese affair which Mancs will be familiar with. But they do stretch out across East Asia, so expect to also see Malaysian mee goreng, Pad Thai and the use of Japanese teriyaki sauce.
There were a couple of dim sum to start. I reckon har kau is the best looking of the steamed dim sum. The thin dumpling pastry is pleated which must take real skill (I’m assuming here that the restaurant makes their own and doesn’t just buy them in from the catering wholesaler). The prawn filling was nicely flavoured – I think I detected a little ginger in there. But the problem was they stuck to the paper they’d sat on in the steaming basket and broke up when you tried to get them out. Char siu bao (buns) are a favourite of mine and these weren’t bad at all. Maybe the dough a little claggy but, again, nicely flavoured pork.
For main courses, a vegetable stirfry was pleasant enough. Good variety of still “al dente” veg – broccoli, mangetout and the like but enhanced with asparagus and cashew nuts. Certainly a better texture than the flavour which was, perhaps understandably, a little bland. There’s only two dishes on the whole menu which mention the owner’s Shanghai heritage. Sai Chai chicken was described as coming with a “spicy BBQ sauce, Shanghai style”. Disappointingly, it didn’t. There was nothing spicy, nor was there any indication of anything to do with BBQ as I might understand it. This was really just another chicken and veg stirfry. Again, pleasant enough.
There’s no doubting this is a well run restaurant with things happening as they should and, with something of a rarity in Manchester Chinese places, done with a smile. There are certainly worse places around (not least out in the suburbs) but the Rice Bowl only confirmed that irrational prejudice against places in basements. The city centre has a goodly number of far better places.