If there’s one truth about finding good Chinese food, it’s this – never trust online reviews, and follow the local crowds instead. When we arrived in Manchester from Cardiff, we decided to quickly look up places where we could have dinner that night. Knowing that there was a large Chinese population in Manchester and predicting that the Chinese food would be of a similarly high standard as Australia with its large Chinese population, we decided that we wanted to go out for Chinese food.
After consulting a few different blog entries from Mancunians and a half dozen or so publications listing their “Top Five” Chinese restaurants in Manchester, I settled on The Rice Bowl as the restaurant most likely to provide a decent dining experience for us. How wrong I was – as soon as we walked downstairs into their subterranean dining room we knew we had made a mistake. Instead of being filled with fellow Cantonese speakers as we were at New Fortune Cookie in London, we found ourselves seated amongst pairs of older English people in a near-empty restaurant.
Too polite to backtrack out of the restaurant to go in search for something more genuine, we settled ourselves in to make the most of the evening. A basket of complimentary Prawn Crackers to start helped to brighten the evening as it put me in mind of the days of my childhood when my cousins and I would sneak down to my parents takeaway shop to steal a bag of prawn crackers as a treat.
In the mood for some dim sum after a disappointing experience in Zagreb, we ordered the Basket of Steamed Dim Sum – they also offered a range of grilled and fried dim sum as well, but as any yum cha connoisseur would know, steamed is the way to go! The siu mai was the best of the lot with a thick meaty filling that was highlighted nicely with some crunchy mushrooms.
Unfortunately the other dim sum were more disappointing, ranging from overcooked and soggy skins to an unexplainable presence in the bamboo steamer basket. I’m not sure under what circumstances sushi rolls should be steamed! I think the mistake made here was that all the dim sum were placed in the basket and steamed for the same amount of time – which worked well for the siu mai, but resulted in overcooking on the other items. The kitchen really should have taken the time to steam each item individually before placing them all in a collective basket, to ensure that each item is steamed the right amount.
The Chicken Sweet Corn Soup was adequate, though it lacked the body that my homemade soup tends to have. It’s very important to get the egg to soup ratio just right – I tend to average the use of three eggs per two serves of soup, whereas this really only had one egg in it at most.
In the mood for some duck, we ordered the Hot Pot of Roasted Duck with Vegetables and Shittake Mushrooms in Hoisin Sauce, served on top of a little gas burner. The duck was quite well done with a nice crispy skin – if only they had been a little less liberal with the hoisin sauce. At least it didn’t affect the vegetables which remained nice and fresh and crispy.
We ordered another Hot Pot with Glass Noodles, Deep Fried Tofu and Vegetables with Satay Sauce. Again served on a gas burner, we would have been better off ordering something a bit plainer – perhaps a simple mixed vegetable dish with garlic and spring onion. As it was, having two dishes both with a heavy-handed use of sauce (hoisin and satay) made for a meal that clung unpleasantly to ones palate, pleading for a breath mint.
Unfortunately The Rice Bowl didn’t quite live up to the standard of Chinese food that we’re used to and were hoping for. The kitchen is particularly heavy-handed in their use of sauces, lacking that delicate touch which helps to characterise a particularly good Chinese dish. They also seem to cut corners in a detrimental way – the steaming of dumplings for example, deserves more thoughtful timekeeping to ensure that each different dumpling is perfectly turned out.
I can’t recommend The Rice Bowl as a Chinese restaurant of note in Manchester I’m afraid…and I fear that our negative experience actually put us off trying any other Chinese establishments in Chinatown! Any Mancunians want to suggest somewhere more authentic for us to try on our next visit?
The Rice Bowl is located at 33a Cross St in Manchester, England.