Saturday, 9 November 2013

Hunan, Chinatown

Clay pot lamb belly - our favourite dish!
It's been so long since I've written a blog post about food that I feel like I've forgotten how to, um, write about food. Unfortunately, the photographs I have to accompany this post certainly ain't the best, so I'm really going to have to pull my socks up if I'm to keep you engaged for the next 5 minutes. We've been a bit sloppy with the ol' blog writing recently - Jamie's been busy dividing his time between two very different writing jobs and I've been preoccupied with finding a new job, and then starting it (oh, and then starting another one too - apparently one just ain't enough no more). We've also managed to move house in the last month; cue silent weeping as we say goodbye to our Swedish show-home style kitchen and hello to a pokey little space so small that we're currently hanging our pans from a curtain pole (supper clubs will certainly be interesting here!).

In celebration of starting aforementioned new job, we thought we'd make the most of my last weekend before entering back into 'normal' working hours and try a new restaurant. I, slightly hungover, really craved Chinese. The only problem was choosing where to go: my knowledge of the cuisine in this city is pretty limited, save a few dodgy takeaways and the delicious seafood in XO sauce from Laughing Buddha in Didsbury village. Thank God then, for Twitter, or more accurately for Aka Hige (Paul) who suggested Hunan in Chinatown. 

Braised taro in chilli and garlic
Hunanese food is apparently known for its plentiful use of chillies and garlic - SOLD. Despite the multitude of both in all of the dishes we had, each plate still managed to differentiate itself from the rest. The menu is extensive so it was difficult to choose, although Paul had recommended the braised taro. Not something I'd ever come across before, we were more than happy to give it a go. Taro is a root vegetable (not dissimilar to a potato) and when braised took on an almost dumpling-like consistency; it came flecked with chilli and spring onions, and turned out to be even better when reheated the next day. 

Our favourite dish was easily the clay pot lamb belly - hot without being overtly spicy laced with the deep, warming spice of star anise, the tender meat fell from the bone (mostly! this was chopped very small, so sometimes it was a case of sucking the meat from the bone...). Lamb belly is a favourite of ours, which we've only recently discovered after making the equivalent of Moroccan ribs with the underused cut - but please don't tell everyone, lest its arrogance overtake its beauty, like the fate of its now-expensive cousin, pork belly.

Duck gizzards ('glandular' stomach) with white chillies
We also - bravely - opted for duck gizzards with white chillies as well as 'fragrant and hot crab'; the latter, something the restaurant draws attention to on its website in the Hunan cuisine section and so we assumed it would be a dish done well. Unfortunately not. Though the crab came with the accompanying tools to extract the salty flesh it proved to be a time consuming task which was not entirely worth the wait. When I finally managed to get hold of enough to eat with the sauce, though generally tasty, I would have guessed the crab were cooked from frozen, and was certainly overdone. The leftfield choice of poultry stomach, though not something I would necessarily order again, was enjoyable and amongst the spicier of the dishes of the night - Jamie was fairly certain it contained salted chillies, which added an extra dimension of heat!

We ploughed our way through four dishes over the course of an hour (as well as a few beers) and landed up with a bill under £40. We're keen to head back to Hunan to try some more of the menu - I think the pork with smoked tofu, five spiced pigs intestines and one of their dry-pot dishes (a speciality of Hunan cuisine) are next on our to-do list. It's worth mentioning that the portions are large and cheap (average price is around £8) so it's an ideal place to visit with friends who enjoy sharing! 

Well, if you managed to make it to the end of this post - thanks for bearing with me as I meander back into food blogging and I promise to try harder next time! No gold stars for me I think, but at least there's one for Hunan.

Hunan Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Phetpailin, Chinatown

Pla Chu Chee - creamy, spicy richness with crispy lime leaves.

We've banged on about Phetpailin a fair bit since writing this blog - we featured it in our 'Top Ten Cheap Eats' back in January and mentioned it as the 'place to keep going back to' on Wow 247. We even had the pleasant surprise of recommending it to someone on Twitter and later realising they were sat at the table next to us when we last visited!

I'll start by warning you the photos don't do this place justice, and it doesn't help that the lighting's bad and they were all taken on my iPhone. Also important to note is that this joint is BYOB. Yes, that's right ladies and gents: it's free reign to get as pissed as you like for under a tenner. Or, as sometimes occurs, when we're feeling a little more flash, it's an opportunity to splash out on a fancy bottle from a decent wine shop like Reserve - as we did on this occasion - for the same price you'd usually spend on a bottle of the house in a licensed restaurant.

It's easy to spot: you'll see Long Legs on George street, a huddle of bouncers and dodgy looking fellas outside, sometimes even sitting on the steps to the entrance of Phetpailin - so squeeze past them and slip into this little gem of a Thai restaurant.

Knowing that I was going to be treating Jamie for some seriously good pan-Asian cuisine in Prague in the form of Sansho, I wanted to give him a little taster of things to come on his actually birthday and so booked us a table at 8pm on a Wednesday night. It was surprisingly busy, and there was just one waitress to manage the whole place - whilst service wasn't speedy per se, considering she was on her own, it was perfectly efficient and well, just generally inoffensive.

Tod Mun Pla (Thai Fishcakes)
I won't beat about the bush with this one: the food is decent, reasonably priced, and as already mentioned, it's bladdy bring yer own innit guv?!

Having previously sampled the deep fried platter of Thai starters - a bargain at £5.95 p/p - we weren't sure we could face it this time, so just opted for the Thai fish cakes. With a completely rubbish carrot salad on the side, the fishcakes themselves are fragrant, spicy little bites of um, fish. And other bits. According to their website, there's green beans in them but I didn't notice any. Though rubbery to touch, they're almost as light as marshmallows, but with a slightly crisp coating. Essentially, I'm telling you that for £5.50 they're worth a try. The accompanying sweet chilli sauce is fair too, less gloopy than the stuff out of a bottle and I assume it's made on site.

Mains were pretty much predetermined. We managed to sample a good majority of the menu when our mates had a leaving do there (they left us for Australia, sob!) and discovered our faves: Tamarind Duck and Pla Chu Chee. The duck dish is a slightly sweet and sour one due to the inclusion of tamarind (also found in HP and Worcestershire sauce, don'tcha know?). We loved the use of cashew nuts to vary the texture, and there were plenty of veg. It would be great if they'd cook the duck pink, though perhaps if you specified they would. Regardless of the colour of the meat, it's still perfectly tasty. We tried to recreate this at home later - we got the duck bang on but couldn't quite recreate that lovely sticky glaze. The Pla Chu Chee is in another league, although I can't work out if my palate is hardening to spice or they've cooled it down a bit over the years, as I definitely remember not being able to manage more than a mouthful a few years ago due to the chilli heat. This time I was more than capable, hurrah! They use tilapia, a cheap white fish, though it doesn't really matter that it's nothing posher here as the rich red curry paste sauce, mixed with coconut milk and deep fried lime leaves is an unctuous delight alone.

Our bill came to just over £25, we'd drunk a bottle of wine we'd probably have paid in excess of £40 if bought in a restaurant, and left stuffed. This place isn't going to win any awards for fine dining or innovative cuisine, but I've never had a bad meal here, and it's a great place to visit, whether you're a couple or group of mates. I'd advised booking, particularly on the weekend - and they even have a fancy website you can do it on!

46 George Street, Chinatown
Manchester, M1 4HF
0161 228 6500

Phetpailin on Urbanspoon