As a food blogger, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked what my favourite place to eat is and I never ever get any better at answering it. I always end up babbling something about it depending what mood I’m in or what cuisine I’m hankering after and then concluding that if someone had a gun to my head, it would have to be Salthouse Bacaro, Gusto Heswall or Mowgli.
Then I often get met with a response something along the lines of: okay, okay well answer this – if you were going to pick a takeaway, what would it be? Admittedly, this does make my answer a smidge clearer because Indian is always my clear winner – Barton Rouge, to be precise. The general sweetness of Chinese fare has always fallen in the shadows of aromatic Indian spices on account of my predominantly savoury tooth (if that’s a thing) but of late, the balance hasn’t been quite so biased.
I think I’ve got Blind Tiger in Liverpool and Mr Chow‘s in Parkgate to thank for my embracing of Chinese food – in fact, they both inspired my Best Chinese Restaurants in Liverpool blog post. However, I’m endeavouring to branch out into pastures new and to take my tastebuds on a trip of the Orient – albeit very westernised. First stop: Sweet Mandarin in Manchester’s trendy Northern Quarter.
When you think of Manchester’s Northern Quarter, your mind most probably naturally wanders to the hipster spectrum – vegan acai bowls, dirty burgers with donut buns and everything trendy in between. Your first thought probably isn’t of the humble Chinese restaurant with traditional Chinese red décor and paper lanterns swinging above the door but that’s where Sweet Mandarin comes in to break the mould.
Nestled in a quiet cobbled corner of Copperas Street, surrounded by artisan bars and neighbouring a Cat Café, Sweet Mandarin looks rather ordinary. The classic interior has been carved with a cookie cutter too – nothing you wouldn’t expect from a mid-market Chinese eatery – but it’s humble and homely nonetheless.
The procession of Deliveroo bods that were coming and going implied that this place is popular (very popular) but perhaps somewhere locals love from the comfort of their own homes and I can kind of understand that. The USP might not be in the restaurant experience itself but Sweet Mandarin certainly reigns victorious when it comes to delivering delicious Asian food derived from authentic homemade recipes…
Before we get down to the good stuff, let me first show some love for the Sweet Mandarin drinks offering. I don’t know if it was because it was 32 degrees outside when we took our seat in the sunbeams at the window but I have very fond memories of our pre-meal round of drinks.
I was almost irresistibly tempted by the extensive cocktail list but it was the Raspberry Ice Tea which stole my affection and it didn’t disappoint. It was much, much sweeter than I had anticipated but a welcome nectar at the height of the British heatwave. My other half went for a bottle of Tsingtao beer because well, when in Rome (or China) and it came with the condensation-glazed exterior and icy chill that she had been fantasising about all day.
As I referenced in my review of Est Italian in West Kirby (coming soon), I always like to keep my choices classic when road testing a new restaurant of a specific cultural cuisine. I think this way, you can really put them through their paces and really expose the cooking skills and flavour combinations. With this in mind, we went for the Salt & Chilli Squid (£7) and some simple Vegetable Spring Rolls (£4.95) to start.
The battered quid was actually one of the dishes that helped the Tse’s clinch the winning title of Gordon Ramsay’s F Word Best Local Chinese Restaurant in the UK back in 2009 and they didn’t disappoint. Served with Sweet Mandarin’s own-brand Chilli Sauce and sliced chilli peppers, they certainly set the bar high.
The bar was met when we tucked into our mains that we had decided were going to be the Firecracker Chicken (£9.95) and the Crispy Chilli Beef (£9.95) after receiving some glowing recommendations on social media earlier that day. The beef dish was comprised of shreds of tender meat dusted in a gluten free batter, wok-tossed with Asian vegetables and drowned in the sticky Sweet Mandarin Cantonese OK sauce. I can see why this dish is one of the restaurant’s best-sellers, that’s for sure.
The chicken dish manifested as a generous plate of sliced chicken muddled with bamboo shoots, carrots, onions and a homemade Kung Pao sauce which was as warming as it was sweet. We enjoyed both of these with a bowl of steaming fried rice that was cooked to perfection and expertly seasoned. In fact, I really couldn’t find fault with a single thing we ate at Sweet Mandarin so I implore you to give it a go next time you’re in the neighbourhood.
I was very kindly invited to review Sweet Mandarin but all words, photographs, opinions, teeth, hair, boobs and nails are my very own.