Sweet Mandarin, 19 Copperas St, Manchester, M4 1HS – Visit Now
Northern Quarter restaurant Sweet Mandarin has been around since before the Northern Quarter was even a thing. Ran by three sisters, Lisa, Helen and Janet Tse, it opened in 2004, serving up modern authentic Chinese cuisine in a bright, open restaurant, tucked away behind Edge Street.
They’ve achieved a lot in subsequent years, most notably starring on Gordon Ramsay’s refreshingly non-shouty The F Word TV series, representing Manchester as one of the city’s best restaurants. And if the angriest man in the food industry approves, who are we disagree? They also have their own line of sauces, cookery classes and cookbooks, carving out their own little empire in the corner of the city. Puts your ‘To Do’ list to shame, right?
We begin with salt and pepper chilli spare ribs: huge chunks of bone, with even bigger strips of soft tender meat attached, coated with a wonderfully light, batter. Describing it as salty doesn’t do it justice – bite into a rib and every umami receptor on your tongue tingles and explodes with joy.
The salt and chilli squid are even better – as you’d expect from the dish that helped Sweet Mandarin win Ramsay’s Best UK Chinese Restaurant award back in 2009. Here you’ll find a plate full of deliciously soft, tender squid, coated in a cloudlike golden batter, dusted with some secret Sweet Mandarin seasoning. Trust me, this seasoning is the stuff that’ll keep you coming back for more – it’s the most moreish powder this side of Columbia.
The crispy fish with mala paste is a hearty, complex main dish. The fish is expertly fried, placed on a bed of fragrant Suchuanese sauce that bursts with garlic, chillis and sesame flavours. It delivers a polite kick of heat, but nothing too violent. You could spend hours trying to isolate the flavours but don’t bother, simply enjoy.
The delightfully-named Hot & Numbing Chicken does exactly what it says on the tin. It’s undeniably hot, but in a sit-up-straight-and-admire way, a slow deep heat that pleases rather than tortures the senses. Apparently these numbing and hot dishes date back to the Emperor of the Qing Dynasty. There’s not much in the way of a sauce, the flavours come from Sichuan pepper powder and little burgundy chilis – this is what provides the seductive heat that coats the soft chunks of chicken.
When it comes to Chinese restaurants in Manchester Sweet Mandarin is one of a kind. With a history that could fill a book (and indeed has), this is a restaurant brimming with ambition and ideas, not to mention some of the finest East Asian dishes the city has to offer.