We review Yuet Ben in Liverpool, a Chinese restaurant that sets itself apart from its competitors, even after 40 years.
For a city that is home to the oldest Chinese community in Europe, Liverpool’s never really gained much of a reputation for Chinese food. While there’s the rather tatty looking bunch of restaurants clustered around the Chinese arch near Upper Duke Street, it all feels a little understated. Even more so when you compare our China Town to the ones you tend to find in other cities with an equally active Chinese diaspora, such as Manchester and London. For a place that is having a culinary renaissance, Liverpool’s version feels like a real untapped source of potential.
However, there is one shining star in the firmament, and that’s Yuet Ben, situated at the bottom of Upper Duke Street. Established in 1968 by adopted Scouser Yuh Ho (you can see a wonderful picture of him hand pulling noodles on one of the walls), it’s been quietly sitting there for over forty years, doing its own thing and introducing generations of hungry Liverpudlians to the wonders of Northern Chinese cuisine.
You’ll find all the usual Chinese standards at Yuet Ben – arguably it wouldn’t have been around as long if didn’t do a pretty mean Crispy Duck – but delve deeper into the menu and you’ll find some suitably unique (as well as incredibly delicious) gems. For example, while you won’t find anything to complain about with their hot starters, we’d suggest taking a swerve and opting for a few of the cold ones instead. Cold smoked fish and pickled rainbow vegetables might not sound like your traditional Chinese restaurant fare, but all that smoke and vinegar melds together perfectly to get your appetite racing, particularly when accompanied by mouthfuls of bracingly umami-rich Gon Bay Chon seaweed – and washed down with a lot of beer, naturally.
When it comes to the mains, there are some dishes that you’ll be hard pushed to find at even the most esoteric Chinese takeaways. Lamb is a staple of a lot of Northern Chinese cuisine and here you’ll find it delightfully crispy, and redolent with cumin. Another favourite is the “Sweet and Sour ‘Cherry’ Chicken”. If sweet and sour puts you in mind of neon red sauces, tinned pineapple chunks and astringent flavours, this version will definitely come as a bit of a surprise. Here, the sweet-sharp cherry does the work, adding a bracing tang without overwhelming the other elements of the dish. It’s interesting, it’s unique and it’s decidedly moreish – particularly when piled over steaming heaps of freshly cooked egg fried rice.
It’s dishes like these that make Yuet Ben work so well; they are the reason why people keep returning here, and spreading the word to their fellow Scousers. On the night we were there, it felt like every side of Liverpudlian life could be found clustered around the tables – from families enjoying a weekend payday treat, to students who had freshly arrived, and were craving something comforting before splurging their loan in the local bar. And, for less than £50 for dinner for two, with a good few beers thrown in, it’s a decidedly more affordable option than a lot of lesser restaurants in the near vicinity.
Restaurants in Liverpool come and go all the time, so one that’s lasted for forty years has got to be doing something right. Yuet Ben is – which is why we’ll keep coming back, and spreading the word that, for the meantime at least, there’s one restaurant in Liverpool that prides itself on doing Chinese food right.