It was Sunday, I was cold, it was raining, and I was a tad hungover after a night on the sauce with Dad Cay and Mr. Cay. There was only one thing for it. Chinese food – and lots of it.
Apparently the night before, after more than one bottle of red booze, I had promised my beloved that I would take him to Red Chilli - arguably Manchester’s finest Szechuan restaurant – for his lunch. It was a promise he was determined to hold me to. Hear me now, and hear me well. Be careful of the promises you make when you’re shitfaced. People will often try and make you keep them (well, it’s how I managed to get a hamster off my parents when I was 10 anyway).
Luckily for me, Red Chilli is a gem, and just the thing for when your head is aching and your belly is craving spice. I had been there once before, in 2007 with (vegetarian) ex Mr. Cay. He wasn’t impressed by the numerous offal-based dishes I ordered which came swimming in a soup of peppercorns and dried chillies, whilst I felt as though I had died and gone to an exceedingly fiery heaven. Thinking about it, it’s no wonder that we weren’t really meant to be.
Current Mr. Cay however, is well aware of my love of foods which set your mouth on fire with joy, and your heart on fire with acid reflux. Indeed, he has often joined me in scoffing down huge plates of chilli laden food which would make a lesser person weep for the health of their downstairs area. Reader, to paraphrase Jane Austen, there is a reason I’m marrying him.
However, seeing as we were feeling rather fragile, we decided to start slowly with a starter of poached chicken with a soy & ginger dip, and beancurd skin with spring onion. Both were delicious – the chicken was soft, tender and wonderfully moist – the perfect receptacle for the delightfully sharp and sweet dip. It was impossible to have just one piece of this, and I found myself nicking small slices of it with my chopsticks when Mr. Cay wasn’t looking. My beancurd was equally tasty, although its chewy rubbery texture might not be for everyone. The savoury, umami-rich sauce it was coated in was a delight, turning what can so often be a bland ingredient into a plate of sensory delights.
We’d decided to save the heat for the main courses, and were justly rewarded. My (huge) bowl of Dan Dan noodles arrived swimming in a slick, angry looking red broth. As the waitress was spooning it into my bowl, I could already feel its heat swimming and bubbling away on my tongue. Rich with fatty pork mince, slippery unctuous noodles and smoky fruity chilli oil, I could feel my hangover melting away after just one bite. And by the time I’d inhaled two bowls of the stuff, I felt almost human again (although that feeling was swiftly eradicated when I walked outside in the damp Mancunian afternoon). The portion sizes were immensely generous to boot – this was a dish which could have easily fed four people.
Mr. Cay’s pork with green beans and crispy noodles (not pictured) was equally as good, although I’m not entirely sure he was as keen on the crispy noodles as I was. I enjoyed the snap and give of the noodles underneath my teeth which provided a nice contrast to the softness of the pork and preserved vegetables. Simple, yet delicious, it was more warming than spicy and a perfect example of unfussy ‘homestyle’ cooking.
Sad as it sounds, for me, the highlight of the meal was the exemplary Spring Onion Pancake we ordered as a side dish. Crispy, flaky, multi-layered and wholly delicious, it was the perfect thing to soak up all of their fiery soup from my Dan Dan Noodles. Despite reading numerous blog posts about this side dish, it was the first time I’d tried it for myself – and it certainly won’t be the last. I ate my portions of this in record time, and am now determined to try and recreate this in my kitchen at home.
In a city like Manchester, where you can easily pay ridiculous amounts of money for mediocre food, it’s nice to see a place like Red Chilli thriving. We only paid £35 for two courses and a whole lot of soft drinks each, and we were both forced to leave food on our plates because our bodies couldn’t physically hold any more noodles. Indeed, if there was one gripe I had about the place, it was that I practically had to chase a waitress around the restaurant for our bill. But, this is only a minor blip in a meal which soothed both my body and my soul. I will be visiting Red Chilli again. And soon. If only because I’m determined to try the rather exotic sounding ‘Dry Braised Frog’s Legs with Onion, Mangetout & Red pepper in Big Grandma’s Chilli Sauce Stew’.
70-72 Portland Street