Thursday, 15 December 2011

Red Chilli - Manchester

Manchester’s Chinatown offers avenues for culinary exploration and sensory stimulation to visitors and Manchester’s large Chinese population alike. One of the largest Chinatowns outside China, it inhabits a distinct area just off the city centre and is vibrantly spread over four streets. Chinatown boasts a beautifully ornate arch, bustling Chinese supermarkets and a phalanx of restaurants to stimulate your senses.

Manchester Chinatown with thanks to Panoramio

One restaurant on the edge of Chinatown, which is rapidly gaining credibility with the more adventurous of eaters, is Red Chilli on Portland Street. This restaurant is the original, with branches popping up across the North West; there’s a second, bigger version in Manchester’s university area on Oxford Road.

Red Chilli - with thanks to the Local Data Company

Red Chilli on Portland Street is pretty cramped, dark and a little dingy. It’s full of dark wood, mirrored walls and a few Chinese carvings with plenty of brooding atmosphere. Apparently it’s been done up lately, but the stairs up to the toilets are still pretty grimy and the seats in the waiting area are a little past their best.

However this isn’t a style blog so let’s move on for the main reason you’re reading this – the food at Red Chilli is influenced by the Sichuan and Beijing areas of China, so there’s plenty of small sharing plates, royal style dishes, dark soy sauce and bold, punchy spice. The extensive menu reads like a what’s what of animal parts and makes use of stronger meats like mutton, which can stand up to the challenging and potentially overpowering flavours of this style of cuisine.

Chilli beef

Shredded chilli beef was pleasingly crispy, crunchy and sweet; small strips of beef that had been chucked into oil and coated in a thick sauce flecked with little bits of chilli. Sliced duck breast with young leeks was the most conservative of dishes we tried, however still managed to deliver on the flavour front; the sauce was rich, dark and full of salty flavours that married well with the sweetness of the duck and the leeks.

Duck with young leeks

Dan dan noodles were shared between the table; the waitress making ceremony of measuring them out in to individual bowls and passing them round. The flat noodles had been cooked in a spicy broth with the addition of very soft, minced pork. The soup was surprisingly deep in savoury flavours with tongue numbing Sichuan pepper combing with chillies and the fresh bite of spring onions to create a balanced dish with a huge spectrum of flavours.

Dan dan noodles

Whether Red Chilli was having an off day, or whether it was because we were a table of small European girls, the food at Red Chilli didn’t quite offer the spicy assault on our taste buds we had expected. After eating a lot of the noodles our mouths were starting to numb and tingle, but I managed to have thirds and could still feel my tongue. The spicy chilli beef could have benefited from the supposed chilli that was meant to be there; coupled with the crispy, gloopy, spicy beef it would have been completely divine.

Apart from the misplaced heat, the food at red chilli is delicious and extremely moreish. Their approach to delivering properly regional dishes and their bravery at including all parts of the animal is refreshing when most Chinese restaurants are content with delivering the same anglicised versions of mediocre dishes.

Ps Try the pork buns, we didn’t have them, but they are a bit of a delicacy. If you go to the bigger restaurant on Oxford Road you can also have more ‘upmarket’ recipes such as Peking duck.

Price for three mains (we shared between four as the portions are large and we still didn’t manage to finish it), four beers and rice: £38.50

Food – 7/10
Atmosphere – 6/10
Service – 5/10
Value for money – 8/10
Total – 26/40

Go again – yes I would. It’s not expensive and the food is always interesting.

Red Chilli, 70-72 Portland Street, Manchester M1 4GU – 0161 236 2888

Red Chilli on Urbanspoon


  1. I remeber going here a few years ago and I couldn't feel the inside of my mouth because there was so much Sichuan pepper. I mean that in a good way.

    Hope they've not toned the menu down too much.

  2. Think it was a case of small girls looking meek and them changing the food to suit. Plus we weren't being too adventurous so they may have taken us for some non-spice lovers!

  3. Hi! Just discovered your blog!

    We visited Red Chilli not too long ago, but we went to the one on Oxford Road which was full of students! I think we found it similar to you, didn't blow our socks off but at that price it's great value. Plus the onion bread off the Dim Sum menu was off the hook!

    here's our review...