Sweet Mandarin - with thanks to themselves
After a public battle in the middle of the Northern Quarter with t'Boy and the little bro, we decamped to Sweet Mandarin as it was a) open b) looked inviting and c) it was cheaper than the surrounding places and d) the other places were full.
It's run by two sisters, Helen and Lisa Tse - one in the kitchen and one front of house. There's a family feel about the place, probably because the girls are third generation restaurateurs - their grandma opened one of the first Chinese restaurants in the UK and the menu is littered with dishes that hark back to their family; Mabel's clay pot chicken is their Mother's dish and their sweet and sour is made to a recipe their father created. You can also buy a book about the family's move over from China written by Helen - these girls are ever industrious, there's even homemade sauces which you can buy and take home and they've started a cookery school and cocktail classes and...
Fishy polystyrene and some ab fab sauces
Talking about the bottled sauces, out came the prawn crackers - I don't like prawn crackers; words like fishy polystyrene, bubble wrap and plastic come to mind - however the sauces made them pretty agreeable. The sweet chilli was firey and sharp, with no over cloying sweetness and the BBQ was a finger-licking treat.
Lions Head meatballs - a portion size for a lion
Sweet Mandarin's not cheap for a Chinese, obviously taking a lead from it's Northern Quarter neighbours, the mains hover around the £10 mark with quite a few above that - plus there's rice needed on top as well! Feeling the pennies pinching, I chose the Lion Head Meatballs; soft and sweet meatballs in a fabulously salty, oyster sauce served with noodles (so no rice required) and some token Chinese greens. Playing on the salty/sweet, meat/seafood juxtapositions, this dish was a bit of a hit - though the size meant I could have shared it and saved myself a couple of extra quid.
Sweet and sour in a crispy bowl
Crispy Sichaun Beef lacked the massive chilli punch I was waiting for from a dish from the hot and spicy part of China, though the beef was crispy as advertised. The sweet and sour was served in a crispy bowl, which was good fun for dipping in the mouth puckering sauce; however I'm no fan of sweet and sour as it's always too gloopy for me and this was no exception.
Crispy Sichaun beef
Sweet Mandarin is a great little neighbourhood restaurant; the staff are welcoming and friendly, plus were super patient when I wanted to change my mind 15 times and didn't begrudge my refusal to budge from tap water all night. However if Sweet Mandarin was just a little neighbourhood place, tucked away in some provincial town, I'd be giving this place a full house of tens for the score - but this is the middle of Manchester, with some pretty fine eating establishments round the corner, a top-rate China Town down the road and Ramsey awarded it the best Chinese place in the UK.
Best Chinese in the UK? Not in my books, but better than your usual Chinese fare and a cheap for the Northern Quarter.
Total for prawn crackers, four mains, rice and three beers - £62.30
Food - 6/10
Service - 8/10
Atmosphere - 7/10
Price - 7/10
Total - 28/40
Go again? Yes, if I was in the area and the group wanted a Chinese - otherwise I'd head down to China Town for a big wallop in the face from Red Chilli or those delicious chewy handmade noodles from the BBQ King.
Sweet Mandarin, 19 Copperas Street, Northern Quarter, Manchester M4 1HS - 0161 832 8848 -