Red Chilli (March 2004)
As names of restaurants go, it's not exactly the most innovative. But happily the same cannot be said of the exciting menu which is now on offer at Chinatown's newest arrival. Red Chilli stands on Portland Street, just on the cusp of the Chinese quarter, on a site which for many years housed the basement Beaujolais restaurant. Now, instead of the traditional French cuisine which once ruled the roost, there are lots of Szechuan specials the like of which probably won't be found in most of the other eateries which abound round here.
Red Chilli has dishes like eel with sliced chilli, duck smoked in tea, and Beijing shredded mange tout with meat. Sure, you can get the usual suspects too - and all at a very reasonable price. For just £7.50 you can choose chicken, beef, pork or lamb with various sauces of the black bean/satay/sweet and sour or cashew nuts variety. Substantial banquets with Cantonese classics like sweet and sour and chicken and sweetcorn soup cost from as little as £18 per person for three substantial courses. Aromatic crispy duck is here and also 'sizzling' dishes like steak with black bean sauce. But manager Paul Lui and his second-in-command Ernest Lok are even keener to get the growing clientele interested in the more avant-garde fare also on offer.
But first the ambience -- pleasant enough without being startling. Walls are salmon-pink; there are pretty black screens and a small bar as you enter the premises. The staff are extremely polite and happy to serve up the old favourites people know and love. But they also enthusiastically aim to steer you towards food a little more representative of what they are trying to do here - top quality Szechuan- and Beijing -style cuisine. Apparently, the culinary accent in this part of China is on subtler spices and herbs rather than the often glutinous and gung-ho textures typical of Westernised Cantonese fare. Hence a hot and sour soup Beijing-style comes laden with scallops, squid, tofu and fragrant lemongrass and coriander. There is sea bass poached, de-boned and served 'spicy hot.' Chilli-spiced chicken, too. For the really brave there is sea cucumber, and dishes cooked in clay pots with various meats, pork, bean curd and vegetables.
Vegetarians, often short-changed in mainstream Chinese places, are positively spoilt for choice with dishes like braised aubergine, pak choi with sweet vinegar, and deep-fried shredded potato with chilli. There are dozens of rice and noodle dishes too. And cold starters like salted duck and five-spiced beef. Starters begin at £2- £3 and main courses are in the £7-£9 bracket. Particularly recommended are the Beijing dumplings with pork, onion and ginger for just £4. More unusual accompaniments to your meal include rice buns and hot and sour pasties along with delicious Spring onion bread at £2.50. Ask for advice from the helpful staff and you are unlikely to be disappointed. It's a menu -- and a place -- very much worth exploring. Open noon to 11pm Sunday to Thursday and Friday to Saturday noon to midnight.
Tel: 0161 236-6888
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