Monday, 2 February 2015


To have over 700 reviews on TripAdvisor and still be in the top thirty restaurants in a major city is no mean feat and The Rice Bowl in Manchester is currently rocking those statistics. I'd heard great things about this Chinese stalwart of the Manchester food scene however when a friend and I rocked up here just before Christmas to be turned away due to being too busy I knew I had to come back armed with a reservation. Somewhere this packed has to be doing something right!

So along came January and we returned to The Rice Bowl (sandwiched between China Town and the Arndale area) and headed down into the basement based restaurant armed with a reservation and empty bellies. Not that this mattered as upon arrival for our 6pm reservation we were told our table wasn't ready. The place was heaving yet again so clearly it wasn't just the festive season that had made it busy last year. A good sign of the quality in my eyes.

So having been told to wait to one side we got speaking to a couple also waiting for a table. They told us that they had been here several times and the food was incredible. They confirmed that the place is always full to bursting too. I asked what time their reservation was for to be told that they didn't have one. They were just taking their chances.

Well it paid off. Ten minutes after we had booked our table for they were taken to a table. I was a bit miffed by this. What was the point of our reservation! Not just this but no one had offered us a drink or apologised for the wait. Just as I was about to give up and leave; 25 minutes after are table was booked for we were taken to our table with again no explanation or apology!  My initial high expectation of The Rice Bowl were fast heading down the toilet bowl.

We were finally presented with a menu and asked for our drinks. The menu consists of fairly standard Asian staples; sharing platters of dim sum and crispy niblets, crispy duck pancakes, an array of noodle and rice dishes etc. One of my favourite Chinese dishes is yellow bean sauce. Sweet and delicious it's not something you see at all restaurants or takeaways so having spied it on the menu on line and outside prior to walking in I was gutted to find I couldn't see it anywhere in the menu in my hands.

This is the point when our true experience of the rice bowl begins. I asked are server about the chicken yellow bean dish and he said it was not in the menu but he would sort it out for me straight away, even asking how hot I would like the sauce and if I wanted soft or crispy noodles. The sign of a good restaurant is them trying to meet the customers needs and this off piste food choice was a perfect example of this. Maybe we were going to have a good meal after all. 

After a ten minute wait with some complimentary prawn crackers and dips to tie us over our dim sum platter starter arrived, quite quick considering how packed the restaurant was. We went for the steamed dumpling selection and in my eyes it was better than some dim sum I've had in restaurant who pride themselves on specialising in dim sum. 

The bamboo steamer housed a plethora of little treats including an array of prawn, and chicken dumplings alongside beef dumplings served in a ginger and soy broth and some tiger prawn rolls.  All of which were cooked to perfection, melted in your mouth and you could tell it was all assembled and cooked on the premises, that homemade quality shine right through from my optical cords to my taste buds. The revelation of the platter however went to the fish Sui Mai. I'm not a great fan of fish in general but as a bit through the juicy, plump white flesh of the little fish parcel I was in heaven.

I could of quite happily eaten a whole bowl of these. I'm going to be keeping an eye for these bad boys in all Chinese restaurants and right now, the rice bowls incarnation will set the bench mark.

If your a fan of the more crispy fried Chinese starters such as spring rolls and prawn toast then although I can't say I tried any of them here I did see a huge platter leave the kitchen piled high with crispy treats that looked mouth-wateringly phenomenal. As delicious as our steamed dim sum was, my food envy barometer went off the scale. Should we come back, this will be top choice for starter.

Onto the main event and with bellies still full from dim sum we were presented with our mains. My tip to you all is not to fill up on dim sum prior to your main or ask for a little break because as far as portion sizes go you are defiantly getting your monies worth.

My chicken yellow bean sauce dish with soft noodles was everything I wanted it too be and more. Crispy chunks of onion and green pepper with soft, melt in your mouth chicken served in a sweet and slightly spicy yellow bean sauce. The balance of flavors between the spicy and sweet was spot on that I think choosing a more spicy version would of ruined it so I'm glad I chose the milder version. There were some hard pieces of dried chili in there that came as a bit of a surprise to my teeth but that is the only negative that I can think of to describe what was the finest yellow bean dish ever to grace my palette.

My dining buddy went for the Vermicelli Singapore noodles served with prawns and roasted pork. Again, her plate was so full it was like tackling Everest! The prawns were plump and cooked to perfection. The spice was deliciously subtle and the noodles although soft were not soggy and drenched in sauce. The peppers and onions had a great crunch to them and if only for the fact that we were so full, we would of hoovered this right up. In fact if we weren't heading out that night I would of asked for a doggy bag for both. I felt awful that we had wasted so much so please remember to come here with a completely empty stomach.

Clearly we had stuffed ourselves stupid so there was no room for desserts but if the quality of the starts and main were anything to go by then I'm sure they were equally delicious. Along came the bill and with our food and around two drinks each we ended up paying just shy of £50 which when you factor in the size of the meals your talking about extreme value for money. Exceptional in my eyes.

How do you some up The Rice Bowl in Manchester? No one can question the quality and value of the food. Yes, I would have to agree with many of the reviews on TripAdvisor and say that it is the best Chinese meal I have had in Manchester so far. It's just such a shame that my experience was marred by an uneasy beginning and as many of us our taught, first impressions do count. If the rice bowl can sort out there table booking system and maybe set up a place for those waiting for tables to enjoy a drink then the experience would be spot on. My advice? Still book a table, just make sure you leave a bit of time to wait just in case. If you can stick out that wait though then trust me; you are in for a treat!

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