Friday, 11 March 2011

Middle Kingdom, Manchester

Middle Kingdom is one of a growing band of restaurants in Manchester showcasing regional Chinese cuisines. The focus here is on food from Hunan and Szechuan provinces both of which have big, bold flavours and lots of spice. A good thing if you ask me.

The menu is extensive and doesn't specify which dishes are Hunanese and which Szechuan, but if you avoid the Cantonese section (usually there to keep any unsuspecting punters after a 'normal' Chinese happy) you should be fine. Here's what we ate:

Fried Dumplings

A platter of fried dumplings to start were fine specimens, quite thin skinned with a chunky pork & spring onion filling and good crispy edges.

 Lamb Skewers

I'm familiar with lamb skewers from eating at Silk Road, a London restaurant serving food from Xinjiang province in North-West China, and one of my favourite restaurants anywhere, ever. The meat on their skewers is interspersed with chunks of lamb fat that keep it moist, both meat and fat coated in a moreish dry rub of cumin, chilli and salt. You have to eat them fast while they're hot, as the fat is not so lovely when cold. Middle Kingdom's skewers were meat only, but still rather good. The dry rub was similar, with the addition of szechuan pepper to the mix. Delicious.

Aubergines with the flavour of fish

Aubergines with the flavour of fish (I think this dish is more commonly known as fish fragrant aubergine) doesn't actually contain fish, I believe it's so named because the seasonings used are the same as for cooking fish in Szechuan cookery. Whatever you want to call it, it's not a dish for the faint-hearted. The aubergines had been fried in a substantial quantity of oil, to which more oil had been added. The flavour was actually quite mild; sweet and garlicky with just a hint of chilli heat. The aubergines were nicely cooked, lovely and soft without being mushy or slimy. I probably wouldn't order this dish again though, as we struggled to make much of an impression in the portion due to the colossal oil quotient.

Duck on the bone with chilli and taro in chinese beer

This, for me, was the high point of the meal. Duck on the bone with chillis and taro in chinese beer. The duck had been braised long and slow in a beer based stock laced with generous amounts of chilli, szechuan pepper and garlic, rendering it beautifully tender and deeply flavoured. The level of chilli heat and the numbness from the szechuan peppercorns was just right and the mild peppers, pickled peppers and spring onions added a vibrant, fresh contrast. Not really a big fan of the taro pieces though, they're sort of like grainy, floury potatoes in texture, and added little to the dish flavour-wise.

A wonderful meal, and another great Chinese restaurant to add to the list with Hunan and Red Chilli. This sort of food is always great value as well. Prices on the menu can look expensive, but are anything but as the portions are always huge. Main courses in the £7-9 pound region will serve two, and anything costing over a tenner is probably family sized. Our bill came to £50 for two including service and three beers each. Stick to water and a feast will set you back about £15 per head. Service was also friendly and efficient throughout. Thoroughly recommended.


86 Princess Street
M1 6NG

Middle Kingdom on Urbanspoon

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