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Question about Sweet Mandarin, Manchester, UK

beetlebug Feb 8, 2009 12:39 PM

I'm not going to the UK anytime soon. However, I just read an interesting book called Sweet Mandarin by Helen Tse. The book is about Tse's grandmother who emigrated to England and started a restaurant in Middleton (called Lung Fung). Both Tse's grandmother and mother opened up small restaurants or takeaways in Middleton and Manchester.

Anyway, Tse's grandmother was able to bring Tse's mother over and the book gave one family's perspective on a Chinese British emigration experience and this family's relationship with restaurants and food. Throughout the book, there are descriptions of certain food, a chinese english compilation of dishes. Two intriguing sounding dishes were Lily Kwok's Chicken Curry and Mabel's Claypot Chicken. Both these dishes were a huge part of the author's and her sisters' lives.

Eventually, the author and her two sisters opened Sweet Mandarin in Manchester.


Sweet Mandarin continues to serve the two family dishes and others.

So, out of sheer curiousity, is the restaurant any good? And, more importantly, how are those two speciality dishes? I did do a search on the UK board going back 5 years and nothing came up.

Since I'm not actually going to be in Europe anytime soon, no need for alternate suggestions. But I would be grateful if hounds could satisfy my curiousity about this restaurant and those dishes.


  1. beetlebug Feb 14, 2009 01:16 PM

    Thanks for the responses. I am still very curious about the two dishes, especially that curry dish. Looking at the web site, I don't think this is a chinese restaurant in any traditional sense. It looks, to me, like a modern version of the takeout places that the author's mother and grandmother started to survive in England. Probably the equivalent of a chinese-american restaurant here in the states, with the emphasis on american tastes.

    If I were to ever make it to Manchester, I wouldn't veer too much off those two family dishes. And, it would be interesting to see the restaurant, knowing it's humble roots.

    5 Replies
    1. re: beetlebug
      Harters Feb 14, 2009 02:48 PM

      I'd tend to agree with you. "Chinese curry" is something I'd normally associate more with a takeaway than a restaurant. I think it tends to originate from the Chinese communities in Malaysia/Singapore which might explain some of the slant of other dishes on the menu. And, in truth, I'm not fond of the taste of it (although I like south asian food) - although I guess I'd have to try it when I go.

      This link about the history of the local Chinese community may be of interest to you as it shows how many emigrated from poor rural communities around Hong Kong. http://www.manchester.com/community/c...

      1. re: Harters
        scoopG Feb 22, 2009 03:24 AM

        You're right. While it is thought that curry entered China within the past 100 years, it really took hold in the Chinese communities of Malaysia and Singapore. Did not realize there were so many Chinese in Manchester. And despite what Helen Tse says, have not seen much about her book on this side of the pond. I was struck by Sweet Mandarin's lack of an "encyclopaedic menu" usually associated with Chinese restaurants and their "pan Asian" cuisine" seems heavy on "lightly golden battered" dishes - including four General Tse Sweet and Sour dishes. I wonder if that is a nod to our own General Tso - a lightly battered chicken dish invented in New York by a Taiwan chef in the 1960's. (When Jennifer 8 Lee of the New York Times and author of "The Fortune Cookie Chronicles" visited the old chef in Taiwan he was aghast at what the dish had become.) Given the background provided from the videos it appears there was no General Tse in their family tree!

        1. re: scoopG
          Harters Feb 22, 2009 06:09 AM

          Yes, I'd wondered about the General thing. I've had General Tso as takeaway on a previous visit to the States. I knew it to be a "classic of the genre" on your side of the pond so felt I had to try - but have to say I didnt care for it too much.

          1. re: scoopG
            PhilD Feb 22, 2009 01:38 PM

            Fuchsia Dunlop has three pages (plus two of recipes) in her "Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook" that explains the origins of General Tso's Chicken. First cooked in Taiwan by Peng Chang-kuei in the 1950's, then refined when he went to New York in the early '70's, where his restaurant near the UN was frequented by Kissinger.

            Apparently Peng invented lots of dishes (as a talented chef not a short cut), and now General Tso's Chicken has "returned" to Hunanese menus when modern chefs do local versions (Tso was from Hunan). Dunlop's book has two recipes - one for the original Taiwan version and a sweeter US style version.

            It is a very interesting insight into how food changes with time. Dunlop from the UK, but is a fluent Mandarin speaker and graduated from the Sichuan Institute of Higher Cuisine in Chengdu - a pedigree that gives her a lot of authority.

            1. re: PhilD
              scoopG Feb 22, 2009 06:09 PM

              Still, Chef Peng was aghast when shown by Jennifer 8. Lee what his dish "hath wrought."


              While Dunlop may be "fluent" her tones in Mandarin are horrible - and that will only mean something to Mandarin speakers. (I've heard her speak here in NYC.) That said, she has created two excellent cookbooks which I own and use.

              Jim Leff has referred to some of these changes as "culinary Darwinism."

      2. h
        Harters Feb 13, 2009 10:21 AM

        We have a lot of good Cantonese restaurants in the city but I had not even heard of this one until beetlebug's post.

        It passes under the radar of our two main national guides, the local Citylife Guide and the main online guides to the city. It's only made an appearance on the main regional review sites in recent months (I don't know how long it's been open) and comments are mixed to say the least.

        I suspect what it has going for it is it's unusual location (for a Chinese restaurant) away from Chinatown and in the Northern Quarter and that its menu has some differently named dishes from the "usual" Cantonese descriptions (even if, when you look closer at the menu, they are the "standards") as well as some other stuff like Malaysian satay. Good marketing going on there.

        It's good to hear that someone's eaten there. I may pop in have lunch, although I have to say, the two course £5.50 offering doesnt seem to have anything to tempt me in along walk across the city centre - very much the hot & sour soup followed by beef & green peppers sort of place.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Harters
          mr_gimlet Feb 13, 2009 10:39 AM

          However, there is a tradition in chinese restaurants in Asia - they have a massive, encyclopaedic menu but only a handful of dishes for which they are well known and that people come for. Perhaps this is the same.

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