Tuesday, February 09, 2010
Seoul Kimchi and Bubble Cafe
Where can you get the best dumplings in Manchester? Until recently the answer to that question would have been easy: Red Chilli, where the Beijing dumplings have long reigned supreme. But a new contender has emerged: Seoul Kimchi, a tiny grocery and restaurant on Upper Brook Street that serves up Korean home cooking. Many of the Asian restaurants in Manchester don't bother to make their own dumplings and seem content to serve frozen ones shipped from thousands of miles away. So the gyoza at Seoul Kimchi are a revelation: crisp on the outside, bursting with flavour inside, you can tell from the first bite that they're the real thing.
The japchae, a fried noodle dish, and bibimbap, a rice-based dish, were also excellent. Don't leave without sampling the kimchi, the spicy pickled cabbage that Koreans eat with practically everything. And there are lots of choices for veggies. It's nice to finally have an alternative to Koreana, which is much more formal (and more expensive). Unfortunately Upper Brook Street isn't really convenient to anywhere, but you can take the 50 bus right there from Spring Gardens. There are only three or four tables, and if it's full, well, Red Chilli have opened a new location nearby on Oxford Road.
These are good times to be a foodie in Manchester. We may not have any Michelin-starred restaurants, but on the casual/ethnic side we're doing pretty well. During my time living in New York I got swept into the city's amazing foodie subculture. There are thousands of people who comb the five boroughs for the ultimate felafel, soba noodles or corned beef hash, and cultishly track the movements of favourite street food vendors on Chowhound ("The Arepa Lady is back on Roosevelt Ave!") One of my favourite foodie haunts was Sau Voi Corp, a Vietnamese record store on Lafayette Street in Chinatown with a lucrative sideline in banh mi, unbelievably addictive Vietnamese sandwiches filled with meat and veggies.
When I moved here seven years ago, not being able to get banh mi in Manchester got me down; it was like some kind of litmus test. Well, I'm happy to report that you can now get these sandwiches here. The recently opened Bubble Cafe on Portland Street sells bubble iced tea and a selection of Vietnamese snacks including pho, noodle soup and banh mi sandwiches (Bubble's Sandwich). On the day I went, they were out of pate, a grievous omission, but the baguette had ham, sliced pork, grated carrot and coriander. Instead of the usual sweet and spicy sauce, though, it was topped with some kind of weird mayonaise - not an improvement. Still, it was good, and at £3.80 for a giant sandwich it's a solid lunch option.