So here’s what happened – we had a rare NIGHT OUT in Soho the other week, us lucky entertainment-starved parents – whoop! We wanted dinner somewhere fun and noisy, at one of those dimly lit joints with no reservations where you get drunk in the queue while you’re standing around in unsuitable shoes, shivering in the wind. But we forgot what a nightmare Soho can be on the weekend – you can’t just stumble up and expect to get fed after queuing for 10 minutes, it’s like you have to properly earn your right to be there. There was a fair amount of angst. I also forgot how to get anywhere in Soho, and we notched up about a mile in walking to and fro…
Our disorganised trajectory went something like this…we turned up at Pitt Cue Co (our first choice) near Carnarby Street to find it was being refurbished. Gah! Then we schlepped all the way back to Bai Wai in Chinatown, about whose Sichuan food we’d heard great things. Before we could get through the door, a waitress called out that they didn’t accept cards, so we queued up for 15 mins at a cashpoint before returning. We got a table, sat down and ordered beers, but the lighting was SO bright and the only diners in attendance were eating solo, reading quietly. The staff hovered nervously. We fell to whispering. I thought we were going to be interrogated or that a loud siren was going to go off, and the fluorescent lights made my head hurt. I’ve never downed a beer so quickly to get out of a place. The staff looked apologetic while we made our bumbling excuses.
Back on Frith Street, we found that our old favourite Japanese noodle soup bar, Koya, had about 40 people queuing outside. Arrrrgh! The Peruvian place across the road, Ceviche, was rammed. We pressed our noses up against the menus on the windows of Sichuan restaurants Bar Shu and Ba Shan, but everything looked wildly expensive. Almost chewing my hands off with hunger, we traipsed all the way back to Chinatown for the second time and quite by accident (I liked the sight of their twinkly fairy lights) ended up in a GREAT place called Manchurian Legends, on Lisle Street. It was perfect – lovely atmosphere (no risk of sirens or interrogation), and food to die for. The evening was saved, and I avoided having a massive strop.
Manchurian Legends specialises in food from north eastern China, from the region of Dongbei. I don’t usually like generic Chinese food, but this was wonderful. There were chillies in abundance, oodles of Szechuan peppers and interesting flavours that I didn’t expect at all, such as cumin. There were interesting stews and hotpots, and sizzling crispy dishes wafting their scents around the restaurant. I adored everything – there were elements of lightness, but also dishes that were ribsticking, deeply savoury and comforting. The portions were really generous and amazing value – we spent £60 including booze, and had enough food to take home for the following night’s dinner. I love doggy bags!
S’cuse the ropey pics – I only had my phone on me, and the colours are a bit murky…
Delicious pork and Chinese cabbage dumplings with a fiery chilli dip:
AMAZING squid skewer – I had never tasted such a good marinade on squid EVER, it was a sweet/salty mix of star anise, fish and plum sauces, with sesame. Mmmmmm:
My husband said this lamb skewer was heavily spiced with cumin and really delicious (I hate lamb so didn’t try it):
‘Ma Po’ tofu with minced pork, with a savoury gravy that I wanted to stick my face in:
This dish was a showstopper: a dish of aromatic stewed chicken with chillies, tomatoes and wide, soft flat wheat noodles underneath to provide a chewy hit of carbohydrate. So much food – we took this home in a doggy bag and it was delicious the next day:
We were really blown away by our meal, and the prices were really reasonable – what with it being SHOUTY OLD SOHO and all. SIX restaurants we tried, before getting here – and I wish we’d just found this place straight away! But hey, that’s the cost of dining out in Soho on a Saturday night, I guess…we will be back!
16 Lisle Street
Chinatown WC2H 7BE