Monday, 30 September 2013

Manchester's Yang Sing in 1997 and 1999

Here's something a little different, that I came across in an email archive earlier today: two old reviews of Manchester's Yang Sing. 

These come from the times when nobody had heard (or even thought) of blogs, and even Google didn't exist. Incredible to think that there are people out there, who can't remember the world before Google!  Actually, by the time of the second review below, Google existed, but was still waddling around in its nappies, being just 8 months old.  

Nobody then, apart from publishers of cookery books and magazines, had thought of taking photographs of the food that came to your table.  So, unsurprisingly, there are no pictures to illustrate this post.

Here, then, are the reports I submitted to the Good Food Guide on Manchester's Yang Sing in 1997 and 1999.  

From: Stevenson A
Sent: 13 February 1997 16:55
To: 'Good Food Guide'
Subject: New Year's Eve at the Yang Sing, Manchester

Chinese New Year's Eve that is.

Last Saturday a sudden craving for dim sum came over me and there was nothing for it but to get in the car and head for Manchester, pausing only to collect my father on the way for a dim sum lunch at the Yang Sing.

It was busy, though not as busy as  one might expect for the eve of Chinese New Year - perhaps the Chinese community were saving themselves for the next day's festivities.  Having said that, we got the last table available.  Shortly after we sat down queues started to form, with at one point around 20 people waiting for tables.

The dim sum are a mixture of trolleys (stationary, unlike some of the London establishments) and kitchen prepared.  The menu advises you to order from a waiter as "you may have difficulty in making yourself understood in Cantonese to our trolley girls"!

Service is more civil and good humoured than many Chinese restaurants, though on Saturday's showing male waiters wearing glasses are the best bet if you want something.

Prawn and crab parcels come deep fried with a succulent prawn, but rather tasteless and sparse crab meat.  Deep-frying was clean and crisp.

Cheung fun filled unusually with carp were a good specimen.

Deep fried cuttlefish balls with coriander were startlingly good.  A fresh flavour and great combination of flavours and textures.

Beef rolls with yam Shanghai style had a mixed reception.  They were shreds of beef  wrapped in bean curd, steamed with a pureed yam sauce.  The rolls themselves weren't bad, just a bit unexciting, but I found the bright yellow yam sauce really quite unpleasant.  My father on the other hand liked it, and went so far as to say that if he'd come up with something like that in the kitchen he would have been very pleased.

We were sat at a window into the kitchen, behind which were hung all the roast ducks, suckling pigs, char-siu pork, chickens etc, of which there was quite a rapid turnover.  We could resist no longer and ordered a portion of duck.  Unlike most other Chinese restaurants I've been in (mainly London) this arrived boned, rather than hacked into slices through the bone with a cleaver, leaving shards of bone to attack the inside of your mouth.  This was - to clarify - boneless.  It was also succulent, beautifully flavoured, with a nice crisp skin.  Served with the usual sort of soy sauce broth over it with the addition of some good crisp peanuts, which did absolutely nothing for the duck.  I suppose it just made it in marketing-speak a value-added duck.

Fried dumplings with wind-dried meats and chinese greens were nicely done and an explosion of flavour.  The (shallow) frying adds a nice degree of crunch to the outside of the dumpling, but without going the whole hog of deep frying.

We had other dim sum as well, but they have disappeared into the haze of my memory.

We finished with deep-fried custard filled bun things.  Wai Kong Bau they may have been called.  On the menu they're down as steamed, but vastly improve when deep fried.  The flavour and texture are not unlike hot fairground doughnuts, but with a delicious thick eggy custard in the middle.

Chinese tea (the pot refilled once) and a brandy for my father who's still not entirely sure about the effects ethnic food might have on him brought the final bill to £32.

A Chinese horoscope came free!

From: Stevenson, Andrew
Sent: 11 May 1999 20:43
To: Good Food Guide (E-mail)
Subject: Yang Sing, Manchester

A new dim-sum menu.  Gone are some of the old favourites and in come things like steamed seafood and yam tarts with coconut sauce.  The tart base was made of the same dough the little white steamed buns are made of, and the coconut sauce was delicate and fragrant.  The seafood comprised queenies and king prawn.  And the whole thing worked marvellously - even for someone who doesn't like coconut and doesn't like steamed dim sum.  There were some little wind-dried oyster and char siu pasties with feather light ultra-short pastry, deep fried sesame chicken cakes - the chicken minced, reformed and coated in sesame seeds and poppy seeds before being fried.  Crispy fried stuffed chillis, plus a few more.

And to "pander" to (or rather tease) one of the party who generally much prefers a roast dinner, we worked our way through the major part of the roast section of the main menu.  Some excellent suckling pig, similarly good roast duck and some soy roast chicken.  The latter, like most of the roasts, appears twice on the menu: once in the roast meat section and once in the rice section, the difference being that the latter are about £2 cheaper than the former.  We took the soy chicken with rice, and it would be difficult to imagine that there could possibly have been more chicken in the version without rice!!  This was the first time we'd tried the soy chicken, and we were surprised at just how succulent and chickeny it was.

I do hope that the Yang Sing will be able to make it back into the GFG next year (although they are still supposed to be re-opening in the old premises), and with the rating it deserves - which is a good 5 or 6.  It has the benefit of consummate reliability and high standards, which many other Manchester restaurants only seem to be able to dream about.

Andrew Stevenson

Interestingly, in response to the 1999 email, I got a response thanking me for my report. The response came from no less than Jim Ainsworth, the editor, and indeed in my view probably the last really good editor that the Good Food Guide had. 

The Yang Sing has had its ups and downs over the years, but in my experience more often due to the vicissitudes of fashion, something which is particularly fickle in Manchester.  It had been dropped in 1998/99 because of the fire and the relocation to temporary premises.  Once again, the Yang Sing has been inexplicably dropped from the Good Food Guide's 2014 edition.  A quite bizarre decision, from an increasingly bizarre and partisan guide that has lost its way.  If anything the Yang Sing is better today than it was last year, or even 16 or so years ago, when the Good Food Guide described it as probably the best Cantonese restaurant in western Europe (I may be paraphrasing, but they certainly said something very much like that).

Yang Sing on Urbanspoon