Wednesday 29 August 2012

Dim Sum lunch at the Yang Sing, Manchester

Manchester's Yang Sing has been in business for 35 years now and is rapidly approaching grande dame status.  It has fallen a bit out of favour over the last ten years.  I could go on at length on what I think are the reasons for that (in fact I did, but deleted that), but, while there have been ups and downs in service, I've never really experienced any particularly noticeable drop in the standard of the food.  There has, of course, been the odd dish that hasn't worked, but that's true of virtually every restaurant I've ever been to.

But I've mainly only gone at lunchtime, usually primarily for dim sum, for which they have little competition.  The dim sum menu (which oddly has never been on their website) also seems to change more frequently than the main à la carte menu, which goes on for page after page.  The dim sum menu is also pretty much on-trend in that they are looking to regions outside Canton, and are pulling it off (as in the Tianjin buns mentioned below).  I think the Yeungs should think about how and where the main à la carte menu can be modernised too. It would be nice to see something like a specials of the day menu, and waiting staff more able to say that such and such is really good today, etc.

We had been meaning to return to the Yang Sing for some time, when I saw at the end of July that they had suffered a fire in the kitchen.  15 years ago, they had been hit by a fire which saw them forced to move into temporary premises for almost two years.  Fortunately, this time, the fire had been contained in the kitchen, and within a week or so they had been able to re-open, but when we went they were effectively only camping out on the ground floor of the building, with a somewhat limited menu (the cheung fun steamer had been destroyed and they had no access to the ovens for roast meats).  I've often thought how much I would prefer to be on the ground floor than in the basement, which is the only room they usually have open. This meal showed I was right: it was much more pleasant having proper daylight and even, strangely, sunshine. It was also quite a bit busier than it has been on my last few visits, though still not back to the days when you used to have to queue for a table.

As already mentioned, because of the restricted kitchen facilities, the dim sum menu was equally a bit restricted, but it's still a huge selection, taking in many of the usual suspects and a number of more unusual items.  On this occasion, we noticed quite a few new dishes, and these are largely what we concentrated on.
The "limited" dim sum menu
But before I'd looked properly at the menu, a waiter came round with a tray of goodies - the closest the Yang Sing now gets to a trolley service. I couldn't resist some of the char sui puffs off the tray, not least as it's something they've sold out of in the past.  These are little pasties with a deep, rich char sui roast pork filling in the lightest, flakiest, shortest pastry ever.  This time the pastry was even shorter than usual that I wondered how it possibly had the structural integrity to stand up on the plate, let alone on its way to the mouth. Always impressive, but these were even better than usual.
Char sui puffs (someone had eaten one before I took the photograph)
Next came some sui mai.  I'm not sure why: I didn't order them, and they're not near anything on the menu I might have pointed at when ordering.  The language barrier can still be a teeny issue, I think.  If the waitress did think I'd ordered them, I wonder what I did order and didn't get?
Sui Mai
Sui mai (steamed prawn and pork open dumplings) are actually quite a good test dish, not least as there are some quite passable ones available to buy-in.  I'm pretty certain these weren't bought in: as you might be able to see in the picture above, they're a little plumper than often found, and the taste was very fresh and the texture very good indeed.  I'm glad they came.

One of the weaker dishes today were these cuttlefish balls with a molten prawn centre.  Not because they weren't delicious: minced cuttlefish deep fried in panko breadcrumbs - what's not to like?  No, the disappointment was with the molten prawn centre.  The waiter had warned us to be careful eating them because of the liquid filling.  But he needn't have bothered, as there wasn't really much of the molten prawn filling, and I didn't really get much of a prawn flavour from it.  If you'd just given me them, I'd have loved them, but on the day, they didn't quiet live up to the billing.
Cuttlefish balls in panko breadcrumbs with molten shrimp sauce centre
By contrast, steamed Tianjin pork buns were absolutely terrific.
steamed Tianjin pork buns with wood fungus and Chinese celery
Interior of the Tianjin pork bun
Unlike the more common char siu bao, typical of Cantonese cuisine, these originate from Tianjin in northern China.  Here, they have a fragrant minced pork filling, liberally laced with black mushrooms, and just a background hint of celery.  The bun was very light and pillowy. Really delicious.

Steamed honeycomb tripe with satay sauce was also absolutely terrific.  The honeycomb tripe made a nice change from the library tripe I usually have at the Yang Sang.  Nothing more to say: the picture says it all.
Honeycomb tripe with satay sauce

Prawn & vegetable dumplings came in a beautiful, clear consommé. Really nice flavours, both in the dumplings and in the broth.
Prawn and root vegetable dumpling in consommé
The final savoury dish today was not the most photogenic of dishes: steamed shredded mooli with Chinese sausage and dried shrimp.  Probably the most challenging of today's dishes to a western palate, as the textures and flavours are quite unusual. But it was really good too. I've had cooked radish and cooked mooli before, but not cooked like this, to a texture not entirely unlike glutinous rice.  Apparently mooli was eaten in times of famine instead of rice, though this feels far too luxurious to be based on famine food.
Steamed mooli with Chinese sausage and dried shrimp
Not really much prettier when served

Our last dish was the disappointment of the day.
Crispy lai wong bao
I've always loved these custard filled hedgehogs (or crispy lai wong bao), but today they seemed to have been a little overcooked and there was a bit of an odd taste to the crust.  When I raised this, it was acknowledged: they might just have been overcooked, but it was also suggested that they were experimenting with British rape seed oil, and that might have been responsible for the flavour.  I got the distinct impression this was going to be investigated and fixed.

So, some pretty terrific dim sum, and there are still plenty of new dishes on the dim sum menu that we need to try.  Service was mostly very good, but not entirely immune from what seems to occidental eyes as an abruptness.

I suppose one issue that is worth raising here is that they continue not to have itemised bills.  You get a bill which is essentially only broken down into food and drinks, supported by a number of dockets in Chinese.  I think in these days they should upgrade their till systems so that it's much easier to check the bill is correct.  That said, as I'd taken a photo of the menu earlier, I was able to quickly add everything up, and the bill was correct, and on previous occasions it's always been around what I've thought it should be, so I'm not suggesting any impropriety at all.  I just think it should be easier.

I want to end on a positive, however, and will just repeat that the food was very good and very interesting, and they deserve credit for continuing to innovate. 

Yang Sing on Urbanspoon


Anonymous said...

How very delicious all that looks. I think honeycomb tripe with satay sauce( I suspect it's sa-cha sauce, Bull's Head brand)might well make an appearance on my table this weekend. Incidentally, many UK chinese stores now sell frozen, cleaned but not pverprocessed tripe of excellent quality. The price seems to go up every week as the obsession of the UK Chinese student population with Sichuan hotpot increases.
In the past I've found the best results at dinner at Yang Sing from asking as much as possible for off-menu Cantonese classics. It is indeed irritating that one has to go to such lengths, but I suppose they make their money from simple stir fries rather than whole fish and birds, as with most establishments.
Tom Blach from UK winepages here, BTW.

Andrew Stevenson said...

Thanks Tom.

You're quite right that, other than dim sum, going off menu is often the best approach at Yang Sing. Whole fish or crustacea have always been excellent.
One of the most magnificent things I've seen come out of their kitchen was a large platter of roast pigeons, heads and feet still on of course.

I may break my chicken feet virginity next time I go. Possibly. Maybe.