Things get steamy for Ruth Allan in Hulme's Korean BBQ and hotpot restaurant
Hulme’s Korean BBQ and Chinese hotpot restaurant, Azuma, is busier than Market Street on a Bank Holiday. The exterior is unassuming; a few posters, barely a sign over the door. Step inside, though, and things get steamy.
Broth bubbles on tables as waiters trundle by, ferrying trays of waxy kelp and plump scallops. Frozen beef is curled up in mountains of bright pink scrolls, as guests wrangle udon noodles and giant Chinese leaves or cook sticky chops over grills inset into the tables.
Three of us share a hot pot (£19.80 all you can eat per person) that’s split in two; spicy Sichuan soup on one side, mixed mushroom broth on the other. Other options include ‘pig bone soup’ and a traditional two-taste hot pot with hot and cool flavours from the Chongqing Yuanyang area. I’m going to have them all next time.
We order egg-fried rice on the side, and tick off what we’d like to cook in our broth on a thin, paper menu. Ingredients like agaric and white fungus mean as much to me as a mini golf scorecard, so I let my hot pot loving mate do the choosing.
Tiny needle mushrooms which cook in seconds are a thrill, as are springy balls of fried tofu, fresh fish fillets, wafers of beef, and satisfyingly sticky noodles. Lotus root is like firm sweet potato; the slow-cooking, sculptural discs taking on delicate hints from the spicy sauce. As does the fresh, scored squid, and, to a lesser extent, the raw tofu.
Dried daylily is a short-lived flower (hence the name), which puffs up as it cooks taking on more spice than the above. Other options include beef tripe, chikuwa (a jelly-like Japanese fish cake), lobster balls, sliced lamb and luncheon meat. The meatball menu includes all manner of processed and frozen cubes while slivers of courgette, mooli, white fungus and dried beancurd are among the vegetable and dried selection.
The Korean BBQ menu (again, £19.80 per person) is similar, with the promise of kimchi, and more meat. Chicken gizzards and hearts, for example, various pork bellies, beef options and squid tentacles. It’s tempting just to order stuff you love (for me, that’s fish fillets, squid, noodles and tofu… actually, come to think of it I love it all) but it’s also easy to branch out. Everything is included in the £19.80 a head price tag. Bring on the white fungus, I find myself thinking.
The only downside? Our soup is a little heavy on Sichuan peppers. Famed for their lip numbing capabilities and intensely peppery taste, my tongue tires about half way though. If I went again (which I will) I’d go for udon noodles on the side (they look like rubbery belts of joy) or boiled rice - and maybe a less spicy soup. There’s just so much going on that I find myself craving something bland.
While there’s no dessert menu, there is an offal-ly interesting a la carte menu as well. Bringing to mind the Sichuan-inspired dishes at Red Chilli, I’d like to try the marinated ox heart slices, (£8.50), cubes of translucent bean curd jelly in a searing, red sauce (£6.50), duck marinated in brine (£9.80) and preserved eggs with a burnt chilli topping (£7.80). There’s never a dull moment at Azuma.
And that includes drinks. ‘Milk tea with custard’ (£3.20) is not something I’d make at home, yet the tiny lumps of actual custard compliments the cold, milky tea in an unexpectedly harmonious fashion. There’s also strawberry tea with jelly (and why not? £3.20), plum juice (£3) and unlimited soft drinks for £2 per person. The beer is China’s Tsingtao, which you can get everywhere. From the short wine list, ‘Chinese wine’ (£9.50) stands out. Little wonder. It is 56% and served in a tiny, 100ml bottle. We sip it from half-capacity shot glasses, and it seems to evaporate before it reaches our lips.
So. Food is great and drinks are fun. Plus there’s no pressure to find stuff to talk about when you’re scooping sea fungi out of a boiling broth, or high on Chinese wine. The only thing to bear in mind is the limited number of specific Korean BBQ tables. But you can often just turn up for the hot pot. And if DIY isn’t your bag, there’s always the a la carte. A treat for the all senses, any day of the week.
Azuma, 73 Cavendish Street, Manchester M15 6BN. Tel: 0161 226 1776
All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, paid for by Confidential and completely independent of any commercial relationship. Venues are rated against the best examples of their type: 1-5: saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9: Netflix and chill, 10-11: if you're passing, 12-13: good, 14-15: very good, 16-17: excellent, 18-19: pure class, 20: cooked by God him/herself.
You can’t really separate anything out here – its all part of the hot pot experience. And it’s all VERY SPICY.
Efficient staff who don’t try to upsell anything (they actually tried to put us off the Chinese wine)
The most fun you’re going to have in Manchester on a Monday