Jonathan Schofield pioneers the Farrow & Ball food writing measure
THE SZECHAUN food at Blue Eyed Panda is colourful, as it generally is. If it’s like my poached monkfish in chilli oil (£12.80) with its greens and reds, it’s beyond eye-catching.
The writing brain is odd, so just as I was about to start in on the food, I suddenly thought about the Farrow & Ball paint range and its muted politeness. I have no idea why interior decoration sprang to mind, maybe it was the visceral vitality of this beauty. I hadn’t even been drinking.
It was so rich and full of flavour, the whole thing was like a firework display going off in the mouth
The word ‘spicy’ appears on the menu description but that underplays it a little. The dish was scorching, but it was so rich and full of flavour, I didn’t mind for a second, the whole thing was like a firework display going off in the mouth.
This might mean, of course, that for Szechuanese natives it’s as mild as the Farrow & Ball ‘breakfast room green No 81’ shade but for me it was bloody hot. Along with the chilli, there’s coriander, beansprouts, onions and herbs - I thought at one point I detected rose, in the oil stock, which I spooned up like a soup. The monkfish adds a necessary dimension, boosting the weight and interest of a fabulous bowl of nosh.
The aubergine and minced pork casserole for £12.80 was also excellent. That was another proper stomach filler, so go hungry, if you want to take advantage of this place. Again, the stock was lively, almost fierce, while the aubergine and the braised pork worked together in a chunky manner befitting meat and a plant that sort of resembles meat. The black ceramic helped set the whole thing off.
A starter of salt and pepper soft shell crab (£8.80) had been a crunch festival of good meat and again lots of heat with peppers, onions and sesame. It’s a hallmark of the restaurant to make the food look really attractive. By the way the prawn cracker intro and the various rice sides we had were all timed well and winners too.
The service at Blue Eyed Panda is lovely, concerned and full of advice. The interior design is best described as crisp, erring on the side of functional. The tables are annoying for tall people, with diagonal ties that bang their legs, but that’s trivial point in the scheme of things. The exterior turns the word ‘plain’ into a cult.
Back to the menu though, because if you read it without experiencing the food, it reads like a posh takeaway rather than that of a restaurant. In fact, several people on the two occasions I visited, read the window menus and turned away. The quality of the food, though, is high, as is the presentation. Perhaps, there need to be one or two real curiosities on the menu, to make people think, ‘oh this is different’. Indeed, the menu reads very Farrow & Ball, middle of the road, safe. Yet, the food isn’t. It’s completely enjoyable. And filling. And good value. It’s curious.
Anyway, I have just done some exhaustive internet research stretching almost three minutes which reinforced some previous internet research which extended seven minutes and looked up the symbolism of red and green in Chinese culture. Red represents happiness, beauty, vitality, good luck, success and good fortune, while green represents wealth, fertility, regeneration, hope, harmony, growth and purity. For me that poached monkfish in chilli oil dish represents a damn fine experience in red, green and spice.
Blue Eyed Panda, Unit 6, 3 Jersey Street, Ancoats, Manchester, M60 1A. 0161 207 8788
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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.
Crackers 6.5, soft shell crab 7, aubergine and pork casserole 7.5, poached fish 8
smiles and knowledge
the bare room and big windows don’t help but will improve as the place gets busier