Messy conveyor belt food is Deanna Thomas's favourite
AT the risk of sounding like a radio DJ from the nineties, I’d like to dedicate this review to one of our readers who, under our feature on where to get decent chow for Chinese New Year, left a comment suggesting a place called One Plus which serves Chinese hot pot from a conveyor belt.
All Confidential food writers have their little niches. Ruth Allan seeks out little corners of far continents in Greater Manchester; Neil Sowerby prefers to study the liquid side of things; Gordo usually cocks his leg up marking the big showy ones as his territory, while Lucy Tomlinson likes to scour the suburbs for magical finds. Jonathan Schofield tends to scoop up the rest, though he does love an under-the-radar Chinese restaurant.
Conveyor belts are my thing, as is anything that gets wheeled over on a trolley or revealed from under a cloche dome. That sense of anticipation is like waiting to open your presents on Christmas day. So, as this one crossed both our paths, I grabbed Mr under-the-radar Chinese restaurant as my plus one and hot-footed it over to Charles Street.
One Plus has only been open for a couple of months and claims to be the only one of its kind in the country. That’s probably true of the north of England, but there appears to be one in London called Shuang Shuang.
We loved this place so much we made sloshing noises as we stood up
One Plus is divided into two (this is getting complicated, like my tax return all over again), with the hotpot conveyor belt on the ground floor and hand stretched noodles in the basement. You can watch the chefs in the kitchen repeatedly stretching, folding and re-stretching the dough until, like magic, it splits into silky threads. We're told these handmade noodles are much better than your typical mass-produced ones. We’ll have to come back.
If you’ve never eaten Chinese hot pot before (with or without a conveyor belt), One Plus have made it as easy as possible. First you choose one of four basic broths: hot and spicy, Tom Yam, chicken or vegetable. Each table setting includes a well in which the pan of your chosen soup snugly sits, with temperature controlled by a switch in front of you.
Then you choose your dipping condiment from a separate counter filled with various oils, herbs, seasonings and sauces. Owner Michelle noticed us faffing so came over to help. That lazy sod Schofield asked her to make one as though she was eating it, so into her little bowl went sesame butter, chilli oil, fresh garlic and coriander leaves, pink beancurd paste, salty leek sauce and chopped spring onions. The soup base is really good, but these condiments really bring it all to life.
The rest of the concept isn’t dissimilar to Yo Sushi. When your soup base starts to boil you pick what you want off the belt, chuck it in, turn the temperature down, let it cook for a minute or two and keep going until you've had enough. Each plate is colour coded and range in price from £1 (blue - mainly vegetables) to £4 (black – seafood).
We splattered soup all over our clothes and in our hair as well as the clothes and hair of the people sitting three seats away.
We got a little giddy and went mad, arms everywhere, grabbing plate after plate and chucking it in, stirring it round and laughing inanely like we were auditioning for a Harry Potter movie. Into his hot and sour soup base, Schofield plopped in a stream of tripe, enoki mushrooms, fishy squid tubes, glass noodles, bow kelp and black fungus. Into my chicken broth went slices of sweet potato, fresh pak choi and crab sticks that shredded into their own protein version of noodles.
We went off so quickly that trying to remember it all feels like being in an episode of The Generation Game on magic mushrooms. The strangest looking thing turned out to be our favourite; an open bamboo scuttle packed with raw prawn mince and masago (orange fish eggs). You flick balls of it into your soup and poach them for less than a minute.
We were offered a top-up of soup, like a never ending magic porridge pot. Apparently drinking the soup is optional and some Chinese prefer to use it for poaching only.
A word of warning. Apart from eating cake using only your face (or is that just me?) this must be the messiest way to eat - our table looked like a crime scene. We splattered soup all over our clothes and in our hair as well as the clothes and hair of the people sitting three seats away. Our napkins had napkins.
There were still over a dozen things that we didn’t try, which means every time you go you can create a brand new dish. We loved this place so much we made sloshing noises as we stood up. The whole thing cost us around £50 including £14 for a bottle of wine (it’s red or white, that’s it.)
The point is, you cook the food yourself. So if you don’t like it, you only have yourself to blame.
One Plus, 42 Charles Street, Manchester M1 7DB. Tel: 0161 273 2888
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.
Decent homemade broth, good variety of plates, all fresh
Clean and comfortable with novelty
Always on hand if we needed anything