Jonathan Schofield is attacked but thinks this place is a real Chinatown ‘find’

This is what food reviewing should be like: strange, different, energized.

Food in a basement maybe, with aggressive cuttlefish. Spurty cuttlefish. And whelks with meaty things in an odd glutinous sauce, a sauce consisting of you’ve no idea what, so there’s no room to be refined with a little finger cocked and like a food fop who’s making it up, say, “well I think there’s a hint of ginger maybe, coriander and dark soy…”

“My name is Michael,” said the Chinese waiter whose name was as much Michael as mine was Qiao Na Sen. He gave us an insulting menu of such dreariness that outside three pigeons threw themselves under a seafood delivery van out of sympathy.

“This makes my local takeaway seem Michelin starred,” said Qaio Na Sen, aka me. “So please find me the other menu of greater fun and broader Cantonese character we hear is lurking nearby; the menu from which this whole full Monday lunchtime restaurant seems to be chowing down upon.”

“Truly,” said no-way-called-Michael, “the dim sum menu in which much in English is misspelt is on its way.”

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We ordered fourteen, fifteen maybe, dim sums, perhaps more. These were all arranged in a satisfying trinity, one for each of us and most were superb.

Glory goes to pork cheung fun in its white rice noodle coat with its smoky flavours; the mixed meat croquette like three boiled eggs with pastry that broke like a brittle egg shell and contained a curiously succulent lumpy meaty paste; the sticky rice with smoked diced meats which bolstered the other dishes; the aforementioned whelks that were chewy and spicy; the deep fried cuttlefish which were cute and rich and the yam cakes with smoked meat which were odd but entertaining.

A truly standout dish for me was the steamed beef tripe honeycomb in black pepper sauce which must have been marinated for an age and was gentle, subtle, yet totally offally and wonderfully spicy and rich. A man with a moustache on my table said it was the first time he’d eaten tripe for years because it disgusted him. He liked this one. Or at least wasn’t scared of it. For a tripe fan it was a real joy. 

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Pork cheung fun
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Whelks with meaty things in an odd glutinous sauce
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Steamed beef tripe honeycomb in black pepper sauce

Of the various puddings the mango cream with sago and pomelo was boring, but the Cantonese butter sponge was utterly delicious and only bettered by the flavours and the joy of the unexpected that constituted the pan fried water chestnut pudding.

Less glorious dishes through the meal had been the decent but dull prawn dumplings, the more-trouble-than-they-are-worth chicken feet and the boring cuttlefish parcels in little foil tart holders. The last dish was violent. When penetrated, it burst with an unedifying squelch, ejaculating fishy water all over my recently ironed white shirt. A cold water dousing in the loos nullified the aroma but left me with a see-through shirt which induced Far Eastern stares followed by laughter. I couldn't blame them, I looked absurd

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Cantonese butter sponge
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Mango cream with sago and pomelo

The decor in Mei Dim is as functional as a workshop and includes fittings and fixtures that wouldn’t look out of place in a garage, but this hasn’t put off the hordes of Chinese punters. You can tell the restaurant is aimed squarely at the Far Eastern market because a sign asks people not to climb on the toilet, even when escaping the hideous aroma of cuttlefish.

I adored Mei Dim.

I adored the sense you had stepped into a little part of Hong Kong. I adored the rush and push of the atmosphere as though food is simply for fuelling up yet when it arrives, it comes generally, as little pieces of art. I adored that it’s a bargain. The three of us ate till we were full to the gills, we had a bottle of wine and then two extra glasses and the bill was just £70.10.

I recommend this place whole-heartedly to all Manchester foodies. If you’ve not been, go. Just make sure you ask for the locals’ menu and bring a bib if ordering the cuttlefish parcels. As stated at the top of this article, this is what food reviewing should be like: strange, different, energised.

Mei Dim Toilet Sign 170327 Mei Dim 20

Mei Dim, 45-47 Faulkner St, Manchester M1 4EE. Tel: 0161 236 6868 (ask for 'Michael')

  • Food 7.5/10

    (tripe 9, rice 8, cheung fun 9, croquettes 8, whelks 8, deep fried cuttlefish 7.5, yam cakes 8, chicken feet 6, cuttlefish parcels 6, prawn dumplings 6, water chestnut pudding 9, sponge 8, mango cream 6 and so on)

  • Ambience 4/5

    like stepping into a little part of Hong Kong

  • Service 3.5/5

    Smiley yet efficient (in that no nonsense Chinese manner)