Trafford Centre, Manchester
Venue: Tampopo, The Orient, Trafford Centre
Contact: 0161 747 8878, www.tampopo.co.uk
Open: Monday to Saturday noon until 11pm; Sundays noon until 10pm.
Disabled access: Straight from the centre car park and into The Orient
The Bill: £77.60 for five, including drinks.
Would you return? There ain’t no doubt about it.
WE DISCOVERED Tampopo a couple of years back after taking Secondborn to the dental hospital in Leeds.
The restaurant is situated somewhere between the hospital and the station and made a convenient stopping off point for a quick lunch. After a number of repeat visits to the specialist It became a sort of reward for all the poking and prodding endured by The Girl.
By the time we were told that she no longer needed to visit the hospital Tampopo had established itself as a Stelfox family favourite.
The restaurant is part of a small chain, offering dishes from all over Asia. Vietnam, Indonesia, Japan, The Philippines and other nations contribute to the eclectic menu.
It could so easily be a recipe for culinary disaster but, in fact, the food is freshly cooked, using authentic ingredients, and tastes delicious. As most Asian cuisines use similar cooking techniques - stir frying, lightly-cooked soups, noodles etc - it’s possible to have chefs who can whiz up dishes from eight different countries. It would be much harder, if not impossible, to have a single restaurant serving, for example, good Indian, French and Spanish food.
We’ve eaten at Tampopo in Leeds and Manchester and never come away disappointed.
This review is, strictly speaking, about the restaurant in the Trafford Centre, Manchester, but I have noticed little or no difference between the standards of service and food in any of the outlets.
Tampopo restaurants have a clean, modern, almost functional look about them. The floors are wooden, the seats fixed and the tables arranged, bench-like, in rows. They may look a bit like a posh works canteen but they offer both a friendly and comfortable way to eat.
The clientele tends to be on the young side and there are cut-price meal deals every day for those who want to eat cheaply and quickly. Having said that the main menu is reasonably priced, with main courses around the £7 or £8 mark and starters from £3 or £4.
Secondborn likes Tampopo because there are plenty of vegetarian options. Many dishes come with a choice of meats or vegetables. She’s particularly fond of the Japanese Ramen soup noodles with fresh greens and miso (£7.50). It’s a substantial dish, a meal in itself, which usually keeps her happy for a good half hour.
But on this most recent occasion she chose the tiny vegetarian dumplings, Yasai Gyoza (£4.25), and Vietnamese Com Hué (£6.95), a wok-fried rice dish, flavoured with lemongrass, sesame seeds and coriander. She liked the tangy freshness but insists that Ramen is still her favourite.
The Boy, who had brought along his friend Chris, decided to try Pho Xao Bo (£8.95), a Vietnamese rice noodle dish with rump steak, lemongrass, mint and coriander - an unusual, really fresh mix. Chris picked Pad Thai Chicken (£7.95), a sweet and sour rice noodle concoction with greens, beansprouts, roasted peanuts and lime. Again it was an unusual fusion of flavours and a succulent feast.
A word here about noodles. Every noodle dish we have tried at Tampopo has been a feast of epic proportions and Filling with a capital F.
My choice of the day was a plate of chicken satay skewers (£4.50) and Chicken Adobo (£7.95), a Philippine dish with tangy sauce, broccoli, peppercorns, garlic and bay leaf. A smattering of fried sweet potato completed the dish. It was mildly spicy and quite lip-smacking. I had it with a portion of jasmine rice at £1.60.
The Man, who likes Indonesian food, selected Nasi Goreng chicken (£7.95), a one-chilli rated spicy fried rice dish with shiitake mushrooms, chilli, lime leaves and onion flakes. It was a mammoth portion but he got there in the end and was pleased with his choice.
Because The Man, The Boy and his friend had ordered a starter platter to share, with a selection of prawns, satay, gyoza and prawns (£10.95) they were replete, as we always are after dining at Tampopo..
We ate our way around East Asia without setting foot out of the door of the Trafford Centre and emerged a couple of hours later into the bitter cold of a Northern January evening, a somewhat surreal experience after the sunshine flavours of lime, chillies and coconut milk, which infuse many of the Tampopo dishes.
Service at Tampopo is friendly, fast and efficient. Even when the restaurant is busy, as it usually seems to be, waiting time is short. Staff also appear to have been trained in Oriental politeness.
Tampopo is a girl’s name in Japan, where it means dandelion. It is also the title of a Japanese classic cult film in which there is a quest for the perfect bowl of noodles.
After repeated visits to this restaurant chain I’d say that Tampopo has succeeded in providing the perfect bowl of noodles, as well as many other Asian dishes. Its successful formula of good food (all sauces and stocks are home-made every day), simple surroundings and well-trained, helpful staff should be an inspiration to all those who would run a restaurant.
And when the bill arrived, after deducting a tenner for a round of drinks, we discovered that our culinary adventure had cost less than £14 a head for two courses, which for a Saturday evening’s entertainment we thought wasn’t too bad at all..