Welcome to No 8, Manchester’s newest Asian restaurant on the edge of the city’s Chinatown. It’s a restaurant like no other.
Sitting alongside the gaming floor at the Genting Casino in Portland Street, No 8 – named after what’s said to be the luckiest number in Chinese culture – brings a unique style of dining to a city already blessed with cuisines from round the globe.
Imagine a cross between a do-it-yourself teppanyaki and a fondue and you’re getting there. Cherry wood tables are inset with textured melamine into which wells are set with gas burners below to accommodate big stainless steel bowls.
These are the “hot pots” in which variously flavoured broths – choose between spicy Sichuan, clam, satay or mushroom – bubble away and cook food that comes to the table raw.
And, as with teppanyaki, it’s a process that demands the absolute freshest of ingredients, meticulously prepped. No 8 delivers in spades. Or clubs, hearts and diamonds if you’re a poker or blackjack devotee.
The restaurant’s debut, in the run up to the Chinese New Year of the Pig starting on 5th February, was marked with the clash of cymbals, drumbeat and traditional dragon prancing around the tables.
Décor features geometric black and silver wall coverings, natural stonework and a huge mirror above booth seating upholstered in black leather; the seating comprised cherry wood chairs with cream upholstery. With the gaming tables on the other side of a glass partition there’s a vague cruise ship feel about the ambience.
For the uninitiated, the menu is complex, but staff are extremely helpful. In the end we ordered a mixed pot (£13.88) containing two soups (Two soups? Now what does that remind me of?) either side of a partition, one a clam broth, the other satay.
All the food is brought at once, so our table was soon covered with beautifully presented ingredients: pewter dishes of minced fresh ginger, dried chilli, coriander leaves and chopped spring onions as condiments; a spectacular platter – crafted like a stylised Chinese bridge – of hand-cut Australian wagyu beef (£18.88), two huge tiger prawns in the shell, sliced long ways (£13.88) and sides of udon noodles (£1.88), oyster mushrooms (£3.88) and pork dumplings (£5.88).
Note the number of lucky 8s in the pricing.
It’s worth following the advice of the staff. Wait until the broth is bubbling merrily, then watch the cooking times – wait until the dumplings resurface, ditto the noodles. It’s about a minute in the pot for those delicious prawns and just three to five seconds for the gossamer thin, fabulously marbled slices of wagyu.
Ladle the soup and the cooked ingredients into your bowl – there was a generous number of clams at the bottom of the clam pot – sprinkle condiments to taste, and bingo; superbly fresh – and I daresay healthy – results.
Until the launch of No 8, Genting Casino was home to a respected European restaurant called Farenheit with its 1000 degree josper grill. But given that they say up to 70 per cent of the casino’s clientele are Asian, it has made sense to accommodate their culinary preferences close to the action.
Hence the restaurant offers a number of specialities much more familiar on Hong Kong menus than in the UK, such as beef scalded aorta, pork intestines, chicken feet without bones and gluten balls.
But the menu is also particularly strong on fish – cuttlefish, sea bass, lobster, oysters and tiger prawns are listed – with the rider that in order to ensure that essential freshness, some could be in limited supply.
The wine list is short and sensible, yielding a fresh zesty Chilean sauvignon for £20.