I admit to a long established prejudice. It's against restaurants in cellars. My experience of them is generally disappointing. Not that they’re always bad, of course – look at Michael Caines at Manchester’s Abode. But I always seem to find them not as good as I hope they are going to be. Now Middle Kingdom is an exception. And there won’t be many other opportunities where, in the same paragraph, you see mention of a place operated by a Michelin 2 star chef and a Sichuan dive on the outskirts of the city centre.
There’s quite a modern feel to the restaurant. With comfy chairs. And clean bogs. So that’s three things that set it apart from the other Sichuan restaurants in the city centre. The menu claims allegiance to both Sichuan and Hunan cuisine but makes no mention of which is which. Perhaps to folk like me, it makes no odds.
There’s the usual run of Sichuan dishes – the offal, the intestines, the incredibly hot lamb dishes – the sort of dishes you think about ordering but know you’ll never have the bottle to. Although I have eaten the incredibly hot lamb dish at Red & Hot. And it’s incredibly hot and I won’t be ordering it again anywhere.
So we stuck to a couple of other Sichuan classics – gong bao chicken and dry fried green beans with pork. Both dishes we know well and enjoy. And they complement each other so are good for sharing. Simple, comforting food for a night that felt more like autumn than late summer. Both spicy with Sichuan peppercorns and dried chillis. Both with good texture contrasts. Nice food. The rice is of the sticky, rather than fluffy, variety and may have actually been more sticky than intended as the waiter struggled to serve it up and apologised for being a bit cack-handed with it.
Place was very quiet. The few other tables were occupied by young Chinese folk getting stuck in to vast quantities of food they were cooking in their own bubbling cauldrons. That might be something to try on another visit.