Fred Chan's Oriental Restaurants

Dine Online - the UK Restaurant guide

Fred Chan Eats East in the North West, and explains to kwailos what to look for

The Chinese restaurant scene has almost literally been the subject of a revolution over the past decade. Outside London, many places are still firmly of the chop suey cast. They cater primarily for western palates, which are still largely ignorant of real Chinese food. Over the past ten years there has been considerable growth of the second generation professional Chinese community, as well as the opening up of the Far East by more and more package holidays. These changes, together with the tremendous explosion of interest in all things foodie, have helped raise both standards and choice not only of Chinese restaurants in the North West, but Thai, Malaysian and Indonesian as well. Japanese restaurants outside the capital are still a rarity, but the sudden appearance of noodle bars in Liverpool and Manchester, with reports of places in Birmingham and Leeds, all no doubt riding on the back of the phenomenal success of Wagamama, would seem to suggest that if the price was not quite so prohibitive, the Japanese restaurant scene would also be poised for further development outside the capital.

All aboard Fred Chan's Oriental Express!

Over the next few months I will take you on a personal tour of some of my favourite Oriental eating places in the North West of England. We'll start in Liverpool, work our way to Manchester and Leeds and any worthy places in between. Future reviews will include reports on the ground breaking Tai Pan chain in both Manchester and Liverpool. Then there's Penang Village - the North West 's only Malaysian and Indonesian Restaurant; Colony - perhaps the first fusion food eaterie outside of London; The New Emperor - stylish surroundings and good old fashioned Chinese food; Maxi 's in Leeds - a purpose built restaurant that comes pretty close to what you would find in Hong Kong, and also the distinctive vegetarian cooking of Terry Lim at the Yuet Ben in Liverpool. In addition I will be reviewing the region's Chinese supermarkets, which are very big business these days. I shall also take a look at places such as the big chains of WH Lung and the mighty Wing Yip. Finally, I shall attempt to show why the independents such as Woo Sang, Wing Fat and Chung Ku are more than a match for them.

Far East, Liverpool L1 9DF

Having spent the best part of my life in Liverpool I shall begin my tour with The Far East. This is the old man of Liverpool's Chinatown and along with the Yang Sing in Manchester (now closed because of a serious kitchen fire), it must be given the credit for taking the lead in raising the standards of Chinese restaurants in the North West. When it first opened in the mid 1980s, it was the only serious alternative to Yang Sing for proper Dim Sum.

With its cavernous dining room on the first floor and its own roof top car park, the Far East will never win awards in the restaurant vanity stakes, but rather let it be judged on its food. It's run by the Cheung family - more often than not you will see the boss man, Tony chatting with customers and making sure everyone is happy. Tony Cheung has been there since it first opened and whilst the decor both inside and out has changed, the quality of the food and management has remained constant.

You should avoid the business man's set lunch, which is good value but not very exciting. If you are on your own, try one of the one plate meals - I would recommend the Three Roast Meats with Rice. A mound of rice topped with Roast Lacquered Duck, Crispy Roast Belly Pork and Char Sui (barbecued pork) will tame most appetites, but don 't forget to ask for a plate of superb home-made chilli oil (not sauce) and if you feel very indulgent, why not start the meal with a bowl of fiery Hot and Sour Soup, with bits of prawn, char sui, bean curd, preserved Sichuan vegetables and fresh coriander. Other things to try would be the House Special Chow Mien, a bed of crisp fresh egg noodles topped with prawns, pork, duck, crispy pork, scallops, squid, choi sum, fish balls and anything else that comes to hand when it is cooked. Another good standby is the Dried Fried Beef with Rice Stick noodles, a dish that's often used as the benchmark of a good Chinese kitchen.

Sunday Dim Sum Lunch

If Dim Sum is to your liking, Sunday lunchtime is probably the best time to go. The Far East is one of the few restaurants in England where on Sunday the Dim Sum comes out on trolleys that are wheeled round the tables. Steaming columns of bamboo baskets filled with Sui Mai (pork dumplings), Har Gow (prawn dumplings), Ribs in Black Bean Sauce, Beef Sui Mai, Shanghai Dumplings (filled with pork, nuts and coriander), Char Sui Buns, Chicken Buns, Ducks Webs and Taro wrapped in Bean Curd skin, Pork Dumplings topped with Chinese Mushrooms or Quail's Eggs are brought to the table for you to choose from. There are also plates of Cheung Fun (steamed rice pastry rolls) filled with beef, or pork or prawn, slices of fried Turnip Cake, Sticky Rice parcels wrapped in Lotus Leaves, Pot Sticker dumplings, Squid Cakes... the list could go on and on!

Suffice to say, if you want to try the real thing and re-live your holiday memories of that fabulous Dim Sum meal you had when you visited Hong Kong, then the Far East is the place to go.

(How is it that most Chinese I know are so thin?!) - Editor

In the evening, the Far East offers a set banquet on two nights a week and a buffet on the other three. In addition there is the carte where you can find even more banquets as well as the more usual fare. However it pays to study the menu more closely as hidden amongst the sweet and sours and green pepper and blackbean sauce dishes you will find real gems such a half a Soy Chicken, a hot pot of Stewed Brisket flavoured with Star Anise, Grouper Fillets with Fried Bean Curd and even fresh Crab with Ginger and Spring Onions. The Chilli and Salt King Prawns are to die for - plump and succulent, though they are not for the squeamish as they come with both shell and head on and the chilli gives them a bit of a kick. Unless you are a real fan, give the stir fried mixed vegetables a miss and ask the waiter what fresh Chinese vegetables they have in. Usually it will include Choi Sum, Pak Choi, and Chinese Leaf, though on a good day, the choice might extend to Chinese Broccoli or Young Spinach Leaves. Have them stir fried and served with oyster sauce or cooked with ginger and garlic, you won 't regret it.

Time is perhaps the greatest test of any restaurant, Chinese or otherwise. Being good is not easy, but being consistently good for nearly ten years is an achievement in anyone 's books and I hope the Far East will continue to be as good for many more years.

Far East, 27-35 Berry St, Liverpool, L1 9DF 0151 709 3141 Prices: One Plate meals Stg 5.00 - Stg 8.00; Dim Sum Stg 2.00 per portion; banquets and buffets from Stg 11.00.
Open seven days, 12.00 noon to 11.30pm.

If you have visited Far East, please let Fred have your comments:

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(c) Fred Chan, 1997. Dine Online Copyright Clifton Media Associates 1997, All rights reserved.

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