While the owners of the Corn Exchange give it a good overhaul and fill it to the rafters with food and drink venues of all kinds, favourites such as Tampopo, and Salvi’s for that matter, have had to head outside.
So it was on a chilly autumn evening that Mr GFB and I braved the crowds of the Christmas Markets and headed over for a lazy teatime feast, at the hands of one of my favourite noodle bars.
As we meandered through the throngs, I tried not to let my crowd-rage levels get too high – dragging my trolley case around always seems to make people want to walk into me. Thankfully we spotted this oasis of comfort food, across from the little Exchange Square walkway that confounds me, making us walk in some sort of concentric circle in an attempt to cross the square.
To add to the strange nature of the evening, our zigzagging walk was serenaded by a performer singing songs perhaps more suited to Benidorm than Manchester’s Christmas markets. I’d have thought Last Christmas a little more apt than Club Tropicana.
It was a touch surreal.
We settled on plastic stools at tables covered with kitsch vinyl tablecloths, hinting at Asian street food cafes, a glass of festive mulled wine in hand to take off the chill. Our hostess Sarah, began spoiling us mercilessly. After two gym visits in one day, I surrendered no questions asked and submitted willingly to her foodie ministrations.
The menu is perfectly Tampopo, if on a scaled down size. Noodles from udon to ramen, chicken satay, salad and Vietamese coffee hug the menu in this 35 cover spot. Even the staff are snug in their Tampopo hoodies and I might need to find a way to secure one of these for myself, possibly through Mr GFB. He is a chap who will tell you conclusively that no wife ever bought a hoodie of her own.
Our first two samples were of favourites. Tender chicken satay with a peanut sauce that had me reaching for a spoon and a fresh vegetarian Vietnamese summer rolls with a dipping sauce that hinted at sweet lychees.
Heaven. And still more plates were to arrive.
The Yam Dtaeng Gwa salad with mint, cucumber, red onion and ground dried shrimp worked as a palate cleanser before our vast selection of main courses arrived. Tender beef steak with kimchi and little gem lettuce – perfect for anyone on a low carb diet or tofu in a rich sauce with a bed of lightly sticky rice or classic chicken udon with pickled vegetables.
If I were better with chopsticks, we would have fought with them over each plate.
Then Mr GFB’s favourite, the Chiang Mai noodles appeared in their little bowl, topped with crispy onions. Whilst I had won the battle over the tofu, I lost it over these lightly spicy noodles.
But there were still morsels to capture. For whilst Mr GFB was occupied with his bowl and spoon, I seized the Nasi Goreng.
Often made in our house with leftovers (as it should be) this spicy, sweet dish is another comfort food favourite and speaks to me of cold lazy days on the sofa while there’s a chill in the air.
But we had yet to have the ramen. A bowl of soup and noodle, a bowl of contentment, and one that I seek when work drives me to distraction or gets on top of me. When gin isn’t an option, noodles are my reset button.
Full flavoured broth, noodles, seaweed that squeaks in your teeth, crisp beansprouts with grilled chicken.
There was one little marr to this bowl of pleasure – the chicken had been grilled a little too long as was a bit chewy, but this was a little niggle that could be overlooked in view of the pleasure every other element gave me and I tried hard to do this giant bowl justice.
Replete, relaxed and rested, I could brave the crowds and even our friend providing background karaoke with a smile on my face.
And you just can’t get that with a German sausage.
The food and drink enjoyed on this visit were provided for free by Tampop-Up.
As ever, a meal supplied, doesn’t ensure a positive review. However the food, drinks and service were excellent, and given Tampopo is already a personal favourite when ahem under the weather, I know I’ll be back in.