The Rice Bowl – the Manchester Chinese restaurant still serving the city’s best lunches after six decades

Long live The Rice Bowl.

Daisy Jackson Daisy Jackson - 9th February 2024

It’s not polite to fixate on someone’s age too much – but The Rice Bowl in Manchester is really, really bloody old.

This Cross Street institution has been serving hungry diners with gigantic portions of authentic Chinese food since 1960, with no sign of slowing down.

And it’s not easy to keep a restaurant open these days – just look at this onslaught of high-profile closures we were smacked with in 2023.

Some sites can barely stick it out past the first year any more with such high rent and energy prices.

Rigatoni’s has shut its restaurant in Sale just a month after rebranding from Sud, and even the Schofield brothers – who operate officially the UK’s best cocktail bar and know a thing or two about hospitality – couldn’t keep the doors of the Stock Market Grill open long.


Others that were doing a cracking job of staying in operation, like Simon Rimmer’s Greens restaurant in Didsbury, and Font (home of the bargain cocktail) in the city centre are gone for good now after literal decades of trade.

So to stay open not just through the Covid years but for 64 years is quite remarkable.


The Rice Bowl is old enough to remember The Big Freeze, Beatles-mania, the assassination of JFK, England lifting a World Cup trophy, Concorde launching (and then crashing…), the Troubles, Britain joining the EU (and then leaving it again…), the miners’ strikes, Thatcher, the Channel Tunnel opening, Princess Diana’s death, the IRA bomb in Manchester, Dolly the sheep, the birth of Facebook (in fact, the birth of the internet in general), The Rachel, Harry Potter, and so many more world-changing events.

It’s not technically the oldest restaurant in town, with Sam’s Chop House claiming a 140-year history, but it is the one that’s remained with the same family for the longest.

The Rice Bowl was opened in Liverpool at first, when Wing Lau left Shangai to a backdrop of the Chinese Cultural Revolution.


But after a few years, he moved across to Manchester, and although it’s now his family who are running the show, The Rice Bowl is largely unchanged.

You still get a slice of fruit with your bill, there’s a fish tank full of goldfish by the door, and the menus are thick, leather-bound tomes full of delights.

And on a wet and dreary Tuesday lunchtime, it’s full. There are lunch meetings in one corner, couples surrounded by shopping bags in another, colleagues grumbling about colleagues over steaming baskets of dim sum.

During the week, it’s the £19.50 set menu that lures us Mancs in time and time again.

For that price, you get a basket of prawn crackers, a starter, and a main – and the portions are so huge you could act like a bear, eating the whole lot before hibernating until your next meal in the spring time.


We ate a sharp and tangy Peking hot and sour soup, which tastes like the exact opposite of Manchester drizzle, and a basket of gelatinous dim sum, the kimchi bao delightfully springy and chewy.

The Singapore-style vermicelli noodle bowl is so massive, you could use the noodles to knit a particularly vibrant yellow jumper.

Its flavours are earthy and comforting and really sing when you slap on The Rice Bowl’s punchy crispy chilli oil.

A Chinese classic next, with chunks of crispy chilli beef stuck together with a bright red sweet chilli sauce. It’s a full plate worth of food, and there’s one of those Mary Poppins bowls of rice on the side that just seems endless no matter how many spoonfuls you dump into your bowl.

The Rice Bowl isn’t fancy and isn’t particular beautiful to look at. There are no gimmicks and basically no online presence. But maybe, just getting your head down in the kitchen and focusing all your efforts on cooking good, honest food is its magic trick.


I hope it never changes.

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Featured image: The Manc Group