Chicken feet, tripe, and thousand-year-old eggsmight not be the first things you think to orderwhen visiting a restaurant in Manchester’s Chinatown, but if you’re paying a visit to Mei Dim then you really need to give it a go. If not, you’re seriously missing out.
A non-descript basement canteen tucked underground on Faulkner Street, from the outside its laminated pictoral menus give very little clue as to the delights within. But they’re very much there for the taking, if you’re daring enough to step out of your comfort zone.
Visiting on a chilly Monday lunchtime, this is exactly what I’ve vowed to do – with a little help from a friend who not only speaks fluent Cantonese, but also lived in Hong Kong as a child and has a chef for a dad.
Armed with knowledge, he’s the best dining partner I could ask for: patiently explaining the menu to me and then delighting when I announce, at the end of our meal, that I’ve fallen in love with chicken feet. ‘At last’, he says, he’s found a white person who will eat ‘the weird stuff’ with him. It’s the start of a beautiful new chapter for us.
After some back and forth, followed by some wrangling with the staff in Cantonese, he manages to convince them to give us a sheet of paper to ‘tick off’ our dim sum choices. This, I’m told, is how it’s meant to be done – with the staff taking one half, and leaving the other on your table to count off the dishes as they arrive.
At this point I realise it’s a good thing I’m not alone, because I really have no idea what I’m doing. Although there is an English menu provided, there’s also a second specials menu that has absolutely no translation.
The service is also perfunctory at best, or at least it is before they warm up to us. Left to my own devices, my awkward self would’ve probably already upped and left, only to miss out on one of the best meals of my life.
We reel off our order: steamed chicken feet and beef tripe, a steaming bowl of congee (made with a thousand year old egg), steamed custard and egg yolk buns, roasted pork cheung fun, and Shanghai-style soup dumplings.
‘Have we gone too weird?’ we wonder out loud, before deciding no, not at all. At this point, I’m very much in for a penny, in for a pound.
It doesn’t take long before our first dish arrives, a plate of slippery-looking cheung fun – a thin, gelatinous and slightly chewy rice noodle roll filled with pork then drizzled in soy sauce.
It’s followed, swiftly, by a tower of bamboo baskets, filled with chicken feet, steamed beef tripe with ginger and spring onion, plump steamed custard buns and our steamed soup dumplings – all dumped, rather unceremoniously might I add, on our table.
Once the curtain of steam between us evaporates, we survey the spoils. My nerves about eating feet dispelled, I take some quick instruction on how to remove the skin from the bones with my tongue then get stuck in.
Quickly realising these feet are 99% skin (in my opinion, one of the best parts of the bird) it dawns on me: I’ve finally found a dish where it’s acceptable to only eat chicken skin, without ingesting any actual meat. No wonder so many people rave about this as a comfort food.
And as for that thousand-year-old egg? If anything, it’s a misnomer. A couple of weeks, or months old at best, sitting in a mixture of clay, ash, salt, quicklime and rice hulls makes it rich in flavour and adds a hefty dose of umami to a meaty bowl of congee.
Beyond that, the greatest delights of the day have to be the egg yolk custard buns, satisfactorily oozing their hot golden goo at the slightest pressure. When Giggs grins and tells me that he hasn’t had any this good since leaving Hong Kong, I know we’re on to a winner here.
Although Mei Dim has a distinct lack of social media presence, the fact that most of its clientele are Chinese speaks volumes as to the quality. It also has a great word-of-mouth reputation, which is how I stumbled across it in the first place.
That said, it’s not going to be for everyone and there are plenty of keyboard warriors who’ve taken the time to slag this place off. Quite a few scathing TripAdvisor reviews bemoan its old school decor and lack of ‘friendly’ service, but I rather like it. If anything, it makes it feel more authentic.
This is how I remember Chinatown always used to be when growing up, and I think there’s something to be said for a restaurant more interested in what’s coming out of its kitchen than the tables it’s being served on.
Simply put: if you want to be fawned over, you’re probably best off going elsewhere. But if you want great dim sum, Mei Dim is an absolute must.
Feature image – The Manc Eats
Food & Drink
Team behind Ancoats wine bar Flawd to relaunch Higher Ground restaurant
The team behind Ancoats wine bar and small plates spot Flawd will relaunch their restaurant concept Higher Ground at a new venue in Manchester next month.
First launched as a four-week pop-up back in February 2020, it was closed when Covid struck but now the bistro is making a return after securing a new permanent home in Chinatown’s Faulkner House.
The brainchild of Joseph Otway, Richard Cossins and Daniel Craig Martin, dishes will change on a daily basis depending on the season and showcase organic produce from their very own market garden, Cinderwood, as well as other local producers.
Promising a focus on North West ingredients, dishes will put a focus on small-scale agriculture and small herd, whole carcass cookery, whilst its wine list will center around small-scale, low intervention winemakers from around the European continent.
With room for 50 covers, guests will have the option to sit at traditional dining tables or perch on stools overlooking the open kitchen and charcoal oven.
An à la carte menu will allow guests to enjoy a few dishes and a glass or two from the wine selection, whilst a second sharing menu will be made up of both individual courses and sharing dishes.
Example plates could include Cumberland Farmhouse Cheddar Quiche and Jane’s Acorn Reared Pig Belly with Grain and Mushroom Porridge, whilst vegetarian dishes span BBQ Leek Skewers and Cow’s Curd and Celeriac with Spanish Blood Orange and Bay Leaf.
Guests will also be offered the choice of sweet or savoury options to round off their meal with Garstang Blue and Lager Rarebit sitting alongside Yorkshire rhubarb, Custard and Caramelised Croissant on the dessert menu.
Speaking on the new opening, Rich Cossins said: “We’re now over three years into our journey of owning our own business and we’re only just about to launch our first full-scale restaurant.
“The most exciting times are without question still to come and we look forward to contributing even more positively to the city of Manchester.”
As you’d expect from the team behind Ancoats’ critically acclaimed Flawd, the beverage list at Higher Ground will include an ever changing by the glass option along with a short and concise wine list.
There will also be a short list of aperitifs and specialty cocktails to begin the meal with as well as a range of UK beers in can and bottle format.
The restaurant will be open four days a week, between Wednesday and Saturday. They will serve dinner only on Wednesdays and Thursdays and will be open for both lunch and dinner on Fridays and Saturdays.
The Scottish-Indian restaurant selling haggis pakoras and deep-fried Mars bars
Over in Sale’s newly redeveloped Stanley Square, you’ll find an Indian fusion restaurant serving up Scottish ingredients in some decidedly un-Scottish ways.
We’re talking haggis pakoras, Irn Bru negronis, wee puris and seven spice Scotch eggs – all served street food style in traditional metal tiffin boxes.
Opened by Ryan Singh, who hails from Edinburgh, Roti combines the best bits of his Scottish and Indian heritage by putting a spicy twist on some of Scotland’s most sacred foodstuffs.
Think deep-fried Mars bars, ‘chip butties’ in authentic rotis stuffed with curried aloo and chickpeas in aromatic pickle, and an aromatic take on mince and tatties made by combining Roti spiced pork and chole potatoes.
Elsewhere, you’ll find a decidedly fresh spin on fish and chips combining fresh Panga fish in roti gram flour batter with fluffy masala potatoes on a bed of curried ‘mushy peas’ chickpeas, and a massive Highlander burger topped with a crunchy puri ball.
Haggis – a Scottish delicacy traditionally served on Burns night – features heavily on the menu here too.
A savoury pudding containing sheep’s pluck (a mix of minced heart, liver and lungs) with oatmeal, onion, spices, suet, salt and stock, it’s typically served alongside neeps (better known as parsnips) on special occassions.
Down at Roti, though, it takes some decidedly different forms: shaped into burger patties and topped with coleslaw and apple chutney, or lightly coated in a spiced gram flour and fried into pakoras.
Roti first opened on Chorlton’s Barlow Moor Road in 2019, but within a few months found itself forced to close its doors and switch to takeaway only as the country went into lockdown.
After building up a loyal following of takeaway customers, the restaurant – described as ‘not your average Indian joint’ – was inspired to expand and owners moved into the newly refurbished Sale shopping precinct in 2021.
Sadly, they closed the original restaurant earlier this month but you can still find all their brilliant dishes over in Sale alongside hospitality heavy hitters like Rudy’s, Greens and Sugo Pasta Kitchen.