If you live in or near Manchester, you may already be scrunching your nose at my fool's errand. Whittle the city's thousands of Asian restaurants down to a list of six? Well, yes - fair play. After three years of incredibly self-sacrificing research, I've also reached the conclusion that this will always be a work in progress. I'll just have to keep coming back to update you as I find more great places to eat!
The other thing you may notice is that I've stuck to cuisines from Selective Asia destinations. When the company gets round to launching India holidays, I may be researching for some time...
Koreana's dishes have that clean tastiness - when you eat a good bowl of broth with well balanced flavours and detect nothing that makes you think they cheated, or that you're going to feel uncomfortable later. We had bibim bap because that's our yardstick for Korean food, and it was tasty, fresh and healthy, with a nice array of extras to adapt our dishes to personal taste. My husband is a dumpling fiend, and was very happy with Koreana's. The atmosphere was soft and burbling with diners seated between low room dividers, and the sunset glinted golden through tiny windows near the ceiling (Koreana is mostly subterranean). This was one of my earliest discoveries and since going, I made a point of trying a new restaurant every time I went out for dinner, but now I'm off my self-imposed leash I'd really like to go back here and explore more of the interesting menu.
About 30 seconds after being seated in stylish little Umezushi, I got up again to admire the juicy slabs of fresh fish on display behind the counter. Rather than becoming frustrated by my flighty behaviour, the host retrieved her smartphone to show me the photo she'd taken, earlier that morning, of the great hunk of tuna when it arrived at the restaurant. As legitimately enthused as we were, she recommended flavours to combine, and explained why they worked together. The flesh was fresh, with a clean refined flavour, and the rice (not usually my favourite part of sushi) was plump and moist. This place is a bit hard to find - you might start distrusting your GPS as you weave beneath the railway arches, but keep going! It's grown pretty trendy since we first started going there, so you might want to book a table to avoid disappointment.
There's a much larger and more famous Thai restaurant in Manchester's Chinatown, but there's something a bit glossy and - dare I whisper - 'MSG' about its food that no amount of theatrically flowering tea can distract me from. So we head to Siam Smiles, a cafe which shares its Chinatown basement with a Thai supermarket. I always feel immediately relaxed by the friendly unassuming service, and enjoy the menu of tasty zingy dishes served alongside racks of groceries. It's only open til 19:30 or 20:30 (depending on the day), so make sure you plan a lunch or early tea instead of swanning up after Friday-evening drinks.
If you're a pho first-timer you might want to start your journey of discovery at Pho (the chain restaurant in the Corn Exchange), which is consistently tasty, but feels a bit less exciting than I Am Pho in its striplit Chinatown basement. Pho has presentation down pat, its meat always carefully devoid of fatty bits, with staff on hand to teach newbies what to do with the dish of herbs... and the ladle. But it can feel a bit mass-produced, whereas I Am Pho serves up a more homecooked flavour. Of the two, this is the place I'd take Selective Asia colleagues. Service is friendly and quick, and we enjoyed the clean flavoursome broths and generous good value portions.
This one might be a trek for some of you, but it's worth it! I found Angkor Soul just after a particularly heart-opening trip to Cambodia. Feeling bereft back in MCR, I was immensely cheered (and slightly amazed) to learn that the UK's only Cambodian restaurant north of Peterborough is only 15 minutes from my house! Food in Cambodia can be a bit hit and miss, but Angkor Soul gets it right on the money, with melt-in-the-mouth curries, well-balanced dressings and light delicious snacks to dunk into them. The place was rammed on a rainy Thursday night, and I had to book a couple of weeks ahead, perhaps thanks to a recent review in the Guardian. Gluten-free options are well marked on the menu, and vegans are well catered for. Marple - who knew?
Samsi was the first restaurant I tried when I moved to Manchester, and it's still the place I invite people for birthdays. It's kitsch, but unashamedly so, which might be why there's always a good atmosphere. The food is comforting and scrumptious. Those profiterole-looking things in the photo are actually takoyaki, battered octopus balls slathered with piquant sauce, and scattered with crunchy dried fish. I nearly moaned out loud when I put the first one in my mouth, which would've really embarrassed the old schoolfriend I'd met for dinner. I tend to go for the hot dishes when I eat here, and particularly love the domburi bowls, although re-reading the menu as I write has made me realise I've fallen into something of domburi rut (could be worse!). Guess I need to go back to rediscover other sections of the menu...