You may have seen me feature a few restaurant reviews based in the Corn Exchange recently, focusing on their vegan offerings to coincide with November being World Vegan Month. Check out my thoughts on Pho, Banyan and Cosy Club – right now, it’s all about fresh Eastern cooking from Tampopo.
I’d not been before but had heard positive things from my vegan blogger friend Tiago aka The Healthy Beard, who joined me for the evening. I’ve been venturing more into this kind of cuisine recently so was especially looking forward to it.
“Our menu is made up of the best street food and signature dishes from across East Asia with a fantastic variety of flavours and textures that we found in the various cuisines of the countries that we visited and fell in love with.”
Based on the name of a girl in a film on a quest to find the perfect bowl of noodles, Tampopo aims to bring back the flavours of East Asia for us to enjoy here in one of the two Manchester locations (with another in London). It was like being transported to the streets of Bangkok thanks to the ultra-themed basement setting; bold and vibrant lights, plenty of colour and intimate seating arrangements ideal for a freshly made meal.
We were greeted by the lovely Sarah, who talked us through the whole menu and assured us what was vegan friendly and for me, also gluten-free. These aren’t labelled on the menu; I was a little deflated that this meant most options were off limits as many of the sauces are already mixed and contain soy. That meant dishes like the Pad Thai, soups and stir-fries I had my eye on were no longer to be considered. Dam it, being a vegan AND having a wheat intolerance didn’t leave much for me to drool over…
As recommended by Sarah, who could not have been more helpful or knowledgable about the menu, we were brought a selection of vegan dishes, some with wheat and some without, so at least Tiago could have a wider sample of things.
I adore rice paper rolls so was happy I could have these, although with the sweet chilli dip rather than the (gluten) hoisin one, while Tiago opted for the fried version. Generous portion, bursting with colourful veggies and with lettuce and mint leaves to wrap them in, we were both satisfied.
The Pineapple & Cucumber Salad was light and refreshing although could have done with more of a kick from the chillies and less dressing, it was swimming in a bit too much liquid for my liking. Tiago’s Tempura Vegetables in a light batter (gluten) got a good reaction, plenty to get through with a sauce bursting with flavour to dunk in. Edamame beans with sea salt always go down a treat and there was nothing we could fault with these.
With an obsession for Ramen Soup, Tiago couldn’t wait to get stuck into his steaming bowl of Shoyu flavoured broth with noodles, beansprouts, bamboo strips, spring onion and nori. While he enjoyed it and liked the flavour, he wasn’t too keen on the bamboo strips which were coated in a vinegary marinade and compared to others could have been more rich in taste. A warming, filling vegan dish for a chilly evening though.
Tiago actually preferred the vegan version of the Tamarind Duck (gluten): crispy chunks of tofu served on a bed of choi sum and topped with fried onion flakes, something which Sarah suggested and a dish he wouldn’t have usually gone for. Pleasantly surprised, the crispy tofu was the star of a the show, coated in a wonderfully sweet, sticky and rich garlic sauce. A meal he’d “definitely have again”.
My first choice of Pad Thai was swapped for the gluten-free Singaporean Curry: ‘Creamy yellow curry with coconut milk, turmeric, curry leaves, galangal, sweet potato, tamarind and cherry tomatoes’. Not a dish I would have opted for but again, a nice surprise – rich, sweet and creamy (without being overpowering), it could have had more vegetables but a decent dish and packed with flavour. With both dishes accompanied by large portions of rice, both of us were definitely feeling our food babies by this point…
But of course that didn’t stop us having dessert, did it? Similar to the other restaurants, sorbet was the only vegan option (Raw cheesecakes? Mousses made from blended avocado or sweet potato and cacao….?). I’m not going to moan in this case though as the ‘smooth, refreshing, simple’ dish made with real mango was one of the best sorbets I have ever eaten. Tiago agreed; it was almost creamy in texture, the perfect balance of sweet but not being sickly or tart – just so FRESH. A big thumbs up from us both.
We couldn’t fault the service, generosity or satisfaction of the evening and it’s encouraging to see many dishes on the menu are suitable for vegans and vegetarians. My only grumble is the lack of choice for gluten/wheat intolerances. I appreciate it’s not as easy as just ‘swapping out’ soy for an alternative like tamari, but with other restaurants serving this cuisine offering this option, I think Tampopo needs to get on this, and fast.
Thanks to the Corn Exchange to inviting me to be part of this campaign and the lovely staff at Tampopo. Look out for my other posts!