Taking a tip from a fellow food lover I followed my nose and took my grumbling tummy to Manchester’s brightly coloured, richly smelly, hustling and bustling China Town to search out a long-standing little gem called Happy Seasons.
I have to admit, I’ve never been to Happy Seasons; never giving it more than a quick glance as I moved on to the pared back Japanese cuisine at Yuzu or the face-melting dishes at Red Chilli. It’s rammed in to Faulkner Street between a dozen other dining dens and only manages to catch your attention because of its fuck off neon sign. Oh and the guy chopping meat in the window.
How I never managed to spot a place with peking ducks hanging in the window and a man permanently chopping different BBQ meats (don’t question this, we have done tests, he is always there, always chopping. We have visited numerous times to confirm this), I don’t know, especially as I’ve been next door to Wasabi about 400 times. I shan’t miss it now though, not that I know it’s there.
Happy Seasons is very much like Handmade BBQ Noodle King – you don’t go there for the decor. In fact many weak-stomached mortals who rather like shiny new chain restaurants (ooh…well ya knor jus wot yers getting even if yer go to like another town int it?) would take one look inside and condemn the place faster than an over zealous food hygiene officer. It’s shabby, it’s ramshackle and it’s painted hospital green – but as I said, you really don’t go there for the decor.
What you do go to Happy Seasons for is BBQ meat. There’s a big menu with other un/usual dishes, some of it looks amazing, but nothing touches the BBQ meat. Ever. Well maybe the Char Sui buns, but you can have them for starter so let’s not worry about it.
Due to the extreme amazigness of the smells coming from the kitchen we got giddy and ordered rather too much for our stomachs (don’t worry, we got a doggy bag and ate it later on) all of which came at once – I’m sure our little corner table gave an audible groan as the plates were laid upon it.
Prawn dumplings were little (well actually quite big, two bites I’d say) steamed dim sum – super hot, but gorgeous and stuffed full with large chunks of prawns with a good dose of seasoning; we suffered burnt mouths almost with glee to get these in.
Char sui buns were some of the best I’ve had in China Town; super fluffy and soft, oozing with sweet/salty/unctuos char sui (roast pork) – again lava hot, but again we didn’t care and merely shovelled in jasmine scented tea to deal with it.
BBQ pork was divine and arguably the best – chucks of dense belly pork with only a little fat topping each piece off (I prefer this less fat/more meat ratio) with a crispy, crunchy crackling top. The BBQ sauce is super salty with that indescribable umami satisfaction taste wrapping itself around your tongue and smothering you with savouriness, all partnering well with the sweet pork fat/meat and the bland boiled rice we’d ordered to sop up all the lovely juices running off the meat (this is imperative. DO NOT lose/leave behind those juices – fight your table companions/the next table for them and guard them with your life).
We ordered the duck in this BBQ style as well – not as successful as there was far too much fat and the dish left your lips overly greasy and a little sickly. Plus we’d already eaten so much pork we couldn’t give the poor old duck as much attention as we liked so it had gone a little cold and hard by the time we got to it – in fact, each of the meats was served a little cold, but the rice was so hot it didn’t matter at all.
Don’t march down Faulkner Street dismissing places that don’t conform to the perceived ideas of cleanliness or fancy decor – Happy Seasons (as well as Handmade BBQ King) is a proper hidden gem and is proof that sometimes it’s the food that should be concentrated on, not the dining room.
Ps Ask for the spring onion dipping sauce – just spring onion, ginger and fish sauce bashed together. Amazing to cut through the fatty sweetness of the dishes, but you will need to drink about three gallons of water during the following night or you’ll wake up with a face like a prune.
Price for two starters, two mains, one rice and tea for two – £26.40.
Food – 8/10
Atmosphere – 9/10 (packed and full of very talkative Chinese families)
Service – 6/10 (functional but probably better if we spoke Chinese)
Value for money – 10/10 (seriously massive portions and minimal price)
Total – 33/40
Go again? Yes! Yes! Yes! I need more of that BBQ pork and those Char Sui buns.
Happy Seasons, 59-61 Faulkner Street, Manchester M1 4FF – 0161 236 7189