A few weeks ago, I was invited along with two of my Fantastic Four to try out a pescatarian taste tour at Tampopo in the Trafford Centre.
Whenever we make a trip to the Trafford Centre (TC), there is always a designated collection of restaurants we tend to frequent. The number one spot, tends to be Las Iguanas, followed by the safe bet of Nando’s. Yang Sing slides comfortably into third and then it’s sort of pot luck with some of the others. I’d only ever visited Tampopo once, it wasn’t a personal choice, it was where our friends happened to be eating so I remember playing it super safe and ordering a pad thai and not much else, distracted more by the good company than the good food.
Being invited to a pescatarian taste tour was going to be a great opportunity to force me into being adventurous, rather than settling for the same old dishes at the same old places at a venue we visit quite regularly (TC is on our doorstep pretty much, so a lot more convenient than making a trip to the city).
Enough of me gassing, I think it’s time we got straight into it…
We arrived early doors, and were escorted to the far end of the restaurant where a few tables had been set for the supper club style evening event. Jo, the deputy manager came over and introduced herself, she was to be our host for the evening. She was bubbly and full of life and explained the elements that had been arranged on our tables and Laxmi took our drinks order to settle us in before the evening got started.
Drinks: Virgin mojito, virgin pina colada and mango on the rocks. The mojito wasn’t to my taste – purely as I’m not a massive fan of ginger. The mango on the rocks? Delicious. So good, it was mango on the rocks for everyone on round 2. Order it, trust me.
Drinks in hand, prawn crackers arrived as our amuse-bouche and needless to say like every good snack, they got devoured pretty sharpish (G didn’t even give us a chance 😉 ). Whilst the first starter was being prepared, Jo talked us through some of the ingredients placed on the table that we perhaps wouldn’t be familiar with. Asian basil, lemongrass, pickled ginger and mooli (a type of horseradish). Mooli was an interesting introduction, it smelt like feet (genuinely) yet it tasted delicious. I always find it quite difficult to wrap my head around those kind of situations.
At the start, I was slightly confused by the guide book on our table, but Jo pointed out that Tampopo keep a mini library of them at the back of the restaurant, for customers to help themselves to. Confused? Well, the owner of Tampopo started the chain off right here in Manchester after travelling through Asia, with a mission to bring the flavours back here to the UK. The guide books were just a lovely touch to get us excited and talking about travelling, reminiscing and planning future trips. As a travel obsessive you can imagine how much this pleased me!
Time for food.
Course 1: Coconut prawn & smashed cucumber salad
Thai inspired prawns made with coconut milk and desiccated coconut, great start and it contrasted well with the cucumber salad. Cucumber salad really doesn’t sound like an exciting dish, but this is no ordinary salad. The Asian flavours really stand out here, and theres a spicy kick which turns this green watery vegetable into a real firecracker.
Course 2: Curry Udon sweet potato
When this dish landed on my plate my eyes nearly popped out of my head. My number one food pet peeve was staring right at me. A floating boiled egg in my curry udon. Oh dear. Jo explained this was no ordinary floating boiled egg. This was a soy soaked specialty that complimented the fried sweet potato hidden amongst the udon noodles.
Ok, today was about being adventurous so I gave it a go. And of course, as expected, it wasn’t half as bad as I had built it up to be in my head. In fact, it was delicious. I’m not a fan of egg in food full stop, but it works. It was good, but I have to say the curry udon itself was amazing! It wasn’t too thick and the fried sweet potato was perfection
Course 3: Nasi royale prawn, with fried egg on top
So at this point, we were cleaning up dishes left right and centre and we were starting to get full. But we were just about approaching half way so we had to power through. Nasi royale was perfect but the best part of the course was watching Hafs and G have bursts of excitement everytime Jo brought out a new sauce. Especially Ketjap, my sister jumped for joy when the bottle landed, after having lived in Indonesia she explained that this was their equivalent to ketchup and it led to her drifting off into daydreams of all the amazing meals she had experienced.
Course 4: Green curry veg & hot and sour tofu
I’ve historically never liked tofu, I’ve tried it many times and there’s only ever been one time where I’ve enjoyed it and that was in the airport at Hong Kong (I was also starved at the time). The hot and sour tofu here was delicious, I would order this again. The only problem, the spice was so intense I felt like my head was going to explode. I’m not great with chilli, and this was way above my level of tolerable heat, but I couldn’t stop eating it! I did actually have to push my dish away, one because the spice was becoming crazy intense and two, I was trying my best to leave space to make it to dessert. The green curry was really good, Jo mentioned that if we enjoyed this, the red curry would be right up our street. Unlike other green curries I’ve had, this bowl was balanced, not too spicy and thankfully the cream wasn’t thick and stodgy.
Course 5: Roti pancake
We died. It was heaven. There was a real nostalgia to this dish – even though we’ve never actually eaten this before. When my sister and I were young, my mum used to make fresh chapattis. Fresh chapattis have a taste like no other, but my mum would make us an extra special treat, the minute the chapatti flew out of the pan she would spread butter on it, butter that seeped in to the pores and then just before it evaporated mum would sprinkle a layer of sugar and roll it up whilst it was still warm. This roti pancake was almost the exact same concept. Except it was laced with cinnamon, the roti was made of puffed layers and effortlessly light. I would return purely for this dish.
H, G and I couldn’t fault our evening at all. Everything from the service to the food quality was fantastic that night. We enjoyed every part but of course how good a meal is marked on whether you return…
Well the taste tour evening was two weeks ago – and I’ve been back twice since.
And each time I’ve returned I’ve ordered some of the favourites from the taste menu as well as one or two other new dishes – and the new dishes we’ve attempted have been even better would you believe. i.e. sticky chicken wings (minus rice wine).
And of course, as well as discovering the food quality gets better and better, so does the service. People always raise their eyebrows when I brag about service at blogger events, as they reckon we only get treated well because people may have an idea that we’re there to review. To be honest, I think you can always see through fake-good service, because at the end of the day we’re all human so people can have bad days and people can have good days. But I can assure you out of my three trips in less than three weeks, they were all good days. Not kidding, I could genuinely gush about the service all day.
AND the other amazing thing I’ve noticed – is the staff here don’t just know the menu, they KNOW the menu. As a Muslim, we obviously want to eat dishes that are halal, that don’t contain alcohol etc… they get it. The really understand it. Because even items on the menu that we presume are halal, they are quick to point out if it isn’t and how they can rectify it to suit us. I don’t think I’ve been to a restaurant that has ever been so accommodating on that level.
This evening was all about being transported on the Tampopo taste tour. Travel is a huge part of my life, it’s the essence of my blog, and I’ve often said that there are many different ways to reminisce about trips, and the tastes and smells of local food is one of the strongest.
With everything homemade, the finest ingredients imported and regular menu changes to keep everything current and up to date, Tampopo have ensured that our senses are truly satisfied throughout this journey. From the ambience, the knowledge, the literature, the food… from the simplicity of Japanese, to the complexities of Thai cuisine Jo and the team took us on that all important journey and we’ve been going back to re-visit it ever since.
*** Thank you to Jo, Laxmi and the whole team at Tampopo for a brilliant evening. The taste tour was complimentary but of course all opinions and photographs are my own and not edited. ***
Fancy trying it for yourself? Follow them on facebook and keep up to date with their taste tour events.