Tampopo on Albert square has for around 15 years been a Manchester favourite which has now opened other branches in the Trafford centre, the Triangle and now,we read, Bristol, Leeds and Reading.
This pan-Asian noodle bar is named after a 1985 film. According to Wikipedia the fim Tampopo begins when a pair of truck drivers, an experienced one named Goro and a young sidekick named Gun (played by Tsutomu Yamazaki and Ken Watanabe respectively), happen onto a decrepit roadside fast food stop selling ramen (noodles). The business is not doing too well, and after getting involved in a fight, the heroes decide to help the widowed owner, Tampopo (“Dandelion”, played by Nobuko Miyamoto), turn her establishment into a paragon of the “art of noodle soup making”.
We had had a bit of a varied experience in Tampopo in the Trafford Centre but all seemed well previously in the original flagship location on Albert square. We ate lunch here today when there was some serious competition from the annual German market across on the square , another December institution that has, perhaps like Tampopo, allowed familiarity to begin to breed contempt. The £4 bratwurst and £5 gluhwein prices are starting to wear a bit thin, maybe the stalls will only start to make real money when the December office parties arrive from Oldham and Wigan.
Back in Tampopo, we were seated at the usual communal canteen like tables which may or may not have been refurbished. Did they have a cut-out for Chilli, Soy and Ketjap manis sauces before? The place was about half full with a fair proportion of business lunchers and shoppers taking advantage of the inexpensive Express menu which offers a choice from four main courses with a further choice of four small dishes including Tod Man Khao Pod (sweetcorn fritters), Gyoza, Miso soup and Vietnamese spring rolls.
I decided to eat the Tod Man Khao Pod fritters and a Nasi Goreng from the express menu and the OH , after much deliberation diverted from her staple of Pad Thai to the Singapore noodles. A decision she later regretted . We supplemented our meal with two further side plates of 5 Gyoza , the Japanese minced pork dumplings with soy dipping sauce and the Tempura prawns. A beer Lao and a fresh lime soda completed the order. The waiter was efficient and friendly asking if we wanted the starters first or take the dishes as they came.
The small plates all arrived very much at the same time, the Tod Man Khao Pod sweetcorn fritters were pleasant but the dipping sauce had too much peanut and not enough liquid. The Gyoza, as ever, were excellent but the prawns were mediocre , the batter was not a great tempura and may even have had some coconut in it. ( there is a separate coconut prawn small plate)
My Nasi Goreng was a pleasant enough dish , especially at the price, but the Singapore Noodles had too much liquid , not enough colour, lacked both freshness and zest and at £8.95 was a relatively miserly portion. The Lao beer was pleasant and the OH’s Fresh Lime Soda was very refreshing ( as it should have been at £1.95 a glass)
Perhaps a more interesting experience would have been to watch this clip from the eponymous film:
Everything went as it should but there is now something lacking in Tampopo which may need more than the odd change of dish to bring back it’s appeal. That said, I would go back but perhaps not in a hurry as there are too many other Asian restaurants in Manchester competing for your attention. I wonder if the owners have taken their eyes off the ball as a deal that would have seen their restaurants bought out by brewing giant M&B fell through this summer.