I'm all smiles after eating here :-)
The Laughing Buddha (Manchester)
Member Name: clara29
The Laughing Buddha (Manchester)
Date: 04/08/10, updated on 04/08/10 (87 review reads)
Advantages: Quality of the food, ambience of restaurant, fantastic staff
Disadvantages: Nothing . . . . nada . . . . zilch !!!
The Laughing Buddha is a Chinese restaurant located on the busy Wilmslow Road in Didsbury, Manchester. It specialises in Szechwan, Peking and Kung Po cuisine but there are also a small selection of Thai dishes available.
I have lived in Didsbury for over 10 years and as anyone who is familiar with the area will know, it is a hotbed of restaurants, from fine dining to take aways and with pretty much every type of cuisine available.
For some reason I always dismissed the laughing Buddha, I think it was because on the rare occasions I used to eat Chinese food in restaurants, I would always venture to Chinatown believing that it was the best.
One Saturday my hubbie and I were a bit sick of our usual haunts so we thought we would give LB a try and I am so glad we did.
For the past 2 years its not an exaggeration to say we eat there a couple of times every month and have not once had a bad meal there.
>> THE RESTAURANT:
On our first visit, the thing that immediately impressed me was the ambience in the restaurant. I am used to Chinese restaurants being large, brightly lit and not all that cosy, but the LB has cosy booths, intimate tables for 2 and praise the lord - it's dimly lit!! That's not to say you can't read the menus or need a torch or anything, but if it's an evening out, I much prefer a cosy atmosphere which is helped by good lighting.
The colour scheme is dark woods, cream walls and plush burgundy upholstery, with little tealights on the tables.
I don't know for sure how many the restaurant seats, but it's not a sprawling place, I would guess between 50 - 100 covers. I have been there when it's full of couples and at other times when there are large parties for birthdays etc, so they are pretty flexible about moving the tables together.
As I mentioned, we are quite the regulars now, and pretty much always settle into our usual table by the window, which during the winter is adorned with tiny blue fairy lights giving it a bit of a magical feel.
The music is always fab in there too, playing ambient chill out music you don't usually associate with restaurants (although on our last visit Norah Jones was on briefly and I nearly stabbed myself with the chopsticks to end the pain lol!!)
>> FOOD & DRINK:
There is a decent wine selection - I always order a sauvignon blanc at £3.60 a glass (or £12.90 a bottle) and my husband goes for the Sunlik beer (£3.90) which is the only draught choice but they do have a good selection of bottles too.
Starters range from £3.00 to £7.50 - more if you order Peking duck.
Being creatures of habit, our usual order was vegetarian spring rolls with sweet chilli sauce (£4.90 for 4) which are unlike any I have tasted elsewhere - I think its because they include vermicelli noodles which just make them taste delicious!
However as hubbie has developed something of an egg / wheat allergy we have had to look at different options - from steamed dumplings to soups, scallops to Malaysian skewers, spare ribs to chicken wings - there is plenty of choice.
I have taken veggie friends there in the past, and can totally recommend the mock duck pancakes - even my carnivorous friends have thought they were amazingly good!
There are 13 chef's specials to choose from but we usually order from the mains stir fries menu.
The way this menu works is you choose your meat / veggie / seafood ingredient first, and then your sauce. There are 16 to choose from - in the past my husband has eaten sizzling fillet steak, velveted chicken breasts (called so because they are ultra soft I am assured!), seafood, duck and pork, all of which are equally as good. These cost between £8.00 - £11.80.
I normally go for the deep fried tofu or the deep fried fillets of cod (£8.00 / £9.50)
There are 19 sauces to choose from with something to suit everyone's taste. My personal favourites are the Malaysian Peanut Satay, or the Hot Black Pepper sauce.
I think this system works really well rather than just offering sweet and sour chicken, beef in black bean sauce etc - it lets the customer choose exactly what they feel like.
Side dishes are the usual fayre, we usually end up with steamed rice and noodles to share.
The portion sizes are generous here - for instance we never finish the side dishes, its only personal preference that makes us choose two instead of sharing one between us.
Similarly, the main dishes are a decent size - if you are very hungry (or a greedy guts...ahem!!!) then one per person will leave you sufficiently stuffed. I would suggest that between 3 people, 2 dishes would work out perfectly.
Now you may think that what with hubbie's allergies and me eating vegetarian / being generally fussy that we are probably a bit of a nightmare but truth be told I think it's a mark of a good restaurant when they can accommodate your special requests without making you feel like you are causing a hassle. And they get it spot on every single time.
I always ask for no garlic on my food (just hate the stuff) and extra chillis and they always deliver exactly what I have ordered. The fact that they CAN leave the garlic out assures me that everything is super fresh. For my husband they have recently even been suggesting wheat and egg free alternatives to his beloved noodles (RIP...sob!) such as rice noodles and vermicelli dishes.
I have never had a desert here (always too full) but they have a selection of ice creams, sorbets and fritters.
They also have a banquet menu choice starting at £19.95 per person.
>> VALUE FOR MONEY:
Okay so the first time I came here I admit - I baulked at the prices. I mean, it's a Chinese - I expected dishes to be priced a good few quid lower, especially for vegetarian. There is one over the road that costs about £25 for 2 people with drinks, whereas a meal at Laughing Buddha generally costs us between £30 - £40.
The difference is the sheer quality of food. Of course it is tasty but you can tell the quality is truly excellent - it feels like fine dining Chinese style and instead of feeling hungry half an hour afterwards (which can happen after a Chinese meal) you feel full for the night.
The food is super fresh, for example the veggies are never wilted but vibrant in colour and have a good bite to them. The sauces are piping hot, never congealed so you know they haven't been cooked freshly rather than sat there for a while.
In my opinion, this is what sets it apart and others clearly share my view as their customers come back in their droves.
Everyone who has ever popped up to visit me in Manchester has been taken there and each one of them has commented on how nice it is and even request to be taken their again on repeat visits!
I can't end the review without a word on the service. The staff are all excellent and being quite a harsh critic, I definitely don't say that lightly. They are consistently polite, helpful and very knowledgeable about the dishes, they always recommend something if you ask, or go out of their way to make sure what you are eating is served how you like it.
Perhaps the best summing up I can give them is that I have been thinking of moving out of Didsbury recently. This restaurant is one of the only things I will miss :)
Check it out for yourself if you are ever in the area. If not - read it and drool
5 out of 5 stars
(crossposted on ciaow as ciaomiaow)
Summary: Norah Jones aside (heh!) this place is seriously hard to beat :-)