“ Address: 64 Main Street / Frodsham / Cheshire / WA6 7AU „
~Hiding in Plain Sight~
Over twenty years ago my friends moved to Frodsham, set up home and had two sons. A lot has happened in the intervening years. They split up, got divorced, the wife remarried a Swede and went to live in Sweden. Their boys stayed with their father in Frodsham until mum moved to Australia with her new husband and the boys followed. The older son, M, has now returned to live with his father and the younger, S, was back in Frodsham for New Year and his birthday. The luck of having both in the area at the same time meant I negotiated a dinner appointment by Facebook and text messages. Apparently that's the way to do it these days!
I had arranged to meet them outside the Bear's Paw, Frodsham's landmark pub at 6.30 pm and had asked them to choose where they wanted to go. I do this every time I meet either of them and generally I get the teen 'shrug' and exclamation of "Whatever" so I was really pleased that on this occasion not only had they both turned up but they had a plan. We would go for Chinese.
For many years I've known the Chinese at the east end of Frodsham - I think it's called Chinese Delight. That's a rather fancy place - they have a large carp pond and lots of fancy screens and traditional décor. By contrast, Yuet Ben on Main Street is a rather modest looking place. My expectations were not high but I really should learn not to judge a book by its cover.
The restaurant was painted bright yellow with bright red transfer silhouettes on the walls. We were visiting in the first few days of the New Year and the Christmas decorations were still up and it all looked a bit tacky.
The restaurant does an early diner £10 menu but I told my guests not to bother and to pick what they wanted. We ordered beers for them (well, the youngest was a few hours off his 18th Birthday so I wasn't about to argue) and a diet Coke for me and settled to look at the menu. I was half intending to be good and get a soup but when S mentioned he fancied the spicy salt and pepper squid, I realised that was a much better plan. Ironically, M then ordered the soup I would have chosen - Hoi Sin soup - leading me to conclude some kind of eerie psychic alignment between us with the menu. For main courses, M chose spicy crispy duck whilst S went for spicy lamb Tibetan style and I chose Spicy Sichuan tofu off the vegetarian section of the menu. Two of us asked for plain boiled rice and the third for fried.
M's soup arrived about five minutes before our squid and looked delicious. It contained a mix of tofu, prawn and crabmeat and the smell that wafted across the table was gorgeous. delicious. I was wondering if I'd made a mistake changing my mind and then the squid arrived and I realised I hadn't - it was absolutely spectacular. My local Chinese take-away does a similarly named squid dish but it's prepared in big rubbery chunks. At Yuet Ben we each received a mound of thin 'worms' of lightly battered and deliciously seasoned strips of squid. I love squid but this was some of the best I've ever had. The portion was enormous and delicious with finely chopped chilli and onion on the bottom of the plate to spice things up a little more.I was talking far too much and the poor waiter couldn't see my plate as I had my back to him. A couple of times he turned up to take the plates only to discover I was still working my way through the dish.
Once we'd finished the starters, I ordered another round of drinks and then the waiter brought the heated food server and our plates. We weren't offered bowls or chopsticks and I didn't think to even ask for either. Instead we received piping hot plates. I touched my plate appreciatively, enjoying the warmth and I muttered something like "Ah, lovely! I do appreciate a proper hot plate". The waiter heard me and joined me in praising the delights of such things and bemoaning that far too few restaurants bother to prepare the plates properly. We were like a pair of old grannies discussing how things used to be, though I didn't dare tell him I never warm my own plates at home.
I've perhaps had too many not very good Chinese meals in recent years. I've become used to the over-reliance on brightly coloured almost toxic-looking sauces and to the tendency of many restaurants to give you exactly what it says on the menu. For example, a dish called 'prawn and cashews' may well contain almost nothing except prawns, cashews and the toxic sauce. What I loved about my dish at Yuet Ben was that my tofu dish had relatively little sauce but we jam packed with lots of different vegetables including big juicy pieces of red pepper, thin slices of what I think was lotus root (but I could be making that up) and several other vegetables too. As someone who tends to throw the whole contents of the vegetable drawer into anything I cook, I do like to get a bit of variety on my plate.
The vegetables and the delicious spicy, slightly sticky sauce were great but were not the stars of the show; the tofu was out of this world. I've had a bad run of luck with tofu in the last month or two, often getting what feels like a fried puff of tasteless air instead of something I could get my teeth into. This tofu was beany and looked like a proper mass of compressed little soya beans. I told the waiter it was the best I could remember having in years and he replied "I'll tell my mum" - apparently she had invented Yuet Ben's particular way of making and cooking tofu. That ought to be as valuable a secret as the recipe for Coca Cola.
Since I don't eat meat and the boys had lamb and duck, none of us had to share. I know it's nice to share but when you get tofu as good as this, it's nice to keep it all to yourself too. The portion size was perfect and I felt neither like I needed more, nor that I'd stuffed myself unnecessarily.
Our bill came to around £65 for two beers, four diet cokes, a soup, two portions of salt and chilli squid and three main courses with rice. It was perhaps a bit more than I'd expected but the quality was so good that I couldn't really argue about the price. The style is northern Chinese with Beijing influences which surprised me as I remember hating almost all the food I had put in front of me whenever I went to Beijing for work. Clearly a bit of Cheshire modification had brought out the best in the dishes.
Yuet Ben looked like it would be a very ordinary little place from the outside but it delivered a lot more than I expected. Compared to Chinese Delight, it's interesting to see that Yuet Ben focuses on the food and not on the cheesy décor and clichés. I guess that's why it's been in business for over 20 years - clearly I'm not the only one who thinks this place is fantastic (although on the evening we went, we had one of only two occupied tables).
64, Main Street
Tel - 01928 732232
Website - http://www.yuet-ben.co.uk/default.htm
On street parking is available on Main Street.