Kelly Bishop checks out a recently revived veggie Chinese restaurant
You might remember the vegetarian Chinese restaurant Lotus Vegetarian Kitchen (reviewed here). Lotus closed early last year due to ‘personal reasons’ - prompting many a crying face emoji reaction on social media. With a very similar offering, but new owners and a new name, Ruyi has triumphantly risen in its place. On the Monday we visit, we're pleased to see it buzzing with customers.
This is your guy if you want to win over the nuisance in your group skriking about there being no meat on the menu
In case you're wondering, a ruyi is a Chinese ceremonial sceptre which, according to folklore, brings good fortune. It literally translates to ‘as you wish’ - a phrase I (and fans of The Princess Bride) know really means 'I love you.' If you thought the idea of enjoying an entirely vegetarian Chinese meal was inconceivable, think again.
There’s no booze on the menu but you can BYO and there’s an offy next door. We’re happy with herbal tea that doesn't quite vow to bring you back from the brink of death but almost. A goji berry, longan (a cousin of the lychee) and red date infusion (£3.50) promises to ‘tonify the blood’ as well as promoting wellbeing and longevity - I’m sold. My friend's more familiar honey, lemon and ginger (£3) more modestly offers to cure a scratchy throat.
The menu is big enough to satisfy André the giant. There are mock meats galore from ‘duck’ and hoisin pancakes to the remarkably realistic looking ‘tiger prawns’ - shaped and painted with delicate shrimpy stripes - that we spy on the next table after we've placed our order.
Their famous spicy caramel tofu (£5.50) arrives crisp and glistening and tastes really good - although it could almost pass as a dessert. It also nearly takes the roof off our mouths and doesn’t seem to ever want to cool down. If tofu goes out of fashion, it could always take a side hustle as eco loft insulation.
From the old-school photo-book dim-sum menu, salt n' pepper ‘ribs’ (£6) piques our interest. My vegan friend, who's never eaten pork, is curious to hear how they stand up to actual ribs. Obviously they’re nothing like those hunks of bone and gristle that we carnivores happily gnaw on, but how far do you really want to go to emulate those? Instead, deep-fried, battered frills of wafer-thin beancurd are tossed in that unmistakable salty as you like salt n’ pepper dressing. I spear hunks together with the caramel tofu for the ultimate flavour hit.
On a crispness scale - where 0 is the underside of the fish on a chippy tea that’s been on your passenger seat too long and 10 requires to a trip to an emergency dentist - fried vegan fun gwor (£5.50) are about an 8.5. That fantastic crunch might be down to tapioca in the casings. A ‘chicken’ filling is heavy on the shiitake mushroom - king of the im-meat-ators in my book - I'm no seitan-ist.
A 'chicken' satay sizzler (£12) bubbles in a more fragrant, nutty version of chippy curry sauce. It’s not refined but we like it. I doubt bland old chicken breast is high on the list of temptations back to carnivore-central for most veggies but these chunks are pretty convincing.
My vegan pal used to order crispy shredded chicken religiously back in his dark-side days - I’m more into the beef version, though it's been a while. Szechuan crispy mushroom (£9.50) is as good if not better than either of us remember its meaty counterparts being. What matters here is the texture of the deep fried squiggles - that gratifying point where crunchy gives way to chewy - and the sticky, sweet and spicy sauce. This is your guy if you want to win over the nuisance in your group skriking about there being no meat on the menu.
We don’t order desserts but a complimentary plate of chef's special sweet dim sum magically appears. There's mango and strawberry jelly, mini deep fried balls described as ‘pumpkin pie’ that are filled with sweet red bean paste - my friend is a fan - and an accompanying sauce that has a texture and appearance not unlike a certain high protein bodily fluid, but thankfully tastes like coconut runny icing. Just enough sweetness to end the meal.
I’m impressed by what we order at Ruyi - all of which happens to be vegan - although it would take a few more visits to get a really comprehensive view. With many people continuing to cut down on meat, more places like this offering something different are very welcome.
Convincing veggie versions of your favourite Chinese dishes? As you wish.
I keep hearing that in the hysteria surrounding the coronavirus, some Chinese restaurants are struggling at the moment. Whether you’re veggie, vegan or all about the chicken feet, now’s a good time to reject any xenophobic scaremongering and support your local Chinese restaurants and takeaways.
Ruyi Vegetarian House, 536 Wilmslow Rd, Withington, Manchester M20 4BY
Another vegetarian restaurant review: 'Indian comfort food of the highest order' - Bhaji Pala, Gatley, reviewed
All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, paid for by Confidential and completely independent of any commercial relationship. Venues are rated against the best examples of their type: 1-5: saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9: Netflix and chill, 10-11: if you're passing, 12-13: good, 14-15: very good, 16-17: excellent, 18-19: pure class, 20: cooked by God him/herself.
Spicy caramel tofu 7.5, ribs 7, vegan fun gwor 7, chicken satay sizzler 6.5, szechuan crispy mushroom 9, dessert 6.5
Super friendly, attentive and smiley
Not fancy but filled with happy diners who didn't mind us gawping at their food