New restaurant Mans Market is reinventing how people think of Chinese dining in Leeds.
Leeds has a new Chinese restaurant – but it’s not like the others. Mans Market is a basement bar and restaurant that’s giving classic dishes a new twist. So leave your preconceptions at the door and get ready for something that’s fresh, modern and innovative.
It’s the brainchild of Raymond Chan. He’s the man behind Candypants, a business that’s known for putting on parties as near as Oracle and as far as Dubai, and Mans Market is the realisation of a decade long dream. He has a long history with Chinese food, but he doesn’t want to do it the way it’s always been done – he wants to reinvent it.
“I grew up in a Chinese takeaway, from a family background, and grew up making fried rice and frying chips and what not. So I’ve seen it and I’ve watched and I stepped away from that and went into events, I went down a completely different traditional non-Chinese route. I watched the market, Chinese dining and the mindset and it’s not changed. The Chinese mindset is quite negative; they don’t market as such. They’ve got a firm belief that if the food is good people will come, but I’ve seen that certain foods, Chinese food especially, aren’t being reinvented at all,” he told us.
He’s been waiting for an opportunity to change that – and it’s finally come along. Well, actually it came about two years ago, but it’s taken that long to cut through the red tape and make a plan. In a way, he’s worked backwards, taking the venue first, then finding his chef, David Man, who has worked in the likes of Harrods and Royal China. Together with David’s cousin, Kai Man, who’s come on board as Finance Director, they’ve come up with a venue that takes inspiration from Hong Kong and New York.
The entrance is sandwiched between Primo Ristorante and Lazy Lounge, an unassuming doorway that has some surprises in-store. It’s inspired by the Ladies Market of Hong Kong, with walls decked out in Waving Fortune Cats, mini handbags and Mans Market t-shirts, sending you straight to the Orient as you descend the stairs. You’d expect this theme to continue, but it doesn’t.
You actually step into a cool room with a hand painted mural and a statement bar with a huge wooden top, giving the space a rustic, Chinese feel. From here, you can go on to the restaurant itself, which is a vast open plan eatery with booths that wrap around the walls and tables set up down the middle. It has an impressive open kitchen, so you can see them cooking up your dinner.
That juxtaposition, the surprise of the traditional entrance giving way to a luxurious, modern restaurant was all part of Chan’s plan, “You walk into something and you’re thrown and that was kind of my idea really, that’s why I came up with the Ladies Market Entrance because it’s very Hong Kong, it’s very Chinese. You walk in and you see the cat wall, you see the handbags on the wall and you probably expect it to continue all the way through and then it doesn’t, it changes. I wanted to make sure that people came and felt that, but also shocked with the drinks, the food, and the music which you’ve just heard and also what they touch and feel; so I wanted to make sure that the furniture was good, the leather banquette seats are all real leather and it feels really comfortable, so I wanted people to come and feel that.”
It’s all about making Mans Market stand out, to create a brand people recognise immediately, whether it’s in Leeds, or wherever they decide to go in the future. A large part of that success, however, will be the food and drink, and they’ve made an effort to ensure that everyone’s favourites are present, even if they have been given a special Mans Market twist.
There’s Sweet and Sour Chicken, which is served a bit differently. The chicken is presented on a hanging skewer, with a pot of sauce you can pour onto the top, letting it drip down onto your dinner. That’s not the only usual twist on the menu though. The Beef in Black Bean Sauce is served in the shell of a pepper, while the Prawn Toast is made with a French baguette and is grilled, rather than fried.
They’ve come up with a menu of 40 classic dishes, rather than the hundreds you’d usually find at a Chinese restaurant – and it’s deliberate. This way, it’s easier for you to choose, and they can focus on making every dish perfect. “To be perfectly honest we’ve picked all the classics out for a reason,” Chain explained. “We know that most people will come once and go, ‘I’ve seen the hanging sweet and sour chicken, so I’ve got to have that, but also that Man’s Curry looks good as well, so I’ll come back next time for that.'”
The same goes for the drinks offering too. The bar will feature Man’s Lager, their own specially brewed draught beer exclusive to their venue, while there’s also a cocktail list that has been given a Chinese twist. There’s the Happy Valley Iced Tea, named after a Hong Kong racecourse, the Rush Hour, named after the film of the same name, and the Orange Espresso Martini, which tastes like a Terry’s Chocolate Orange and is inspired by the fact that oranges are a symbol of good luck for Chinese people.
There’s an interactive element to ordering too. There are menus on the table, with ‘I’m Hungry’ and ‘I’m Thirsty’ on the front – you just clip them to the overhead wire above the table, and your server will come over. And if you’re planning a party, you’re in for a treat. They’ve had a huge container door custom-made, look out for Chinese symbols engraved into the metal, and it’s used to close off an area specially.
It’s certainly intriguing – Chinese food in Leeds hasn’t been brought into the 21st century quite like many other cuisines from around the world. Mans Market makes a real attempt to change that with a bold, new restaurant that could be massive if it pulls it off. Why not pay them a visit for yourself, and see what you think?
Mans Market, West Point (next to Primo), Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS1 4JY. Book a table now…