Chinese feast matched by exceptional service
No need to book a table, or so we thought, as on the Friday after Christmas everyone would be saving their money for New Year's Eve.
And Blackpool town centre, as expected, was pretty quiet.
But when we opened the doors of the Mandarin we were met with a bustling scene of diners tucking in at this long-established restaurant.
Thankfully there was still room for two more and we were led to a comfortable table with banquette seating and plenty of room for the various accoutrements which accompany a Chinese meal, from prawn crackers to dips and hot towels for our sticky fingers.
Whenever we eat eastern fare, it is a given that my husband Clive will choose the soup, and this time the sharp flavours of hot and sour soup enlivened his appetite.
We also both enjoyed sweet and sour, and honey and garlic dips with prawn crackers as a pre-cursor to starters and our mains.
Service, I tend to find, is always excellent at both Chinese and Thai restaurants, and this evening was no exception.
We were even asked when we wanted our wine glasses filled, rather than the waiter just going ahead and topping up your glasses when you don’t want them to (as it inevitably makes you drink faster).
Just a small touch, but all part of what makes a restaurant worthy of recommendation.
But as the Mandarin has been in Blackpool since 1961, it is clearly doing something - in fact a lot - right.
Clive opted for satay chicken on skewers for his starter, with a delicious peanut sauce made to the restaurant’s own recipe.
I chose crispy sweet and chilli chicken wings, which came with plenty of meat on the bone.
Both dishes were substantial but not over-facing, and we were happy to break off from our feast for 10 minutes or so before our main courses arrived.
Talking of feasting, while we had chosen our dishes from the main menu, there is also a selection of banquets on offer.
Meanwhile for younger diners there is a ‘little pandas’ menu which is like a beginner’s guide to Chinese food, with the likes of noodles, fried rice and beansprouts, but with chips and ice cream of course.
Back on the main menu, just reading the names of the dishes evokes a spectrum of spicy delights with the likes of War Char Chicken (whole breast of crispy chicken with ginger and garlic sauce), Dan Dan Noodle (shredded duck with onions, brandy and pesto, bean sprouts, thick Udon noodles and soy sauce) and Vermicelli (fine rice noodles fried with prawns, roast pork, green peppers, onion, curry paste and fresh chilli).
However we were tempted by Gon Sui with beef from the specials menu, which comprised of succulent strips of meat stir fried with onions, cucumber and chilli.
Our other choice of fried chicken with ginger and spring onion was delivered sizzling to the table.
We shared each dish in order to sample as many different flavours as possible, with both served with steamed rice with sesame oil and coriander.
The sauces were not overpowering but hit just the right note to complement the main ingredient.
We accompanied our meal with a bottle of Australian Shiraz and a jug of water.
It is easy to see why this restaurant has stood the test of time as it ticks all the boxes.
The interior has a modern feel, the atmosphere is relaxed, prices are good value - and most importantly the food is excellent.
A 10 per cent service charge was added to the bill, although it is optional to pay this.
However we did so as the service was exceptional throughout our meal and also played an important part in our enjoyment of our evening.
Our total bill came to £73.43.