Ruth Allan reckons there's nothing wrong with this crowd pleaser
Food critics love to seek out authentic dishes from distant corners of the world – basically anything weird, spicy or packed with offal. Comfort food has its place, though, and Eccles’ Pacifica Cantonese restaurant falls into this category with a plonk.
Honey-thick sauces, and dishes with a low black bean count are typical of Pacifica, which recently won a ‘Best Chinese in Manchester’ award. Yet the ingredients are top notch. Everything from fillet steak to sticky sweet and sour fish is moreish and, impressively, the success story continues - even when the menu heads into fusion territory - with the signature Pacifica steak.
Honestly. It’s good. So good, in fact, that everyone who lives in Eccles seems to be here. There must be three birthday parties in on the night I visit, plus a battery of hen dos, courting couples, and families eating out. Fortunately, the staff can handle the crowds and champagne flutes flutter with bass from the function room upstairs. Just watch out for the wobbly chairs when you’ve had a few.
Speaking of which, wine is a strength. The unoaked chardonnay (£17.50) is a great choice. I eye up the Pinot Noir too. Either would work with the not particularly spicy dishes that you’ll find at Pacifica.
Starters include wonton soup and spare ribs as well as ‘mock’ aromatic crispy duck with hoisin sauce and pancakes. There are king scallops, steamed in the shell and a dim sum selection (£8.95 per person) which includes sweet and fluffy pork buns (char siu bao), steamed prawn things (har gau and siu mai) and pan-fried gyoza-style parcels (wor tips) filled with pork and prawns and perky ginger. Variations on ketchup, XO and a traditional, sweet-sour red Chinese vinegar are served as dips. Nothing to fault here.
Mains move into a fusion state of mind. Pacifica Fillet Steak (£18.95), for example, comes drenched in a beige-coloured, thickened sauce, with hints of crushed peppercorn. A Chinese-ish peppered steak. The steak’s edges are bleary inside the sauce, but it’s ridiculously tender and as rare as a cigarette these days. Chowing down on prime beef in such a sauce makes me feel like what my teenage son would call ‘a baller’ - ie. someone who eats steak so often that they don’t need to taste it. It’s good, though. And it tastes even better the next day.
‘Sichuan-style hot and spicy’ white fish (£11.95) is unlike other Sichuan dishes I’ve tried, by virtue of not being spicy at all. It claws its way back to a score of 7, however, by perfectly replicating my local chip shop’s finest sweet and sour. That’s probably not what the chefs at Pacifica had in mind, but it works.
Turgid aubergine with green peppers in a black bean sauce (£8.50 - not enough black beans and way too much underdone onion) is the only low point, while reasonable sides include pak choi with toasted cashew crumbs (4.95) and boiled rice (£2.80).
Thinking about it, Pacifica Cantonese’s closest relation in Greater Manchester is probably Yang Sing. There are echoes of Harry Yeung’s cooking here: the pak choi for example, or the would-be sticky aubergine with chunky peppers and hunks of onion. The cooking at Pacifica certainly lacks Yeung’s finesse, but to say that it's Chinese minus the edge is missing the point.
This is a crowd pleaser of a restaurant with a friendly smile. The frontage comes from the neon 'vape shop' school of design, and there are hoards of people milling about and laughing on the top terrace as I leave. There is no denying the menu lacks the heat of regional Chinese places, but if it was just around the corner from my house, I’d probably make it a habit.
Pacifica Cantonese, 5-7 Church Road, Eccles, Manchester M30 0DL. TeL: 0161 7078828
(dim sum 8, steak 8, sichuan fish 7, aubergine 5, pak choi 7, rice 8)
Champagne flutes flutter with bass
Managed the throngs well