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Restaurant Review: Yummy Mandarino, Nicosia

Who dreams up restaurant names like this? Mandarino is located on the right side of Limassol Avenue as you approach the motorway from the centre of town. There is a convenient break in the duel carriageway after the CYTA footbridge, a quick right turn, watch out for the oncoming, then a first left, and you are outside the restaurant with a huge carpark beside it. Simplicity itself.

One is greeted by a liveried lackey and passed on to the waiting staff. We were settled in the centre of a vast room full of gleaming white shimmering tables and chairs, bluely lit ceilings, and décor that wouldn’t disgrace a James Bond set. There was a country and western song on the music machine.

Maria, our Greco/Russian waitress, produced the menu, asked if we needed help to make our selections, delivered a bowl of prawn crackers, and departed on being told that we could manage: quite charming.

The menu contains large glossy photographs of the dishes on offer; it is clearly directed at the uninitiated who cannot distinguish a Jellyfish salad from Lion’s Head meatballs – always a good sign when jellyfish feature on the card, it means you’ve come to the right shop. We drink tea with Asian food and Mandarino offers a classic green beverage that is replenished throughout the meal.

My companion has a fancy for a starter dish labelled Pot Sticker, which might be wonton and looks very like it, and Maria tells us ‘like small dumplings, steamed and grilled at the bottom’; Wonton by any other name. I wanted the Hot and Sour soup, a favourite of mine and a fair indicator of who’s who in the kitchen. According to the great Yan-kit, the original dish called for fresh duck blood, but I think our chef can be forgiven for leaving it out on a Tuesday night in Nicosia. Otherwise the dish was spot on, although I imagined he had trouble with the ‘cloud ears’ and ‘golden needles’. There is a very special aroma about this soup; it had a hint of the stable. There are other traditional soups to choose from, involving corn, beef and crabs. The music has changed to Chinese Folksong.

Although service was a slight tardy, the starters were excellent. One could have ordered Phoenix Tail Prawns, Beef seasoned with Soy Sauce, Shanghai Juicy Steamed Buns (Wonton?), or the mysterious Housespecial Cucumber. On the main sections, duck, chicken, beef, pork and prawns prevail in all their delicious forms: steamed, sautéd, Peking style, shredded with various vegetables, sauces – oyster, sweet and sour, spicy, lemon. I chose the Steamed Chicken in Oyster Sauce and the companion selected the Prawns with Crushed Garlic on a bed of very fine rice noodles. My chicken arrived in what appeared to be a small hand basin, sitting over a plate heater. The contents could have fed four hungry people. The chicken was perfect and the vegetables hardly noticeable; I took most of it home. The companion declared her prawns to be of an order not previously encountered: “quite delicious”, and they were, I tried one.

Mandarino doesn’t go in for sweets, but produced some very pleasant Mocca ice-cream.

The establishment opened six weeks ago and it was noticeable how attentive owner Che Hua Li was to his waiting staff; each plate and its secure delivery caught his attention. There was a small battalion of Chinese businessmen engaged with steaming bowls of soup; three families of locals including well behaved children and three romantic couples. Not bad for a Tuesday night.

Jung Xi is the boss in the kitchen and he arrived with an impressive pedigree of two decades spent in the trenches of the mainland and Korea, where he taught Chinese cuisine to the natives. There is a local adviser in the form of Chris Michael who has been around a while.

Mandarino has 250 covers, a banqetting hall and two executive dining rooms for discreet affairs. It is open seven days a week, offers a lunchtime buffet, is currently giving a 20% discount Monday to Friday evenings, and offers live music at the weekend. There is a take-away menu that is slightly cheaper than the main card and doesn’t contain as many dishes.

One must look beyond the garish photos and the film set ambience and be aware that this just might be the genuine article.

SPECIALTY Chinese Cuisine
WHERE Yummay Mandarino, 76, Limassol Avenue, Nicosia
CONTACT 22-420101, www.
PRICE Reasonable. Four dishes including tea and sweet: €46

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