As the heart of Ningbo’s old downtown, Haishu district has charm coming out of its ears. It was always a little surprising, then, that the district’s older neighborhoods never seemed to have much in the way of more modern dining. Enter Xiao Man, or Grain Buds Restaurant, in the Xinzhe neighborhood, one of the city’s most established areas.
The restaurant occupies a refurbished building nestled back into the neighborhood. What lies inside a tastefully decorated and warmly-lit restaurant that serves a wonderful international menu.
The interior design of the place is a sight to behold. Its wood-lined walls and big open spaces create the perfect ambiance for just about any occasion—whether it be a cup of solitary tea in the afternoon or a cordial dinner gathering. Though taking a seat on either the first or second floor is certainly tempting as the restaurants comfort-oriented seating does tend to woo, it’s worth heading up one more flight of stairs to the rooftop patio, where you’ll be seated amongst the sights of trees and flowers and the sounds of the homey old neighborhood just below.
For its menu, Xiao Man seems to basically pick and choose dishes from around the world to compile a menu that could satisfy even the most selective of eaters. For starters, it would be very difficult to find a better salad in the city than the orange, grapefruit and chicken salad that was placed on our table and promptly devoured. Also outstanding were the beef short ribs, doused in a much better, homemade version of the ever-popular black pepper sauce.
The star of the show, however, was the oft-recommended paella. When you think about it, it’s kind of a no-brainer. If it’s famed for anything, Ningbo boasts a reputation as perhaps the seafood capital of China. And let’s just say rice is something folks tend to eat here more than just occasionally. Still, the Spanish classic is a dish that requires both knowledge of a fairly complex set of spices and some serious skills in the kitchen. Whoever made this particular paella knocked it absolutely out of the park.
It would be hard to imagine a scenario where Xiao Man wouldn’t be a good choice. Whether it’s food, coffee or even cocktails, everything is top-notch. Add to that some of the best seating in city and you’ve got an absolute winner of a place.