IT'S busy in the Harmony Cafe but then it's tea time. There's a queue of students waiting to order at the counter but although it's a little squashed we manage to find a table.
Almost all the customers are Chinese. "See a restaurant full of Chinese eating and it must be good" is the old adage and it's true of the Harmony, tucked away on Westfield Terrace, off West Street.
When John Liu opened up three years ago, after a career in takeaways, he thought of it as "just a little cafe doing a Chinese breakfast and bits and bobs of English."
His market was the Chinese student fraternity, of whom they are many, and they soon found him. "But they came in and started to demand proper food," he chuckles, by which he means food they were used to at home.
So John and his wife Ivy started with a small menu of 10 dishes. It quickly grew to almost 300.
In fact, there are two menus. There's one in pink which looks pretty familiar from many takeaways. It includes a slate of English dishes - a mixed grill with black pepper sauce is 6.20.
Then there's the Big Plate menu (in Chinese and English) which is the one the students usually go for. And usually order item number one, tasty braised beef. "It takes six hours to cook and we sell 200 portions a day," says John. Not bad for a place with just 26 seats. That's the trouble when you go on an assignment for Food and Drink. You only get to know all the wrinkles after you've had your meal.
The Harmony, with its bright red fascia (the Chinese colour for luck) is clean but basic in decor, with menus stuck to the wall, a few oriental pictures, large mirror, and behind Ivy's red and black tiled counter, a galley kitchen with three chefs hard at work.
We are continuing our mission this year to try to spend as little as possible on enjoying ourselves as much as possible with a meal out. There's a recession on.
While we won't ignore the more expensive places we're convinced you don't have to pay through the nose for good food. And you certainly don't here.
We note that many of the Chinese students order in English and eat with knives, forks and spoons but we stick to chopsticks.
We also note that young people under the age of 25 of any nationality are not very good at shutting doors and this was a windy night.
What we ate was very pleasant. Crispy Aromatic Duck is 12 a half but you can get the austerity pork version for half the price, with spring onions, cucumber, hoi sin sauce and six pancakes.
And do you know what? Apart from the lack of skin it doesn't taste all that different.
Our other starter was a generous portion of Popo Chicken (4), chosen as much for the name as anything, slices of battered chicken on shredded lettuce with sweet chilli sauce.
Don't expect lots of fancy dishes and plates at Harmony. This is not a restaurant but a cafe and you get rice on the plate along with your mains.
I've gone for one the chef's specials, Wandering Dragon (4.60), a stir-fry of king prawns (at least four), chicken and char sui (roast pork) in garlic and black bean sauce which is excellent value for the price.
There's a big mound of egg-fried rice on the side of our plates which is another 1.60 a portion. My wife has the beef with bamboo shoots and water chestnuts (4) and I donate several of my king prawns.
The flavouring is good here and you probably won't need the bottle of soy sauce or the very fierce chilli oil on each table to add extra spice.
John reckons seven out of ten customers are Chinese with the rest English and Asian.
"To start with they don't know we're here. Then they try all the other Chinese places around then come back to us."
To drink, there are cans in a cabinet. With prawn crackers (1) our bill came to 24.80, good value in any language.
11 Westfield Terrace, Sheffield S1 4GH. Tel: 0114 272 7433.
Open Mon-Sat 10.30am-2pm and 5-10pm. Ethnic music. Takeaway menu. Street parking. Website: www.harmony-cafe.co.uk
My star ratings (out of five):
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