MONDAY sees the start of the Chinese New Year and if your interest doesn’t stop at sweet and sour and stir-fried rice you may know that it is the Year of the Dragon.
Not just any old fire-breathing monster, either, but a water dragon (the last dragon year was 2000 and he was made of metal) and pretty auspicious if you believe in that sort of thing.
Now not a lot of people know this but Sheffield has its very own dragon. Its body runs along London Road (which just happens to be Sheffield’s Chinatown – accept no Rotherham substitute) and up The Moor while its head is on the Matilda Street-Rockingham Gate axis, where fortuitously there are more Chinese restaurants.
I was told this in all seriousness some years ago by a Chinese woman not known for her sense of humour but with an obvious working knowledge of draconology (the study of dragons) and the Sheffield AtoZ.
You ‘re probably guessing where this is leading to: a review of a Chinese restaurant to mark the New Year, somewhere on the ‘dragon.’ Well, yes and no, unless you reckon that Hui Wei on Glossop Road, the site of the old Turkish baths, is where the flames would shoot if the dragon belched fire.
It won a gong for best oriental restaurant award in the recent Eat Sheffield awards and that seemed as good a reason as any for a visit.
We were last there four years ago when it was owned by Jerry Cheung, who opened up in 2004 as part of his Simply Chinese chain. Shortly after our visit he sold it to brother and sister Tak Liu and Sarah Ng although Jerry’s photograph is still out front.
Not too much has changed. The interior is mostly black and nightclubby with ceiling lights which constantly change colour. Even the waitresses’ uniforms are black.
Seating is down a central aisle, as well as banquettes along one wall and several cosy circular areas for private parties, occupied by Chinese students. Good news for those who judge a place’s authenticity by the Chinese-Western diners ratio and good news for Tak. “We get the more affluent ones,” he said later.
Despite the murk the place is cheerful enough, with good food and very friendly waiting staff. On Fridays and Saturdays Sarah’s son Kieran plays piano, classic and modern. He started off, aged 14, practising in front of the customers and has now passed Grade 8.
Gloria, the manageress, took our order without a notepad in sight and got it all right. There are set menus from £15.95 to £19.95 but we wanted to eat a la carte and had downloaded it from the website.
Previously, the menu had been divided into regions. That’s been stopped, although old hands from Jerry’s time will recognise some favourites, like Mao’s braised belly pork. And it’s the same menu for Westerners and Chinese as Tak and Sarah don’t hold with separate ones.
“When I go into restaurants with Western friends I can see the staff don’t know whether to give me the English or Chinese,” he chuckled. Everybody gets chopsticks unless they ask for cutlery. I began with steamed char siu bau dumplings from the dim sum section (£4.20) because I love the sweetish, fluffy, bready texture of the dumplings and the rich pork filling, all of which I got.
Our other starter was golden deep fried squid (£5.95), generous but mostly crunch, with a sweet-sour dip.
Of course it had to be shredded crispy duck to follow (£8.95 a quarter), really tasty. Sadly, there is no shredding at your table restaurant theatre but you could smell it as it arrived. Part of the attraction of this dish, I think, is having to roll your own.
We didn’t bother with drinks (there’s a recession on) and made do with jasmine tea (£1.50), happily refilled.
I enjoyed the braised belly pork (£8.20), cut in little cubes which resemble liquorice allsorts with stripes in different shades of cream and brown, relishing the layers of meat, fat and gelatinous skin. My wife won’t touch it but then I’m the man whose family left the room when I brought a pig’s trotter back to the gite when on holiday in France.
We also had steamed cod fillet in black bean sauce (£8.95), firm with a salty sauce and unexpected chilli kick, and a lovely little dish of cashews with stir-fried vegetables (beansprouts, water chestnuts and Chinese mushrooms), a riot of different textures.
We ate it with egg-fried rice (£2.10), a little too cool and going on clumpy for our tastes.
It’s Tak’s first restaurant but his family had a takeaway on the Langsett Road for more than 30 years. “I grew up in the kitchen.” He is an architect by profession and keeps an eye on the restaurant at night. “For me, it’s like having a party every night,” he told us. That’s probably why he likes the nightclub atmosphere.
With tea, we paid £46.80, which seemed pretty good value for some tasty food and pleasant service.
The Dawes Verdict
221 Glossop Road, Sheffield S10 2GW
Tel: 0114 201 3482
Open: Mon-Fri 12-2pm and 5-11pm, Sat-Sun 5-11pm.
Licensed (house wine £12.95). Credit cards. Vegetarian dishes. Disabled access and toilets. Music levels low (live music at weekends). Takeaways. Street parking.