WAITRESS Penny was a little doubtful about me ordering the preserved duck eggs. “Even some Chinese people don’t like them,” she warned.
I wavered but my nerve held.
You will be aware that Chinese restaurants have two menus, one for the Brits, the other for their own people.
So does the new Mandar-Inn, on London Road, Sheffield, but for the first time it has been translated into English so we can try it.
Many mysterious dishes have been revealed. There is the fine exploding kidney flower, the chopped chilli cooked fish head, the man and wife offal slices, deep-fried pigs fat ends and so on.
Doubtless the Equality Commission had a hand in insisting the Brits’ menu was also translated into Chinese.
I thoroughly recommend the eggs (£6), sliced in a salty black sauce. The yolks, as the menu suggests, have a cheesy taste (I thought mild Stilton) while the whites reminded me of the jelly in pork pies.
There has been a recent surge of new Chinese restaurants in Sheffield. For a time numbers stalled and seemed to be overtaken by the Thai newcomers. David Chan, who has opened the Mandar-Inn bang next door to his popular, more Anglo-centric Noodle Inn, knows why.
“There are 6,500 Chinese students in Sheffield and 85 per cent of them are filthy rich. They come back after the weekend from shopping in London for Gucci and Versace and drive to lectures in their BMWs,” he says.
Since the yuan-sterling exchange rate has crashed from 16 to 1 to almost one to one, mainland Chinese parents are showering their little darlings (only one per family, remember) with cash and the city’s Chinese businessmen want a part of it.
The 40-cover restaurant, a former double-glazing shop, has banquette seating on two sides, stylish pictures of food on the walls, more on the table tops, and a TV silently tuned to a Chinese station.
My wife looks up from her starter of steamed scallops with sweet potato noodles and minced garlic (£4.50) and grimaced. It wasn’t the food – the scallops, still attached to the shell, take on a creamier texture steamed and the noodles were like gossamer.
“It’s a Chinese version of Crimewatch and they’ve just shown someone who’s been strangled,” she says.
Chinese customers eat all their dishes together, which is why there are no starters on the Chinese menu so we selected some.
Penny had to be a bit strict with us when we ordered the mains because we picked too many and the Mandar-Inn’s portions are large. Very large. So we left the Ants Climbing Trees (sweet potato noodles with minced beef) for another visit.
What we did have was marvellous although that was partly due to Penny and the team offering to get the kitchen to tone down the chilli heat. They don’t think we can take it and they’re probably right.
The kidneys (£8) were sliced and scored like squid and were delicate and tender, served with lots of re-hydrated dried black mushrooms which gave things a silky touch.
We also ordered Hunan dry pot lamb chop (£7.50), which was, in fact, chopped breast of lamb on the bone, which smelled fragrant and had notes of aniseed. Difficult to eat with chopsticks, though.
The nearest thing to an Anglo-Chinese dish was sliced beef in a yellow bean sauce (£7), heavy with glorious ginger and garlic and served with sweet, sliced leeks, in a way I’ve never enjoyed the vegetable before.
Then there was the Yung Chow fried rice (£7) which would have fed an army. There was everything in it but the proverbial kitchen sink; prawns, roast pork, wisps of egg, peas and so on.
When we came in the place was full of filthy rich Chinese students and there was only one other European couple there but as the night wore on the clientele became more Anglo.
David is aiming the place at students – quite a few arrive in the summer for ten-week courses – but he’s not forgetting the indigenous population.
They’re getting braver, tasting the delights of wok-fried shredded pig’s tripe or fish fragrant pork knuckle, rather than sticking to the Brit menu.
“It’s a bit different. And I like giving people big portions,” he says.
Opening up the Chinese menu is a simple but bright idea because it helps appreciation of one of the world’s great cuisines after its reputation has been tarnished by too many dismal takeaways. And that’s David talking.
Service is excellent. You get sound advice on what to order and when they say you’ve ordered too much, believe them.
And if you don’t finish they will pack the leftovers in a box for tomorrow’s tea.
We paid £40.50 for food, washing it all down with complimentary green tea.
158 London Road, Sheffield S2 4LT.
Tel: 0114 250 9133.
Open all week 12-11pm. Licensed and BYO (corkage £1). Credit cards. No cheques. Vegetarian dishes. Disabled access and toilets. High chair available. Street parking. Website: www.noodleinn.co.uk/mandarinn
My star ratings (out of five):