I’M wondering how the missus will react if I order the tasty roast frog. Tell me to hop it?
Perhaps not, then. The quick-fried ducks’ tongues? Spicy marinated pigs’ ears? Chickens’ feet with pickled peppers?
Better not chance anything too exotic because she’s a little miffed. Five minutes before we walked into the Three Corners of China on Glossop Road, Sheffield, she was under the misapprehension we were going for a curry.
“I’d set my heart on a prawn puri,” she groans. I’d wondered why she kept heading off in a different direction.
My fault. I was juggling a couple of places in the air and forgot to tell her which one came down first.
The Three Corners of China stands, appropriately enough, on the corner of Glossop Road and Wilkinson Lane.
The three corners represent Cantonese, Szechuan and Hunan styles of cooking, says owner Peter Zhao after our meal. “Actually China has eight corners but these are the most important.”
He opened a month or two ago and managed to fit in getting married and a honeymoon in China, where his new wife still is. With so much going on that probably explains why the restaurant had no website, Facebook page, credit card facilities or takeaway menus when we called.
I’m back on the menu. How about squirrel, then? That’s as in ‘squirrel -looking fish.’ Doesn’t look much like a squirrel to me – it’s pictured on the menu - and it costs a bit of a whack, £12.50.
Error in translation, Peter says later. It should be ‘squirrel sounding’ fish, squeaking like the little tree dweller when the sauce is poured over it.
Three Corners – it sounds like a Two Ronnies sketch – is the latest restaurant opening in Sheffield to cash in on the thousands of Chinese students now in the city. Mostly from mainland China, they’re aching for a taste of home.
Tasty roast frog? Our pretty waitress pulls a face when I ask if she eats that.
You’ll probably know the premises as the Flying Pizza or Pizza Volante which, in its heyday was a Footballers Wives restaurant long before the phrase was invented.
When we call, early on a Friday night, it’s full of smart young Chinese students. We’re the only Westerners there although, as in other such places, that changes later on. They bring us complimentary prawn crackers, Chinese pickles (mooli, or white radish) and an enormous white tea pot. They also bring us plates and cutlery instead of bowls and chopsticks until we shoo them away. Besides, I’ve got my trusty hinged chopsticks. Three Corners has three banks of tables, the centre one refectory style. That must make them feel they’re still at uni. There is seating for 60.
We’re sitting by a wall on which is written a famous Chinese poem which, in essence, says gets the drinks in now because life is short. Curiously, although the place is licensed, most customers, like us, stuck to tea and we weren’t pressed for drinks or saw a list.
We begin conventionally with a quarter of crisp duck (£6.50) and relish every last morsel because not only does our waitress shred it for us at the table (a little bit of theatre other restaurants are discarding) it tastes wonderful.
There’s dark, rich meat and crisp, fatty skin, we get six pancakes and a slightly watery plum sauce.
Kung Po chicken (£8.50) is one of the most popular dishes, little cubes of chicken marinated in a fruity sauce before being stir-fried with chilli and peanuts. A Szechuan speciality, the contrast of textures against the background of sweetness rapidly becomes addictive.
Hunan-style lamb breast (£8.50) is a revelation of what can be done with humble ingredients. When did you last see breast of lamb in a butcher’s?
The chef has chopped the meat into one inch bites on the bone and given it a spice rub. I did try and find out what they were but Peter said there were 10 of them.
What you get is a gritty and crispy exterior before reaching a melting core, part meat, part fat. The fat has charred in parts to become gorgeously sweet.
Then there’s extra texture from the lot being served up with finely chopped chilli, pepper and onion, the sort of thing the Chinese do so well. It’s heaven on a plate.
Our third dish, apart from some egg-fried rice (£2.50), is the intriguingly named oyster leaves (£7) although when it arrives half a stir-fried lettuce dunked in a thin oyster sauce proves less exciting.
What do you think? I ask my wife. “I keep worrying about the cost; after all, it’s just lettuce,” she says.
The tea pot is refilled and, while not completely demolishing all the food, we reflect on an impressively good meal. Should I have tried the frog or the ‘squirrel’?
Peter came to Sheffield to get his masters in electronic engineering, ran a food shop across the way and seized the opportunity to open his first restaurant when the premises became empty.
While trade is mostly Chinese word of mouth is getting out and keen Westerners with a taste for something different are beginning to discover Three Corners.
It would help if he gets a website up so people can study the menu before they come although we did find the waitresses helpful. So far it’s cash only but the £33 we paid certainly won’t break the bank.
The Dawes verdict
The Three Corners of China
255 Glossop Road, Sheffield S10 2GZ. Tel: 014 327 1192.
Open Mon-Sat 11am-11pm (last orders 10pm), Sun 5-11pm No cards. Licensed.
Vegetarian dishes. No disabled access or toilets. Car park at back.