THERE was a bit of a false start to this review, as my friends and I couldn’t drag ourselves away from the finale of Jess Ennis’s magnificent heptathlon victory long enough to make it to London Road.
Unlike the sprinters, we were allowed another go and Sunday evening saw us at Little Hanoi, a new Vietnamese restaurant in the middle of the block of the area’s south-east Asian restaurants.
There are family links for owner Linda Duong, whose relatives own both Wild Rice and WasabiSabi opposite.
Linda came to Britain as a refugee in 1980 aged 20 and moved from Sheffield to Beverley 15 years ago, where she ran a restaurant and takeaway.
Her children are at university here and she has moved back to the city where her mum and sister live.
Her new business has been open for less than a month and she is pleased with the initial response from both Vietnamese and British people, already starting to build up a regular clientele.
In conservative Beverley she had to offer Chinese dishes as well (her parents are of Chinese origin) but things are different in Sheffield: “More people know Vietnamese food. some customers have said that the food here is better than Vietnamese restaurants in London.”
A lot of effort has gone into making the place feel right and Linda travelled to Hanoi and Saigon to find the striking red and cream fabric lampshades. There are quaint pictures on the walls but the look is modern with uncluttered lines, cream walls and dark furniture. Upstairs are karaoke rooms for party-goers.
The four chefs were sourced in Newcastle and London and waiting staff are Vietnamese students.
The staff, who are apparently still being trained, were quick to come to the table as soon as you looked for someone and helpful in suggesting what to order.
Once advised, we made that decision over some bottles of Hanoi and Saigon beer (£3.20); there is a wine list, with prices hovering around the £16 mark, and some available by the glass.
Most dishes have a range of fillings. There’s lots of fish and seafood and a good smattering of tofu and vegetable options.
Prices for main courses and starters are similar: starters range from £3.20 for tofu-filled fresh summer rolls to £9.50 for a special-sounding monkfish dish. Mains start from £5.80 for a papaya salad (add £1 for prawns) to £8.50 for crispy tilapia fish with various toppings.
I went for the grilled scallops (£6.50), Phil had steam rolls with prawn and pork (£7.90) and Kate chose chilli, salt and pepper squid (£5.80).
Although this is not Thai food, this menu shares a lot of its flavourings like lemongrass, chillis, galangal ginger, coriander and coconut milk, plus the attention to detail on presentation.
Kate’s squid, cooked in a light batter, resembled little flowers and was sprinkled with dried garlic and chilli, plus a beautifully dressed salad and a pot of tangy, chilli-infused clear dipping sauce.
She gave me a taste and it was delicious, perfectly cooked with great textures and surprisingly delicate flavours..
Phil’s rolls – white opaque cylinders with little brown pieces showing through – didn’t look too tempting to the weste rn eye, at least. However, they were delicious, with a silky feel in the mouth and plenty of flavour provided by the little pieces of prawn and pork filling bursting through, especially when doused in the same dipping sauce.
I felt a bit hard done to when my dish arrived: I had two scallops, each in their own half shell, balancing on some lettuce, sizzling away in their spring onion-infused oil, the flavour of which didn’t come through. None of the advertised peanuts were scattered on, either.
The scallops were beautifully cooked, however, with a slightly crunchy edge.
You won’t get much time between main course and starter. Someone at another table tried to send their main dishes back for a bit but they returned two minutes later.
Phil was delighted with his pork and spring roll char grill with vermicelli. The little spring rolls were delicious and crispy and the tiny pork pieces had a good, tangy flavour. The vermicelli, dressed salad and peanuts all added to a great dish (£7.90).
The waitress said this was a light dish but Phil didn’t agree, especially after a large starter. We’d ordered two portions of lovely sticky steamed rice (£1.80) to share just in case but didn’t need it all. It came in cute wooden lidded buckets.
Kate loved her claypot simmered catfish, described as being caramelised in an anchovy fish sauce (£8.50). The flavour of the sauce on the meaty, tender white fish was very strong and savoury and Kate loved it all.
I was a bit nonplussed by my tilapia, which lived up to its crispy reputation a little too much at first, although it grew on me. The whole fish was covered in a crunchy batter and it was topped with little pieces of chilli and lemongrass.
As it still had all the bones, I ended up using my hands to pull bits off and dump on top of my bowl of rice, along with the topping. I think I would have been better off going for the mango or hot and sour sauces instead to overcome some of the crunch. Flavour-wise, the topping did retain the interest.
Including two rounds of beers, our meal came to £67.90. The card machine isn’t working yet (there’s a notice on the door), so scoot down to Sainsbury’s if you need cash as the Post office cash till is still broken.
Verdict: a lovely relaxing place with good service and interesting food.
lLittle Hanoi, 216-8 London Road. 0114 258 3836. www.littlehanoi.co.uk
lOpening times: noon to 11pm weekdays and Sundays, noon to 11.30pm Fridays and Saturdays.