Thursday, 7pm and West Street is quiet. It’s not the same without students.
There are almost 60,000 of them in Sheffield during the academic year and it often feels like they’re all out at once, such is their impact on the city’s life.
But where would Sheffield and every other university town be without the mortgaged spending power of an expanded higher education sector?
Those student loans have kept Britain going for the last 10 years. Thanks kids.
My former colleague - and Rotherham United Jedi - Les Payne and I discuss these and other weighty matters - beer, Chinese food, Australia, New Zealand, Bond villains, families, cricket and the old “here’s that sick squid I owe you” joke.
We are eating at the Hui Wei Chinese restaurant and bar in the old Turkish Bath building on Glossop Road.
Unbelievably it was 42 minutes before we mentioned football. The Iceland thing hadn’t happened yet so we were as cautiously optimistic as experienced England fans can ever be, ie not very.
Enough of that.
We were greeted at the desk as we entered, confirmed our reservation and taken politely to our table.
The place has a night club feel.
Dark wood and leather banquette seating, low-slung lamps above tables cast pools of light on diners and give an air of sophistication.
It looks really good.
Tak Liu, raised in Dronfield Woodhouse, learned his trade growing up in what used to be his dad’s Happy Garden Chinese takeaway.
“We have been here for 11 years and there have been a lot of changes around here in that time,” says 41-year-old Tak. There are lots of different types of restaurant around here now and that attracts people to the area – it’s not just about competition.
“We are deliberately trying to create a contemporary and sophisticated version of Chinese food.
“The food is a bit spicier than a lot of Chinese food in this country but it’s not as spicy as it would be in most areas of China.
“In south China cooking there are a lot of strong flavours. In the Szechaun region they like their spices but in the north the food is more mild.
“With students and lecturers in our clientele we find that a lot of people have been to China and they want authentic Chinese food, not an English version.
“That’s what we try to give them.
“We try different seasonal dishes and we introduce them to the menu if they turn out to be popular.
“I think this area will continue to do well. The Chinese student population has grown and the universities continue to invest in buildings and people.”
We perused the substantial menu over bottles of Tingtsao and Tiger beers that came at £6.10 each for 640ml and seemed a bit on the steep side.
We went slowly through the many dishes on the menu offer and went for the traditional English solution - the shared special or Banquet China as it’s called at Hui Wei.
That meant shared starter of won tons, spring rolls, prawn toast and squid in garlic and chilli.
We were hungry by now and the colourful, crunchy starter went down fairly rapidly.
Crisp, flavoursome and tightly packed spring rolls, crunchy prawn toast substantial enough to have a softer texture within, crisp won tons, tender squid in breadcrumbs with a touch of spice and all with a sweet and sour dipping sauce.
Frivolous, colourful, deep-fried and gorgeous, what more could anyone ask from a starter?
Next up was crispy aromatic duck with pancakes, hoisin sauce and shredded cucumber and spring onions.
The combination is a winner and one of the most popular dishes on the menu here and anywhere else.
It’s fantastic. The pancakes and veg can hardly go wrong but the meat is superb. Full of flavour, crisp and moist at the same time and topped by that rich sweet and savoury intensity of hoisin. Top class.
I think I might have had more than my fair share but Les is too much of a gentleman to mention it.
More colourful dishes arrive and sit steaming and releasing their fantastic aromas under Hui Wei’s dramatic table lighting.
It’s theatre as well as food.
We share sliced beef in szechuan peppers, jilin crispy pork, crispy chilli chicken and egg fried rice.
The beef is rich and spicy though maybe a little chewy in places, the pork is crunchy and comes in a sticky sweet sauce with a hit of spice and the crispy chilli chicken is salty, crisp-coated and spicy.
More beer required.
The egg fried rice gives a base for all those rich flavours and, although not as light and loose as it might be, still hits the spot and soaks up some of those rich sauces and spices.
We’re getting full but find room for cooling ice-cream.
The rich, fruit and creamy flavours of ginger, lychee, mango and passion fruit take the heat out of the lingering spices and make a cooling finale to a pretty cool night.
For the Chinese banquet between two, three beers and two ice cream desserts our meal came to a total of £60.15.
Star rating out of five:
* Hui Wei, 221 Glossop Road, Sheffield, South Yorkshire S10 2GW, UK
* Tel: 0114 201 3482 * Hui Wei
* Category: Chinese