When the waitress put a triple-decker cake stand down on our table I thought I’d made a mistake and walked into a Betty’s tea room rather than a Chinese restaurant.
Instead of little fondant fancies and cream scones it was stacked with dim sum treats: steamed dumplings, prawn with bamboo shoots and pork with shrimp, as well as deep-fried balls of minced squid, fried king prawn tails and crispy seaweed.
I’ll tell you what they were like in a minute but first a word about the place, David Chan’s new ChiChaInn, on Fulwood Road, Broomhill, Sheffield. Funny sort of name.
David, who owns four other restaurants and two cake shops but prefers to dress in baseball cap and jeans as if he were the delivery boy and not the boss, likes to play around with names. There’s the Mandar-inn on London Road for example or the Cake R Us shops.
“Chi is my name in Chinese, Cha is tea and we sell a lot of it and inn is for inn,” he says.
ChiChaInn aims to be a bit different from the rest. It’s upmarket and with head chef Andy Lau, who has his name up in big letters in the window, it’s offering Cantonese food with a number of fusion dishes, Western-style with oriental flavourings.
Or, as the poster puts it, “bringing Chinese cooking from the 80s into modern times.” Much is made of Andy being part of the team which earned Hakkasan in Hanway Place, London, its Michelin star. He was first wok there which I gather is equivalent to senior sous chef in European kitchens.
Before that Andy was executive chef at the Palm Beach Hotel in Singapore. ChiChaInn has a gleaming bar with mirrors and neon and a dining space seating 40 with a divider of shelves full of vases, teacups and teapots, some with holes in the middle. They sell 10 different kinds of tea and you can pop in for a cuppa and cake during the day, so it really is a Chinese Betty’s.
Andy can be seen at work in an open kitchen with water constantly streaming over a canopy to take away the smoke and grease.
In a corner there’s a pretty girl playing a lute-like Chinese guitar (David has three through the week).
Our table is the far side of the room divider, alongside a leather banquette, and on the wall is an illuminated panel showing the planet Jupiter amid glowing astral clouds.
The menu seems long but charming restaurant manager Stacey Lim, who like Andy is from Malaysia, says it is actually shorter than at Mandar-inn. There’s a lot of dim sum and it seems the easiest way to sample it is with a platter, one of several on offer, at £7 a head.
They were a treat. The steamed dumplings were generously filled with a firm, tasty texture. My wife, not a lover of the steamed wrappers, was won over by these. If anything, the deep-fried squid, flavoured with coriander, was even better, accompanied by a shallot vinegar.
We were less struck by the deep-fried prawns although they were good enough and the fifth dish, slightly sweeter than expected crispy seaweed, a nod to traditional Chinese menus, was given a lift with battered enoki mushrooms (those tiny ones which look like they’ve come out of an illustration in a fairy book).
We were interested to see what influences Andy had brought from Hakkasan. One of its star dishes is silver cod in a champagne sauce. Here that has been replaced by salmon. This costs £14 and is listed as one of Andy’s signature dishes. To be honest I wasn’t totally convinced by the quality of the salmon, bathed in quite a sweet sauce of a consistency experienced in Chinese egg soups.
We’d had a bit of a wait between courses, watching other people who ordered after us finish first and getting another bowl of crackers to while away the time, so suspected the kitchen was not fully into gear.
A roast duck dish was quite complex. It had been covered in prawn paste, deep-fried then served covered with a pinky-white crab sauce (£13). It was a little difficult to eat without cutlery (but you can ask).
It looked unappetising and didn’t earn marks for presentation but I was intrigued by the contrasts in flavour, crustacean against fowl. The skin was reasonably crisp, the flesh pink, the result gently pleasing.
We also had steamed rice (£4 for two) and mixed vegetables with homemade tofu (£7). Desserts are from Cake R Us. We shared an expertly made blueberry cream cake for £3.80.
There’s a lot to like here (especially the dim sum) and we’ll be back, perhaps for the sweet and sour strawberry sauce or £50 a head set seafood meal. People expecting a cut-price Hakkasan experience might be disappointed but Sheffield does have something new.
We paid £55.80 for food.
215 Fulwood Road, Broomhill, Sheffield S10 3BA. Tel: 0114 268 6838. Open Mon-Sat 8am-10pm, Sun 12-10pm. Teas, coffees and special lunch menu. Credit cards. Vegetarian meals. Disabled access and toilets. Live music. Children welcome. Street parking.