THE arrival of lots of students from south-east Asia to study at university in Sheffield has not gone unnoticed by shrewd business people who have set up restaurants, cafes and a supermarket in the city centre.
As well as a welcome boost to the city economy, this is good news for hungry Sheffielders who can now try a wider range of dishes that are more authentic too.
One such place is what used to be the Flying Pizza in Glossop Road, near the university tram stop, which was turned earlier this year into the Three Corners of China restaurant.
The three corners in question are the Cantonese province, which is probably the most familiar cuisine to non-Chinese diners as it was served in many of the the first wave of restaurants in Britain, Szechuan province with its spicy flavours and Hunan province, where they also enjoy hot food. The menu says that Hunan is known as ‘the land of fish and rice’.
The restaurant, which is indeed on a corner, looks very lively on the outside with yellow and red decoration but inside is more restrained. It is very modern and clean in look with a lot of white walls offset by dark wood.
One wall features bamboo decorations and there is a huge TV screen which was showing a Chinese satellite current affairs channel when we visited. However, the music was low-key US and British pop.
Unlike some of the other eating places catering to mainly Chinese customers, service is at the table.
It is also fully licensed but as I was driving I opted for a pot of Chinese green tea.
A basket of prawn crackers arrived at the table while we looked at the menu and our drinks arrived in swift order. Service was friendly and very efficient when we visited.
The menu is fairly extensive but I had done a quick recce online (the website is www.threecornersofchina.co.uk).
Some of the ingredients and names do stand out to the western eye, for example several frog dishes, squirrel-looking fish, duck’s tongues, braised pig’s feet and various offal dishes.
The starters, however, are fairly standard stuff and I suspect that they cater more for western tastes as I don’t think Chinese diners really bother with starters.
Prices range from £2 for crispy seaweed to £8.50 for half an aromatic crispy duck with pancakes.
There is also a selection of soups for £2.20 to £2.80.
I’m afraid I couldn’t resist a misspelling and went for crap (crab) meat and sweetcorn soup (£2.50). It was a large portion but the taste was disappointingly bland, even with added soy sauce.
It was the same story with my friend Ruth’s choice of Thai-style crispy king prawns (£4.50): there were six large, battered prawns with a chilli dipping sauce but the flavour wasn’t exciting.
There is a section on the menu for cold dishes and an interesting selection of fish and seafood, but I had decided that we would try one main dish from each of the three corners of China.
Most main courses cost around £7 to £8 but a few are more expensive. All vegetarian dishes are marked on the menu and spiciness is indicated by chilli symbols.
From the Cantonese corner we chose sizzling black pepper with chicken (£7), from Szechuan we tried twice-cooked pork belly with cabbage and chilli sauce (£8) and from Hunan we had the quaintly-named ants climbing tree (£7.50).
The menu only lists varieties of fried rice but we asked and they do boiled rice, so we ordered a portion.
We didn’t have long to wait after the starters were cleared away for the food to arrive.
The chicken was served in a large cast iron cooking dish but it had lost a lot of its sizzle by the time it got to the table. What it lacked in theatrics it made up for in taste.
The small, tender white pieces of chicken and peppers were served in a sauce which had a bit of a kick from plenty of black pepper. I think there were black beans in the sauce, giving that distinctive savoury flavour.
The twice-cooked pork belly had way more kick to it than the chicken dish. The thinly-sliced meat had an interesting, crunchy texture from its double cooking and it was married with stir-fried young leeks and cabbage that also had a little crunch.
However, the main flavour was red and green chillis and lots of them. Poor Ruth ended up with her mouth on fire but, although there’s a lot of heat, I didn’t think it was was excessive. It has a medium two-chilli rating.
The ants climbing tree is actually sauteed vermicelli with spicy minced pork, which the menu says is a famous Hunan speciality. The taste was subtle, with a little hint of garlic, and the texture of the vermicelli, turned a dark brown colour by the cooking, was interesting. It was easy to eat with chopsticks as it does not fall apart easily.
The rice was good and sticky.
Portions here are huge: our leftovers filled three takeaway containers and could easily have fed another person.
We finished our meal with complimentary orange slices.
The bill came to £36.20. It’s cash only, by the way.
lVerdict: well worth turning a corner for and plenty of interest in the menu for return trips.
lOpening hours: Monday to Saturday 11am to 11pm, Sunday 5 to 11pm.
Three Corners of China, 255 Glossop Road, Sheffield S10 2GZ. Tel 0114 327 1192.