THERE'S no mistaking the Noodle Inn on London Road, Sheffield as a giant neon arrow points you towards it.
It needs to do something to stand out from the crowd in this area, well known for being home to many of Sheffield's Chinese community, and there's plenty of competition.
The place was packed even when we visited on a Tuesday evening, with a mixture of mostly South-East Asian families and students from many backgrounds.
The staff squeezed my friend and I into a small table next to the wall under a big TV screen, which rather unnervingly at one point was showing a Gok Wan-style programme with a parade of middle-aged women in their underwear going on over our heads.
The place feels very clean with lots of light wood and pale blue walls and there's also more neon, with lights under the bar and in the window changing colour every few seconds.
The staff of young women, mainly wearing blue baseball caps and polo shirts emblazoned with the restaurant website address, www.noodleinn.co.uk, buzz about the place constantly, sorting out orders and constantly cleaning up as tables are emptied.
You can take your own wine but there is also a short wine list and beers on offer. Linda went for half a pint of Stella and I was a little bit more exotic with a Tsing Tao beer, at around 2.50 each.
The menu is amazingly long and varied and my online research beforehand revealed a starter called fried exploding meatballs but sadly I didn't track them down on the printed version.
Instead we decided to order a mixed platter of starters at 5.50 each, which a minimum of two have to share.
Many of the main courses are based on the big plate idea – a big helping of rice or noodles served with a variety of dishes that span meat, fish and veggie options. There's even a lobster version that, at more than 20, costs two to three times the price of other main courses.
Soups are either starter choices or main courses on the big plate model. By the look of one we saw on a neighbouring table, the serving dishes are big enough to do the washing up in.
Aside from that little lot, there's an extensive menu of traditional Chinese dishes and a few set menus if you want an easy choice.
There wasn't a big wait for the starter platter, which featured a lot of familiar favourites – crisp little spring rolls and crispy seaweed, deliciously sticky and sweet spare ribs, sesame seed toast (I couldn't detect any prawn under the seeds), plus skewered chicken in satay sauce.
We failed to finish it all, which would be a theme of the evening, and three or four people could easily have tucked in.
We had a bit of a wait for our main courses, which helped the digestion anyway.
Linda chose thick udon noodles (she could have had crispy noodles, vermicelli or ramen) wok fried with pieces of beef and Chinese vegetables (5.80). The noodles and the beef were soft and some crunch was added by a good mixture of baby sweetcorn, pak choi, mange tout and onions, plus slithery Chinese mushrooms.
It was good comfort food and a tasty plateful.
I went for the rice plate and paid 50p extra for the egg fried variety, which was fantastic, light and fluffy and not at all greasy.
I had it with chicken with ginger and spring onions (6.10 all in). The chicken must have been poached as it was really white and tender and the slices of ginger gave a good hit of heat. There were also crunchy onions, leeks and carrots, all in a tasty gravy.
There wasn't a hope of eating more than half at most, which is something the restaurant recognises. When our waitress came to clear the table, she asked if we wanted a doggy bag and promptly produced a carrier bag with two large takeaway cartons inside. We easily filled both up with leftovers, making the meal even more of a bargain.
Then we were asked if we'd like complimentary ice cream and were given a little metal bowl each with a scoop of good quality Neapolitan.
This was lovely but a bit puzzling as the restaurant is also offering the Yee Kwan ice cream that was featured in the Telegraph last week, which is 2.50 a scoop in a range of exotic flavours, and those bought-in frozen desserts that come in a range of daft plastic containers to appeal to children.
The meal came to a grand total of just 27 – and we had leftovers to look forward to for another day as well.
Verdict: Not the place for a romantic evening but brilliant for a great value treat with family or friends in a buzzing atmosphere.
Open: Daily from noon to 11pm.
Noodle Inn, 156 London Road, Sheffield. Tel: 0114 255 4488.
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