Harmony strikes chord

John Liu and Ivy Liu.   John Liu  Hong Kong Harmony Cafe
John Liu and Ivy Liu. John Liu Hong Kong Harmony Cafe

IF you are going to have your name over the door of your kitchen, I guess you want it to be perfect. So when John and Ivy Liu moved their Harmony cafe further along Westfield Terrace to expand, the kitchen took longer to sort out than they expected.

The new restaurant, which had been due to open in September, actually opened its doors about five weeks ago.

The old place was tiny and a pretty basic cafe and the new premises, on the road running between West Street and Division Street in what used to be Cafe Guru, are far bigger and more inviting.

Inside the look is modern and clean with a touch of drama added by a red wall highlighted by uplighters.

The kitchen, which says John’s Kitchen above the door, is at the back behind the service counter.

The restaurant was pretty busy when we arrived on a Monday night and it is popular with south Asian students.

A waitress seated us and delivered menus, explaining that we needed to order at the counter at the far end of the restaurant. You pay at the same time and they don’t take cards.

We took a while deliberating and we were slightly confused by the lengthy menu, which has the front half in Chinese and the back half in English, until Ruth realised that we had to start at the back and work towards the middle.

The starters aren’t in their usual place either which added to the confusion.

When we finally came to a conclusion, the waitress who took our order at the counter was very helpful and suggested some tweaks when I said that we wanted to try some dishes that were popular with Chinese diners.

Now Chinese diners don’t bother with starters but we did. I wanted to try pan-fried turnip cakes in a spicy sauce but they weren’t available so the waitress recommended I had crispy duck with pancakes instead, while my friend Linda chose satay chicken skewers and Ruth had butterfly prawns.

Expect to pay about £3 to £5 for a starter and most main courses will come in for under a tenner.

One speciality is clay pot dishes and they also offer big bowls of noodle soup and big plates served with rice, as well as traditional dishes.Vegetarians get a few choices and there are seafood options.

The restaurant is supposed to be licensed now and there are wine bottles on display but no mention of drinks on the menu. We weren’t bothered anyway and the others had a soft drink while I had jasmine tea, one of a long list of teas at the counter.

Linda’s four satay skewers were very tasty with the classic spicy, peanut-based coating on the meat.

Ruth got four large prawns partially covered in breadcrumbs and with some of the shell still on to make them easier to pick up with a sweet and sour dipping sauce on the side, again very pleasant.

But the winner was the quarter duck which was shredded up with a fork and came with little pancakes in a steamer basket and some hoisin sauce and julienned strips of spring onion and cucumber which you make into your own little wraps. It’s familiar stuff and well done here. Everybody dived in and had fun.

We could have done without one of the starters, especially when we saw the size of the main course portions.

Ruth was presented with a huge bowl of roast duck noodle soup which had a beautifully cooked leg of the meat as its centrepiece.

The broth is just a background taste and there was a generous helping of vermicelli noodles in it.

Ruth struggled to eat it with a ceramic spoon and chopsticks, so we got her a fork as well. The staff will ask what cutlery you want.

She gave me a taste and the duck was lovely, with a good hit of star anise.

I searched the menu unsuccessfully for three roasties, which is pork done three ways, so settled for Hong Kong-style roast pork instead.

The pork, which has that distinctive dark pink ring around the edge from its marinade, was served in slices on top of whole braised bok choi chinese cabbage. It was very good: the pork was tender and tasty and so was the cabbage.

I had it with egg-fried rice with ginger that I thoroughly recommend, with the ginger adding a gentle edge of slight sweetness and warmth to the rice. By the way, John’s recommendation for making egg-fried at home is to use cold cooked rice that you fry in a wok with half of the egg and spring onions, then take it out of the pan and add the rest of the egg to the pan, then put the rice mixture on top to finish it off.

Linda had the best dish though, which is the restaurant’s top seller, a braised beef clay pot.

John told us later that this dish takes six hours to cook after it has been marinaded, using his own five-spice powder. He said he learned to cook the dish as a child at home and it is very traditional, served in its cooking pot.

The meat was meltingly soft, almost defying the chopsticks to pick it up, and comes in a richly flavoured sauce.

Our meal cost £49.30 in total including drinks.

lVerdict: a shrewd move by John and Ivy, who run a very well organised restaurant with great food that is made with a lot of care.

lOpening hours: 10.30am to 10.30pm daily.

lHarmony Hong Kong Cafe, Westfield Terrace, Sheffield, S1 4GH. Tel 0114 278 1199.