ALTHOUGH plans recently revealed for a Chinese theme park in Rotherham might seem pretty far-fetched, there’s no doubt that the region is attracting a growing population of south-east Asian students.
As I have noted before, they in their turn are attracting businesses to cater to their needs, especially for food that reminds them of home.
The Fung family have certainly set their stall out by opening Orient Express on Glossop Road right next to the big university Supertram stop, in premises that used to be K Pasa.
Susan, the matriarch of the family, proudly noted that the father of one dental student who had visited twice in the first week of opening advised his daughter to come back every night to eat there, to give her more time to study.
She and her husband, who ran the Golden Dragon just off The Moor for 40 years, have come out of retirement to help their son Kevin and his wife Yedda set up their new venture.
The aim is to provide students and other diners with mostly Cantonese food with a few Szechuan specialities thrown in for the spice lovers. It also appeals to a wider audience, says Susan, who have been to China on holiday and want something a little more authentic than chow mein when they eat out.
The restaurant, which retains the distinctive K Pasa dark red exterior, feels airy with large windows.
The kitchen can be glimpsed behind a glass partition decorated with red Chinese lettering and the simple look of the interior is relieved by a large mural on one wall that apparently took a month to paint.
Showing a snowy mountain and pink tree blossoms reflected in water where a fisherman and his cormorant are working on their boat, it started me thinking of that theme park again.
The staff, dressed in light blue Orient Express T-shirts, are pretty attentive at first but we found that they lost interest in us after the main course was served, possibly an early glitch that hopefully will be sorted out.
We were served jasmine tea and the tea pot was left on the table while we looked at the menu.
There is a wine list with popular choices from round the world costing about £13 to £14 a bottle, except the house wines, which are £11.80 or £3.20 a glass.
Neither of us was drinking, so we stuck to the tea and bottled sparkling water.
The starters, which are mainly familiar fare including a choice of soups, also include a couple of interesting-looking mussel dishes. Prices range from £2.50 to £6.50, for a platter of four dishes.
Main courses include seafood, traditional Cantonese dishes, noodles, Cantonese clay pots and big plate rice dishes.
Vegetarians don’t have a massive choice outside the vegetable section. Prices are around £6.50 to £8.50, unless you’re ordering a whole duck.
I went for the won ton soup (£3) and my friend Bahia had hot and sour soup (£2.50)
My soup was pleasant, the broth providing a background for spring onions, Chinese leaves and the won ton, little dumplings containing a stronger-tasting mixture of prawns and pork.
Bahia’s soup was good and spicy with a lovely velvety texture provided by the egg drizzled through it. That set us up nicely for the next course.
Bahia had gone for a traditional Cantonese dish, kung po king prawns (£8.50) with steamed rice (£1.60).
She got a very generous dish of king prawns, vegetables and cashews in a sweetish sauce pepped up with slices of green chilli that she thoroughly enjoyed.
My choice was a clay pot with homemade dry-cured duck and pork belly.
Susan said later that this a classic dish where rice is cooked in the pot on a special hob that can hold six at a time.
When the water has almost gone, other ingredients are added, the lid is put on and the ingredients are cooked by the steam created.
She added that if some of the rice isn’t crunchy and stuck to the pot, it isn’t authentic.
It’s a great dish, with tender Chinese leaves and soft, salty duck and meltingly tender pork sitting on top of the rice, which is a mixture of golden and crunchy and white and stickily soft.
We were pretty full and would probably have left it at that, had I not seen that the dessert menu included some of that excellent Yee Kwan ice cream, which is made in Sheffield.
We were going to share a scoop each of chocolate and chilli and the lime and lemongrass sorbet, but there was a bit of a mix-up and we got a bowl of each.
The other choice was a passion fruit-flavoured, Sheffield-made Heavenly Cheesecake. Full marks to Orient Express for providing something more imaginative than usual.
The bill came to £30.70.
lVerdict: not so much an express, more a relaxing and pleasant slow boat to China.
lOpening times: noon to 10pm, seven days a week. A set lunch at £6.50 includes soup of the day or a soft drink and a main course.
lOrient Express, 290 Glossop Road, Sheffield S10 2HS. 0114 272 8260.