Never judge a book by its cover, or so the saying goes. Before walking in to Noodle Doodle, I had been guilty of that sin. From the shop frontage it looked like a perfectly ordinary Chinese restaurant. The only thing that appeared exceptional was that it used to be Cubana, before it moved to a bigger home in Leopold Square. Ah, Cubana. Some of the best food - and nights - of my ten years in Sheffield have been at the original site: intimate, colourful, noisy, always packed, the best feijoada stew.
Those kinds of memories are hard to leave behind.
But we were pleasantly surprised over and over again at the restaurant’s new incarnation, which opened in November. Firstly - the service. Free prawn crackers arrived almost before we had taken our coats off, and drinks swiftly afterwards.
When a pesky dieter (me) asked if healthy Chinese food was an oxymoron and what the lowest calorie options were, our patient waitress talked us through the list, offering to adapt dishes with less oil. When we praise a starter and ask for seconds to take home, it is cooked to be ready when we ask for the bill.
The second surprise was the choice.
Most Asian restaurants have a long menu by their very nature, but this one includes more than 300 dishes.
Noodle Doodle also branches out to include elements of Japanese, Singaporean and many Malaysian favourites
It turns out that chef Jack Au, his wife and our waitress Penny Looi, hail from the latter country and are part of a business partnership launching Sheffield’s first restaurant serving authentic Malaysian cuisine. Mum Penny, of Langsett, worked next door as a lettings agent and seized the chance to take over the site as their very first venue,
“We have a car park just around the back here and a few months ago I bumped into Adrian from Cubanas”, she said.
“He said they were moving to Leopold Square and we’d been looking for a shop on West Street for a while so we thought this could be it.” Inside, the decor is bright but plain, with the old bar moved forward to make more room in the kitchen. On a Friday night it is nicely busy with diners but not so full we couldn’t squeeze in without a reservation after work. Jack, Penny, chefs Simon Zhu and Raymond Chang, as well as a Chinese partner, are involved in the business so no wonder the menu is a melting pot of cuisines.
They hope the Malaysian cuisine will be a big draw. Penny, who balances working at the estate agents with the restaurant, added: “We used to have to go to London for Malaysian food - this is the first restaurant in Sheffield serving the traditional cuisine.
“We do traditional Chinese dishes which some people won’t have heard of as well as modern because there are a lot of students who want to eat like they do at home, and north eastern Chinese which is unusual.
“Another reason to do Malaysian is because we are off the main street so we needed something to get people to come in. So far it does seem like people want to be adventurous - on our first day a man ordered it because he had lived there and loved coconut rice.”
Unusual is right. Some of the odder choices on offer include marinated tripe, spicy frog leg and exploded kidney flower - not for faint hearted diners such as us. I like to think it was the exploding kidney which set off the smoke alarm twice while we dined, but apparently it was a sizzling platter instead. Now the other half isn’t a connoisseur of much, but he is an expert of salt and pepper chicken. It’s his go-to Chinese dish, so starters are an easy choice. I opt for the steamed pork dumplings, but when the starters arrive realise there was no need for one each. The portions are absolutely gigantic, the chicken a generous main on its own, It was steaming hot, scattered with slices of spring onion and green chilli. The finest golden and spicy crust covered strips of succulent chicken and he was in absolute heaven.
There was a real kick of heat from the chillis and he rated it as the best ever.
Pork dumplings were neat parcels of goodness, with slippery pastry, delicate minced pork and ginger making for an interesting mix of flavours.
They take me right back to the bustling chaos of hawker food centres in Singapore and - I’m assured - are good for the waist.
My main of Malaysian prawn noodle soup had been suggested for the same reason, however there was enough food to feed at least a family of four. Possibly five. The aromatic fish broth is tongue-tingling, laced with chilli oil and well-cooked prawn, egg and fishballs. I’m not a fan of some textures and its not as obviously tasty as sweet and sour pork, but I finish full, grease and guilt-free having barely made a dent on the bowl.
He had asked for a special, or crispy noodles in oyster sauce topped with everything: soft crab, prawns, slices of quivering duck, tender chicken and pork. Again its good but the sheer size defeats him. Our final surprise is the price, as we pay £33.50 with soft drinks.
We leave thinking an old favourite has become a new one. l Noodle Doodle, 34 Trippet Lane, Sheffield (o114) 272 7688.