Zing Vaa

August 26, 2012 at 8:44 am | Posted in Restaurants | Leave a comment
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Zing Vaa is a name I’ve been hearing for the last few years, usually followed by “the best Chinese restaurant in Sheffield.” Interest piqued but with no idea where to find this place of legend, I was surprised to discover it was actually on my day-to-day route home, squeezed between Greg’s and GT News on the Moor.

Walking into Zing Vaa is a unique experience; the narrow, steep flight of stairs opens suddenly into a bright, spacious, basement-turned-restaurant. Once inside, Zing Vaa is a nice balance of modern sleekness and traditional flourishes, and some thought has gone into creating a feeling of light and space, despite the complete lack of natural light. Despite it being a Sunday afternoon, Zing Vaa was busy, with a few large parties keeping the staff on their toes. I’d advise booking your spot at Zing Vaa, even if you’re not visiting on a Friday or Saturday night.

We ordered our drinks and, as we’d walked to the restaurant (a vain attempt to justify stuffing ourselves with Chinese!) we asked for a pitcher of water. The waiter seemed confused, but eventually agreed to bring us a glass of water – a small hiccup, but irritating as we were already parched from the walk, and Chinese food tends to go heavy on the salt.

The menu is impossible to fault and extensive enough to make your head spin. Zing Vaa serve everything from dim sum, to very traditional-sounding soups, szechuanese, Asian Fusion cuisine, sizzling plates, seafood and, of course, all the old favourties: rice, noodles, Chinese curry, and stir fries. Loosening our belts, we ordered Round One of the ‘best Chinese food in Sheffield:’ Deep-Fried Crispy Prawn Dumplings (£4.20) Salt and Pepper Spicy Squid (£4.50) and, of course, Egg Fried Rice (£2.20.)

Zing Vaa’s dumplings are a prawn lover’s dream: four fat dumplings crammed with juicy king prawn meat. I actually found two king prawns curled around one another in the largest dumpling! The batter was light enough to be tempura, and had the softness of just-pulled-from-the-fryer batter. Delicious on their own, they were even better dunked into the accompanying fiery chilli dip.

Things got even better when the spicy squid arrived. The pile of lightly-battered squid was covered in colourful red and green chillies, spring onions, and red and green peppers. They tasted even better than they looked – the batter was melt-in-the-mouth light and expertly seasoned with salt and pepper, the squid was buttery soft, and the chillies had a fierce kick. An absolute must-try starter!

Egg fried rice is a difficult dish to get wrong, but Zing Vaa take it to the next level with lashings of extra seasoning. At a bargain £2.20 , this is the perfect side to share, and if you exercise some willpower and save a little to have with your main, it tastes even better mixed in with any sauce that’s going spare. The best egg fried rice in town!

But, this was only Round One, and it was time to – well, take our belts off completely, and order the mains. The ‘Sizzling Dishes’ section caught my eye, and I ordered the Mixed Seafood Plate (£8.20) which boasted prawns, squid and scallops in a black bean sauce. How could a seafood fanatic resist? We also ordered the exotic-sounding Szechuan-style King Prawns in a Bird’s Nest (£8.20) and spent the next fifteen minutes speculating on the bird’s nest element.

I heard my sizzling dish before I saw it, and turned to see a waiter rushing towards our table in a cloud of smoke, brandishing a smouldering skillet. At this point, we encountered our first real problem with Zing Vaa: the waiter practically flung the spitting pan on the table in front of me and vanished without saying a word. The bird’s nest dish arrived a few seconds later, carried by the waitress who’d shown us to our table earlier. She also threw the dish down and abruptly left without a smile or any of the pleasantries we’re used to – was everything ok with our meals? Did we need anymore drinks? (Actually, we did need some more drinks, but we didn’t get the chance to order them, and ended up popping into The Wig and Pen on the way home.) Up until now Zing Vaa’s had been beyond fault, but the staff’s rushed service left a nasty taste in our mouths.

Forgetting about the service, we admired our main courses. The mysterious bird’s nest turned out to be a bowl of dried noodles, holding a spicy, garlic-laced prawn broth. The hot broth packed a pleasant punch, the prawns were tender and expertly cooked, and there were plenty of veggies to add extra flavour and colour to the dish. A little salad and a sprig of herbs on the side, and this dish certainly had the wow factor.

The hot sauce, seafood and veggie broth disappeared in no time, and it was time to start breaking the noodles into slabs as thick as pie crust. After a few mouthfuls of noodles, our reviewer gave up, dismissing the noodle bowl as too stodgy and bland to be enjoyable. The thickness is probably necessary to stop liquid from leaking through, but a little flavour in the noodles would have gone a long way.

Like the bird’s nest main course, my sizzling dish was extravagantly presented. Served spitting and smoking on a big skillet pan, it boasted a mouth-watering selection of squid, big chunks of scallop and fat king prawns, not to mention veggies.

The vegetables still had a satisfying crunch, and the onions delivered a sting of flavour. The squid was a little overdone and chewy, but the scallops were falling-apart tender. The black bean sauce was tasty, although after so much spicy and heavily-seasoned food, it was a little blander than I would have liked. Perhaps the spot-on starters had completely spoiled us, but the main courses didn’t blow us away and we were left wishing we’d ordered some extra starters instead.

When it was time to pay the bill, we once again struggled with the customer service. It took us at least ten minutes to get the staff’s attention, and then another ten for them to actually bring us the bill. With an uncomfortably full stomach and a need for some revitalizing fresh air, we really could have done without the wait.

So, does Zing Vaa live up to its reputation as the best Chinese food in Sheffield? It has a lot going for it: the venue is bigger and brighter than expected, and the fact that it’s squirrelled away makes it feel special. The menu is one of the most extensive I’ve seen in a Chinese restaurant, and our starters were perfect. However, both our main dishes were a bit hit-and-miss and, after being built up by Zing Vaa’s reputation and our fantastic starters, it was a rude return to earth. Speaking of rude, the staff need to be a bit more pleasant to customers. The customer service at nearby Chinese eateries Jabu and Candytown puts Zing Vaa’s staff to shame.

Is this the best Chinese food in Sheffield? With so many fantastic Chinese restaurants just around the corner on London Road, it’s a tough one to call but Zing Vaa is definitely in the running. Do yourself a favour and go and see for yourself – and make sure you order the spicy squid and egg fried rice while you’re there!


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