China House Takeaway

February 18, 2015 at 7:53 pm | Posted in Takeaway | Leave a comment
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Who doesn’t love takeaway? Whether it’s Chinese, Indian, Japanese, Greek, chippy tea, or something equally delicious, takeaway is perfect when you’re craving great food without the fuss.

So, I was excited when hungryhouse got in touch and asked whether I wanted to celebrate Chinese New Year, by ordering some food from one of the many Chinese takeaways on their website.

Fast forward a couple of days, and I invited some friends around and placed an enormous order from China House on Abbeydale Road. The hungryhouse ordering process was quick and easy, and despite the fact that I was ordering a massive amount of food on a Saturday night, our order arrived on time and everything was piping hot. What’s not to love?

Before I start, just look at how much food £50 gets you at China House. Just look at it.

China House all the food

With so many bags and boxes to choose from, the only difficult part was deciding what to eat first!

We kicked off our feast with a true Chinese takeout classic – spring rolls. China House offers meat and veggie-friendly versions; we opted for spring rolls of the vegetarian variety. (£2.20).

china house spring rolls

These were everything you want from spring rolls – crunchy on the outside, and soft and creamy on the inside. Delicious!

Since we’d agreed to share everything, this single portion of spring rolls disappeared in no time, which was annoying because I wanted more! Next time, I’m ordering my own spring rolls, and I’m not sharing them with anybody.

With so much food on offer, we decided to get creative and combine some of the dishes, which was how I ended up with spring rolls served on a bed of crispy seaweed (£2.50).

china house seaweed

In all honestly, it hadn’t been my idea to order crispy seaweed. When I hear the words “crispy seaweed,” I immediately think of fried, sugary cabbage. But China House’s crispy seaweed turned out to be light, and not in the least bit sugary or greasy. It’s always a nice surprise when you enjoy something you weren’t looking forward to!

Next up, was king prawn dumplings (£2.50), which we decided to serve in the crab meat and sweetcorn soup (£1.80).

china house dumplings and soup

I’m not really a fan of the slippery texture of Chinese-style dumplings, but in the interests of trying everything, I gave these dumplings a whirl. I’m still not sure about the exterior, but I loved the juicy king prawn filling.

The good thing about placing such a large order and sharing it amongst a group, is that it encourages you to try things you wouldn’t normally order. Case in point, the crab and sweetcorn soup.

Soup isn’t something I immediately think of when I think of Chinese takeout, but I like crab and I like sweetcorn, so I decided to add some soup to out order.

And I’m glad I did.

For £1.80, the crab and sweetcorn soup had a thick, almost stew-like consistency, and was packed with flavour. China House, you’ve made me rethink my stance on crispy seaweed and takeaway soup! My Friday night takeaway may never be the same again.

Next up was another Chinese takeaway classic – chow mein. For £2.50, China House’s chow mein is a super-sized portion of pure comfort food, that’s easily big enough to share.

I ate my chow mein with some mussels in garlic and sweet chilli sauce (£4.20).

china house chow mein

I had one issue with the sweet chilli mussels – and that was the sheer strength of the chilli! There’s nothing sweet about this sweet chilli sauce, and the heat only got stronger with each mouthful. I love spicy food and it’s rare that I complain about something being too hot – but this was way too hot!

Now, what Chinese feast would be complete without egg fried rice (£2.00)? China House’s egg fried rice didn’t disappoint! It was actually a bit lighter than your typical egg fried rice, which meant I could eat more of it – definitely a good thing.

The egg fried rice made the perfect base for some squid and green peppers in black bean sauce (£4.00).

china house rice and black bean sauce

The squid was tender and tasty, and the crunchy veggies had soaked up lots of fiery black bean flavour, so they were every bit as tasty as the squid.

Once again though, China House were heavy with the spice. My advice? If you see a ‘hot’ warning next to a meal on China House’s menu, take it seriously! These guys aren’t messing around when it comes to spice.

Thankfully, the next course was a chilli-free zone, as I tucked into a serving of king prawns and cashew nuts (£4.50).

china house king prawns and cashew nuts

The sauce was sweet and thick, with a honey-like consistency, and the cooking process had given the cashews a really strong, earthy flavour and a lovely crumbly texture. I’d definitely order this again. In fact, I’d order anything from China House that has cashews in it.

Next up was a double whammy of salt and pepper squid (£4.00) and salt and pepper king prawns (£4.00).

Of the two, my favourite was the squid. China House’s salt and pepper batter is like an extra-light, crumbly tempura, which I loved, but the prawns themselves didn’t have much taste.

china house salt and pepper prawns

The salt and pepper squid was much nicer, and it had that perfect salt and pepper taste, which had been missing from the prawns.

The next time I order from China House, I’ll just get the squid.

china house salt and pepper squid

Next up, was a Chinese takeaway staple: crispy duck pancakes (one quarter, £6.90).

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For £6.90, you get a good amount of duck and lots of spring onions, cucumber and a big pot of hoisin sauce. The hoisin sauce in particular got a big thumbs up, as it was thick and rich.

Pushing forward, it was time for some king prawns with bamboo shoots and water chestnuts (£4.50).

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To me, nothing screams Chinese takeout like water chestnuts and bamboo shoots. I can’t remember the last time I ordered these two ingredients from a Chinese restaurant, so I was really looking forward to this part of the meal.

China House didn’t disappoint, serving up lots of crispy water chestnuts, sweet bamboo shoots and juicy prawns, in a light sauce that didn’t overpower the other ingredients. I’ll definitely be ordering this one again!

By this point, I was feeling pretty disgusted with myself, but there was still pudding to go!

China House’s banana fritters (£2.50) are very soft and incredibly sweet. I don’t think I could have eaten more than one or two of these, but splitting a single portion was a nice way to end our super-sized Chinese feast.

This was the first time I’ve ordered from China House, and overall everyone was happy with the quality of the food. I would have preferred less chillies in my black bean and sweet chilli sauce, but I can highly recommend the crab and sweetcorn soup, spring rolls, egg fried rice, and king prawn with cashew nuts.

Thanks to Hungry House for arranging for us to sample so much lovely Chinese grub!

P.s If you’re planning your own Chinese New Year celebrations, hungryhouse have put together a guide with some food suggestions, plus a recipe for Lychee and Peppercorn Mojito. Here’s all the details:

To celebrate Chinese New Year hungryhouse has dived into the food and the traditions of the festival, to create an interactive guide to help you stage your own Chinese New Year takeaway feast in the comfort of your own living room. The guide includes information on New Year traditions, foods, a special Chinese do-it-yourself cocktail recipe, and it also features step-by-step instructions for people to make their own funky Chinese decorative lanterns to really get into the spirit of Chinese New Year!

To celebrate the launch of the guide, hungryhouse are asking people to make a lantern and then share a photo of it on twitter or instagram with the hashtag #hungrylantern. hungryhouse will then pick their 10 favourite pictures and award each winner a £25 hungryhouse voucher each. The competition is now open with winners being selected on the 19th!

So get your chopsticks out, dive into the guide, and get snapping for your chance to win some free Chinese food!

rating 3 star

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Cosmo

March 23, 2014 at 11:46 am | Posted in Restaurants | Leave a comment
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A few people had mentioned Cosmo to me since it opened in St. Paul’s Place a couple of weeks ago. If you’re not familiar with Cosmo, it’s a new “all you can eat” place where you get to cram your face with cuisine from around the world: Japan, China, India, Italy, Mexico, Korea, and more.

My experience of “all you can eat” buffets has previously been restricted to Chinese fodder, so I was intrigued by the variety that Cosmo offers. “All you can eat” may not be fine dining, but everyone enjoys being greedy once in a while, so I decided to give Cosmo’s “World Banquet Dining” a whirl.

How much you’ll pay for the pleasure of filling your face at Cosmo, depends on whether you visit on a weekend or a weekday, and whether you partake of their lunch, or their evening buffet. Lunchtimes and weekdays are cheaper, while evenings and weekends are more expensive. You can expect to pay anything from £7.99, to the top price of £14.99 (the Cosmo website has more information on pricing). I visited on a weekday evening, so paid £13.99.

The first thing you notice about Cosmo, is the sheer size of the place. Cosmo is easily one of the biggest restaurants I’ve ever visited. Somewhere that promotes itself as “World Banquet Dining” obviously needs a large buffet area, but Cosmo takes this a step further with separate buffet areas for each type of cuisine they serve – the buffet alone is the size of a regular restaurant! The dining area itself is equally super-sized, to the point where it’s more like a Meadowhall-style food court than a restaurant.

Before I could take a seat and commence feasting, our party was told that we needed to give a name to the front of house staff, and then wait to be shown to our table. Despite there being rows upon rows of empty tables just a few feet away, we had to wait almost 10 minutes before it was our turn to be shown to a table, and during that time more people kept arriving behind us. I can imagine Cosmo’s waiting area becoming unpleasantly crowded, and the wait become longer and longer during peak times. My advice? Get there as soon as the lunchtime or evening service starts.

Finally seated, it was time to set off on our culinary trip around the world. First stop; the Japanese and seafood section. I wasn’t expecting much from Cosmo’s fishy selection (good seafood tends to be pricey, after all), but I was pleasantly surprised. Cosmo had a decent selection of sushi, platters of mussels and king prawns on ice, a cucumber and smoked salmon salad that didn’t skimp on the salmon, and some other fishy bits and bobs.

Cosmo seafood

When you can eat as much as you want, there’s going to be compromises when it comes to the quality of the food. All you can eat sushi can’t compare to a sushi restaurant, where you may end up paying more for a single plate of sashimi, than you do for the entire Cosmo experience. Cosmo’s take on everyone’s favourite seafood-and-rice delicacy, involves going heavy on the rice, light on the fish and seafood, and opting for cheaper fillings such as cucumber sticks and processed meats.

The king prawns and mussels were plentiful, but on the chewy side, and the edamame beans weren’t seasoned, so they tasted like boring, boiled green beans. So far, Cosmo was exactly what I’d been expecting; decent enough grub to heap onto your plate, but nothing I’d be happy to be served in a restaurant.

Cosmo seafood

However, Cosmo does have a trick up its sleeve for seafood lovers, in the form of a live cooking station, where you can get delicious morsels of seafood cooked to order. If you’re willing to wait a few minutes, you can choose from squid, king prawns, scallops, or salmon, freshly sizzled on a “Teppanyaki” hotplate. You can only order two items at a time, and the portion sizes are small, but that doesn’t matter when you’re being served slivers of perfectly-cooked, perfectly-seasoned seafood. It’s touches like the Teppanyaki bar, that sets Cosmo apart from the “all you can eat” crowd.

Cosmo seafood

A mix of buffet seafood, with some freshly-cooked squid from the Teppanyaki bar.

Even if the idea of buffet sushi fills you with horror, one thing that’s worth grabbing from the Japanese section is the salad of shredded green beans in sesame oil. It’s a strong, slimy salad, but once you get over the initial strangeness, it’s deliciously different.

After the seafood, it was time to sample some Chinese and Indian grub. If you’ve ever been to a Chinese buffet before, you know the drill: fried rice, prawn toast, spring rolls, stir fried vegetables, noodles, and meat in sticky sauce. When it comes to Indian, Cosmo have a selection of curries, as well as everyone’s favourite Indian side dishes: poppadoms, dips, and bombay potatoes. It’s all standard buffet grub, although Cosmo go easy on the seasonings and spices for both cuisines, so if you regularly eat at Chinese and Indian restaurants, you’re going to find Cosmo’s offerings a bit on the bland side.

Cosmo chinese

Another plate, another country, and this time it was a trip to the Mexican taco stand. The taco shells were surprisingly crisp and crunchy, to say they’d been sat under a heat lamp, and there was a good variety of sauces and toppings on offer, so I piled my plate high with cheese, zingy salsa, and sharp, pickled jalapenos.

However, when it came to choosing a chilli filling for my taco, I hit a snag. The Mexican stand had a pair of bubbling pots of what I’d assumed to be meat and veggie chilli, but when I took a closer look, I couldn’t be sure. Both were a hearty-looking mix of beans and veggies in a fragrant tomato sauce, but it was difficult to tell what else they contained. In the end, I settled for an extra helping of salsa instead (and then nipped back to the Chinese section and grabbed some more stir fried veggies too, which is why my plate looks so random!)

Cosmo Mexican

The way Cosmo label their dishes, is my other major gripe. On the evening I visited, the Chinese meals were meticulously labelled, right down to the garlic and other herbs used in each dish, but elsewhere the labelling was hit-and-miss. If you have a long list of foods you don’t like, or any food allergies or intolerances, buffets are always going to be a minefield – but Cosmo should at least give you the gist of what each dish is!

When it comes to meat, if you’re a committed carnivore, then Cosmo will leave you spoilt for choice. The meat lovers in our group gave the quality of the meat a big thumbs up, piling their plates high with meaty pizzas, barbecue ribs, sausages, and Chinese-style beef.

Cosmo meat

I still had a list of foodstuffs I wanted to try, but I was starting to struggle, so it seemed time to wrap things up with a spot of dessert. With all the savoury fodder on offer, I wouldn’t have been surprised if Cosmo treated pudding as an after thought. They don’t.

The Cosmo buffet has an entire section dedicated to sweet treats, including hot desserts, cold desserts, cakes, bowls of sweets, and fruit – not to mention a chocolate fountain, with all sorts of goodies for dipping. It’s enough to give you one roller coaster of a sugar-rush!

Cosmo dessert

The best part of pudding, is the bite-sized cubes of cake. Whether it’s a mouthful of tiramisu, a square of double-chocolate brownie, cheesecake, carrot cake, or sponge, it’s the perfect portion of something sweet to finish off the meal. And the best bit is they’re so small, you can try a bit of everything!

My advice is to ignore the larger “pudding cup” style desserts, as they’re mostly cream, with just a tiny bit of cake buried in the bottom. And who wants to fill up on spoonfuls of cream when Cosmo has so much more on offer?

Cosmo dessert

It’s easy to pick fault with individual items on the Cosmo buffet, but you can’t really compare “all you can eat” grub to dishes that are cooked to order in a restaurant. I went to Cosmo expecting a simple case of quantity over quality – but this wasn’t completely the case. In terms of quality, Cosmo is a cut above what you’d expect from an “all you can eat” establishment, and the variety and quantity of food is second to none. I even discovered a few dishes that I’d have been happy to be served in a restaurant, which was unexpected!

Cosmo serves up massive amounts of grub, the occasional star dish, and generally delivers great value for money. Most of the time, eating out is about the quality of the ingredients, and how much care has been put into preparing your meal – but sometimes, you just want to stuff your face until you can’t move.

When you’re in the mood for the latter, Cosmo is perfect.

Three and a half stars

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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