The Botanist

October 2, 2016 at 5:54 pm | Posted in Restaurants | Leave a comment
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Leopold Square has seen several restaurants come and go over the years, and now we have another newbie to add to the list: the Botanist, which has just opened in the unit formerly known as Popolo.  

The Botanist isn’t a name I’ve encountered before, but a quick look at their website reveals quite a few Botanists dotted around the UK, so they must be doing something right!

Before visiting the Botanist on opening night, I had a sneaky peek at a few photos on the venue’s Facebook page, so I already knew they’d gone for an extravagant, more-is-more theme. However, even looking through numerous photos didn’t prepare me for just how beautiful this restaurant truly is!

Our party was greeted at the entrance and taken up a flight of stairs that felt familiar from all my years spent sipping cocktails at Popolo’s, but then we were take up another flight of stairs, and another, and everything began to feel very different. For starters, this place is enormous!

Eventually we emerged into a corridor that was completely covered in branches, leaves, vines, flowers and other assorted foliage, and decorated with twinkling green and white lights. I didn’t think it was possible to be wowed by a corridor, but apparently I was wrong!

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But this was nothing compared to the main dining area.

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The Botanist is beautiful, with vines, leaves and flowers all curling and creeping artistically across every surface, and lots of intricate latticework. Fairy lights, street lamps, and decorative butterflies provide the finishing touches to this pretty, whimsical dining room. I felt like I’d stepped off the streets of Sheffield and into some kind of secret garden (as corny as that sounds, I challenge anyone to visit the Botanist and not get caught up in the magic!)

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I must have spent the first 5 minutes snapping photo after photo, without even thinking to look at the menu – and I was ravenous, so that’s testament to just how lovely this place is to look at!

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But you don’t visit a restaurant just to look at nice furnishings, so was the food any good?  

My first course was very good, as I tucked into a starter of curried mussels (£7.50).

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These mussels were tender and juicy, and were served in a deliciously light, fragrant broth that contained just enough chilli to provide a nice kick, without overwhelming the taste of the mussels. After I’d polished off the mussels, I spent ages scooping up every last drop of the broth, as it was just too good to waste!

If you love your seafood, then this is your dream starter.

My friend opted for a baked camembert, which was served with a smoked bacon and crispy onion crust (£6.95).

My friend is pregnant, so she asked whether the staff could make sure the camembert was cooked all the way through. Not only were the staff happy to oblige, but they made a point of popping back to the table to let us know that the starters would be a while longer because the chef was making sure the camembert was really, truly piping hot all the way through. Clearly, the staff took this request seriously, which was very much appreciated!

When it arrived the camembert looked delicious, and was baked all the way through as promised.

baked-camembert

Kicking off a meal with a full camembert may sound a bit daunting, but this particular camembert is the perfect starter size.  

I can see myself ordering this at some point, especially now the weather’s turning cooler – because if there’s anything better than baked camembert on a cold day, then I’ve yet to discover it!

Onto the mains, and the chilli broth from my starter had left me craving a spicy main, so I was excited to spot a Malaysian curry on the menu. You can order this as a chicken or a vegetarian curry; I went for the veggie version (£9.95).

malaysian-curry-botanist

This was my first taste of Malaysian curry, and I found it to be a much lighter, fresher take on your typical curry. Instead of a rich tomato or creamy coconut sauce, this curry had a light broth that wasn’t too dissimilar to my starter.

The Botanist’s curry delivered a subtle heat that was warming and tasty, rather than being spicy just for the sake of it – an approach that I’m a big fan of, because what’s the point of having your tastebuds burnt off by a curry that doesn’t even taste good?!

My only niggle is that, for a main course, this portion is a bit on the small side, so if you fancy the Malaysian curry then you should probably make a point of ordering a starter or a dessert as well.

My friend ordered something truly exciting for their main meal: one of the Botanist’s famous Hanging Kebabs. The menu promised a hanging kebab of either chicken, lamb or beef (priced at £11.50, £12.50 or £13.95, respectively) “sopped” in sweet chilli sauce, garlic and ginger butter, and suspended over a bowl of chips.

I was curious to see what a hanging main course looks like, and the Botanist didn’t disappoint, as this definitely isn’t your typical main meal!

hanging-kebab

The idea is that the sweet chilli, garlic butter and (there’s no nice way to say this) meat juices drip down onto the chips and seasons them. The Botanist’s hanging kebab is one of those culinary guilty pleasures, like chip shop curry sauce or super noodles covered in melted cheese. It isn’t elegant or sophisticated, but it is lots of fun and is absolutely packed with flavour. This got a big thumbs up from my friend!

We’d reached the final course, and I had serious doubts about whether I had room for pudding. Then I saw that the Botanist serve a Rocky Road hanging kebab (£5.50)  and I realised that yes, I did have enough room for dessert after all.

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The Rocky Road kebab is a mix of strawberries, hazelnut brownie chunks and yummy toasted marshmallows, all suspended over a bowl full of chocolate crumbs and served with a tub of biscuit sauce. The idea is that you pour the sauce over the kebab so that it drips over the fruit, brownies and marshmallows, and eventually melts into the bowl of biscuit crumb, where the two merge into the ultimate sweet, sticky sauce.

This isn’t just a novelty dessert, it’s really tasty too! I particularly enjoyed the chunks of hazelnut brownie, which were wonderfully rich, and the marshmallows which were perfectly toasted so they were warm and gooey on the inside.  

This dessert also isn’t too heavy, so it’s perfect if (like me) you’re struggling to find room, but still fancy something sweet to round off your meal. Plus, pouring the sauce over the kebab is just fun! This dessert is guaranteed to leave you with a big smile on your face.

My friend had opted for a regular, non-hanging dessert: warm chocolate fudge cake with vanilla ice cream (£5.50).

fudge-cake

This is a dense, indulgent dessert served with lashings of thick chocolate sauce – basically, everything you could want from a slice of cake!

And thus concluded a fantastic evening at the Botanist.

I’m recommend paying a visit just to gawp at the gorgeous decor, but the Botanist isn’t a case of style over substance, as they also serve great food at reasonable prices. I’m now obsessed with the idea of hanging mains and desserts, as it just brings something new and fun to a regular meal out. The staff were also very friendly, attentive and only too happy to make adjustments to our meals, which was very much appreciated.

There’s no shortage of restaurants in Sheffield, but we certainly don’t have anything like the Botanist, which makes this a really exciting addition to the Sheffield food scene.

You know a place is good when you immediately want to share it with other people, and I can’t wait to introduce my friends and family to the Botanist, partly so I can see their reaction to the interior but also just because the Botanist serves some really fantastic food. 

5-stars

Butlers Balti House

May 29, 2014 at 4:00 pm | Posted in Takeaway | 1 Comment
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If I could only eat one meal for the rest of my life, it would have to be curry. From kormas, through to rogan josh and madras, and even the occasional vindaloo, I can’t get enough of that spicy stuff.

Sheffield has some fantastic curry houses, but I do have a soft spot for Butlers Balti on Broad Lane. Luckily for me and my curry addition, Butlers is one of those places where the restaurant menu and the takeaway menu are exactly the same, so it’s easy for me to get my hands on the curry I crave. On this particularly grim and rainy Bank holiday weekend, the thought of stepping out of the house didn’t seem too appealing. Thankfully, my friends agreed – a takeaway night in it was!

We placed our order online, and by the time wine had been handed out, and we’d decided which movie to watch, the food was already here. I’ve ordered from Butlers more times than I care to remember, and I’ve yet to wait longer than 30 minutes for my delivery – one time the food actually arrived within 15 minutes! It usually takes me longer than 15 minutes just to drive into the city center, so I have no idea how Butlers managed to pull that one off. It’s gotten to the point where I just assume my curry will arrive way before the estimated delivery time, and plan accordingly.

Butlers Balti House takeaway

Before the main event, we tucked into a selection of Indian starters. First up was a Prawn Puri, which is Indian flatbread served with a small portion of prawn curry. When you order your prawn puri, Butlers gives you the choice of a “creamy” or a “Bhuna” prawn puri (both are £3.50). Bhuna is a dry dish that’s prepared a bit like a stir fry, so we opted for the creamy version – because, surely, the best thing about Indian food, is the thick sauces?

The creamy prawn puri lived up to its name, as those big, juicy prawns were covered in a thick sauce that tasted like super-strength coconut milk – I’ve had Thai curries and kormas that had less of a coconut flavour!

Butlers prawn puriPrawn puri with chilli pakora.

The puri was so rich that, although I savoured every silky, calorie-packed mouthful, I was also relieved that I’d ordered a spicy main meal, rather than a creamy one. Following up this indulgent puri with something rich like a korma, would have been too much of a good thing. The fried Indian bread was tasty and grease-free; perfect for mopping up every last bit of that rich sauce. The prawn puri is a truly indulgent starter that’s perfect for those who love heavy, rich flavours.

We’d also gone pakora-mad and ordered a duo of Chilli Pakora (£2.95) and Chicken Tikka Pakora (£3.50). The chilli pakora had a light, crunchy batter and packed a chilli punch, but the chicken tikka pakora was a completely different matter. The chicken was dry, and it was buried beneath a thick, hard batter. In future, we’ll stick to the chilli pakora!

Chicken tikka pakoraPrawn puri with chicken tikka pakora.

Starters dispatched, it was time for the main event. I’d opted for a Balti Mixed Veg Rogan Josh (£6.25) with a portion of boiled rice (£2.10). For me, rice is one of those infuriating foodstuffs that I love, but can never get quite right; it’s either undercooked, or I leave it boiling too long and it turns to mush. Butlers has clearly mastered the art of cooking rice – even their plain old boiled rice is tasty!

For me, the best thing about a mixed vegetable curry, is the variety. Every mouthful of Butlers’ vegetable balti is a different combination of potatoes, onions, green beans, peas, and carrots. All these veggies soak up that balti sauce, so they have a deep, satisfying heat. The big chunks of potatoes are particularly good, and taste not unlike Bombay potatoes.

Butlers mixed veg balti

Our Indian feast included another Balti Mixed Vegetable curry, but this time with added paneer (£6.95). The first time someone served me paneer in a curry, I wasn’t sure what to expect – a cheese curry? Really? Trust me, it’s delicious, even if it does sound a bit strange!

Butlers mixed veg balti with paneer

If you’ve never tried paneer, it’s a bit like a softer version of halloumi, and it soaks up the spices and herbs in curry sauce wonderfully. To say the mixed vegetable balti with paneer only cost 20p more than the regular vegetable balti, Butlers were generous with the paneer. My friend confirmed that these big chunks of paneer were delicious, and melted in the mouth. Next time, I’m definitely going to pay the extra 20p and get the paneer balti!

But it wasn’t all about the vegetables, as the final member of our trio wanted to join in on the Butlers fun, but wasn’t in the mood for curry. Instead, they created their own meat feast, by ordering a Chef’s Platter of tandoori lamb chops and tandoori chicken wings (£4.25), and a Mixed Starter of seekh kebab, chicken tikka, onion bhaji, and another portion of tandoori chicken wings (£4.50).

Butler's chefs platter & mixed starter

The tandoori chicken wings and lamb chops came in a vibrant sauce that packed a good amount of heat, without being too spicy. The only problem was that the sauce was so bright, it stained everything it touched, which meant my friend’s meal concluded with them running their fingers under the tap, over and over again. Even then, that stubborn staining refused to shift completely. They may have enjoyed the tandoori sauce, but the sheer amount of staining would put them off ordering this meal in public – for them, this is messy food that’s better eaten in the privacy of your own home. There wasn’t a massive amount of meat on the chops and wings, but considering the price and the lashings of strong sauce, the Chef’s Platter is reasonable value for money.

Onto the Mixed Starter, and the long, thin, dark seekh kebab may be the least visually appealing starter in history, but the meat tasted good quality (something you always worry about where kebabs are concerned!) and had a peppery heat to it. The mixed starter also included a very large onion bhaji, which looked more like a burger patty than your typical bhaji. This bhaji was packed with herbs and spices, and had a strong, onion tang.

All in all, the Chef’s Platter and Mixed Starter meat feast went down well, and both would make a tasty snack or a starter.

Whether I’m ordering in, or visiting Butlers in person, I’ve yet to have a bad meal. While we won’t be ordering the chicken pakora again, it’s impossible to pick fault with their curries. Butlers serve up sensible-sized curries that won’t have you groaning and clutching at your stomach, but won’t leave you feeling peckish, either. All the ingredients are fresh and tasty, and the curry sauces are delicious, rather than just spicy.

Butlers clearly put the same care into their takeaway, as they do the food that’s served in their restaurant. Whether you’re ordering in, or visiting their restaurant in person, you can look forward to a top notch curry.

four-stars

Las Iguanas

May 24, 2014 at 4:48 pm | Posted in Restaurants | Leave a comment
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With Sheffield enjoying a three-day heat wave recently, it was too nice to sit indoors – in other words, it was beer garden o’clock! However, after the beer garden high, comes the inevitable post-beer munchies. After an afternoon of sitting in the sun, me and my beer garden partner in crime were in the mood for cuisine from a warmer climate, so the Latin-themed Las Iguanas seemed ideal.

Las Iguanas is situated in the swanky West One Plaza, which is basically a courtyard dedicated to my two favourite pursuits: eating and drinking. On this sunny Saturday afternoon, West One Plaza was packed with people swigging cold beverages, eating good food, queueing outside LOL Bubble Tea, and generally enjoying being outside without shivering/getting rained on. It almost seemed a shame to be heading indoors, even if it was to enjoy some tasty grub.

This was my first ever visit to Las Iguanas, and initial impressions were good. It’s a light, airy venue, with a carnival feel thanks to all the bright colours – from the mosaic tables and funky, patterned furnishings; to the shiny red bar trimmed with LED lights; to the wall covered in a hodgepodge of multi-coloured picture frames. Las Iguanas also pull a clever trick with a mirrored wall, which makes the place feel much bigger than it actually is.

Las Iguanas

We were greeted by a very friendly member of staff, who offered us the lunchtime and the evening menu – oh, and would we like to see the vegan and vegetarian menu, too? In most restaurants, veggies are lucky if they get three meals to choose from, and vegans usually get even less. Las Iguanas may not immediately spring to mind when you think about veggie and vegan-friendly venues, but it actually has one of the most impressive vegan/vegetarian menus I’ve encountered in a “mainstream” restaurant. Many of the dishes are gluten free, too.

Obviously, there’s some overlap between menus. The lunch menu is pretty much just a pared-down version of the dinner menu, and the vegan and vegetarian menu is the dinner menu, with the meat and seafood removed. But, even with all this duplication, you’ll still be completely spoilt for choice.

The trio of menus covers all those tried-and-tested favourites – quesadillas, fajitas, enchiladas, burritos, patatas bravas, and chilli con carne, to just name a few. Or, if you fancy trying something new, there’s dishes that make use of more unusual ingredients, such as plantain, truffle salsa, palm hearts, and a very intriguing-sounding peanut and crayfish sauce.

In the interests of trying as much of this massive menu as possible, we decided to share some starters. After much deliberation, we narrowed our selection down to the Tip Top Chipotle Whitebait (£4.50), and Calamares (£5.70).

Our food order was taken by one of the friendliest waitresses I’ve ever met, who wasted no time drawing our attention to the 2-for-1 offer on cocktails, something we hadn’t previously noticed. In light of this revelation, it only seemed fitting to order some cocktails. When it comes to booze, Las Iguanas doesn’t disappoint: they provide choice, and lots of it.

The cocktail menu includes all the usual suspects you tend to find in restaurants, but it also features some more exotic concoctions, such as a Columbian Cafe, Bronx Bebida, and a Jam Slam. In the end, we settled on a pair of Long Island Iced Teas (£6.75 per glass, or 2-for-1 Wednesday-Sunday, before 7.30 p.m).

Long Island Iced Tea

Our matching pair of Long Island Iced Teas tasted every bit as good as they looked. They had a refreshing lemon sting, and packed a boozy punch – exactly what you want from a Long Island Iced Tea.

Our starters arrived shortly after, which was a good job, because these Long Island Iced Teas were strong. The Calamares is a portion of whole baby squid, tentacles and all, coated in crispy batter. Don’t let the long, curly tentacles put you off; they actually pack a satisfying crunch and give you the chance to really appreciate that salt-and-pepper batter. The meatier, non-tentacle parts of the baby squid were juicy, and not in the least bit rubbery.

The Calamares came with a creamy dip, which had a subtle, spicy afterburn. The squid was delicious on its own, but this dip really sealed the deal. I suddenly regretted agreeing to share the starters!

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The Tip Top Chipotle Whitebait was covered in a very light, almost flaky batter, and the whitebait themselves were nicely cooked. However, the accompanying dips missed the mark: the sour cream was too thin, and the salsa lacked any kind of kick. We had to resort to the bottle of Cholula on the table; a few splashes of this bottled hot sauce delivered more flavour than the salsa and sour cream combined.

Whitebait

Onto the mains, and despite the hot weather, I hadn’t been able to resist the curry on Las Iguanas’ menu. The ‘Bahia Moqueca’ promised a creamy coconut curry, served with plantain, spicy aji and toasted coconut farofa sprinkles, plus spring onion and garlic rice. Las Iguanas can make your Bahia Moqueca with fish and peeled prawns (£12.95) or squash, palm hearts and spinach (£10.95). Despite my love of seafood, I’d never had palm hearts before, so I went with the veggie option.

As soon as I caught sight of my food, I knew I was in for a treat. Las Iguanas’ Bahia Moqueca is a meal of two halves; the first is a plateful of chunky aji, toasted coconut sprinkles, sweet and sticky plantain, and garlic and spring onion rice.

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The second part of the meal, is the curry itself.

Bahia Moqueca

Based on the menu’s description, I was expecting the Bahia Moqueca to be similar to a korma or maybe even a Thai green curry, but it was so much better than either of those. The sauce tasted strongly of coconut, but it also had a sour edge to it. This lingering, sharp aftertaste was an unexpected, but very welcome surprise. As much as I enjoy pigging out on creamy curries, the richness of the coconut can become overpowering after a while. The Bahia Moqueca’s tartness helped to keep things fresh and interesting. If you love coconut, or have a soft spot for sour flavours, then this is the meal for you!

The palm hearts that convinced me to order the vegetarian Bahia Moqueca in the first place, turned out to be almost completely tasteless. However, they did have a really different, woody texture, and the rings of palm heart looked fantastic floating on top of the curry, so I can understand why Las Iguanas included them in the Bahia Moqueca.

When it came to the extra bits and bobs that arrived with my Bahia Moqueca, my favourite was the aji, which reminded me of a chunky, homemade salsa, only it was vinegary, rather than spicy. The plantains were sticky and gooey, and brought a burst of sweetness to the Bahia Moqueca. However, the garlic and spring onion rice just tasted like coconut. I enjoyed the creamy rice, but I found it strange that I couldn’t taste any garlic or spring onion at all.

The Bahia Moqueca is easily one of the best meals I’ve had recently. It was so good that, despite Las Iguanas’ massive menu, it’ll be tough to resist ordering this again on my next visit!

The other main meal winging its way to our table, was everyone’s favourite Mexican street food; the Burrito. At Las Iguanas, burrito lovers have a choice of fillings: garlic mushrooms and vegetarian chilli (£9.95); smoked chipotle chicken (£10.95); or barbeque and jalapeno shredded steak (£10.95). My dining companion opted for the shredded steak.

Steak burrito

The burrito was a good size, especially considering the steak filling, and it came with a few of Las Iguanas’ added extras. On the upside, this meant more of that tongue-tingling aji and rich rice, but unfortunately it also saw the return of the bland sour cream and chipotle sauce combo.

The burrito itself was jam-packed with steak, which fell apart in a way not dissimilar to pulled pork. Despite enthusing about the tenderness of the steak, my dining companion didn’t get any hint of cheese or jalapeno, both of which appeared on the menu. They were also surprised that the burrito contained nothing but shredded steak and refried beans – no tomatoes, rice, onions, peppers, or any of that other good stuff you usually find in burritos (or maybe the Great Gatsby has spoiled us, when it comes to burritos?)

Las Iguanas deserve top marks for the venue, the friendly and helpful staff, and the sheer scope of their cocktail and food menus. Any venue where you’re handed three different food menus on your way in, is off to a good start. Las Iguanas also strike a good balance between unusual dishes, and crowd-pleasing classics. Although we weren’t completely sold on the steak burrito, the calamari and curry were both fantastic, and there’s plenty of other dishes on the menu that I can’t wait to try. We’ll definitely be back!

four-stars

Kashmiri Kitchen

June 19, 2013 at 4:44 pm | Posted in Restaurants | Leave a comment
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I love spicy food, particularly that old favourite: the Friday night curry. However, getting into a food-rut is never a good thing so it was a pleasant surprise to discover that beyond the poppadoms, samosas and pakoras, Kashmiri Kitchen’s menu is slightly more unusual than many of the spicy-food establishments in the steel city.

The Ecclesall Road venue has a surprisingly limited menu of seven intriguing main courses: Choosa Handi (chicken), Gosht Handi (lamb), Keema Mutter (mince), Chicken Pilau, Aloo Gobi (cauliflower and potato), Tarka Daal (lentils) and Kashmiri Bhindi (okra.) Surely a restaurant that has the confidence to offer just seven mains, must really excel at those few dishes?

Upon entering the restaurant, first impressions were good as the reception was very polite and efficient. Kashmiri Kitchen do pack in the tables, but we’d nabbed a window seat so at least we weren’t disturbed by people squeezing past. Our drinks orders were taken immediately, and the drinks themselves appeared just a few minutes later. So far, so good.

Despite the speedy service, the no-frills menu meant that we’d settled on starters, mains and accompaniments by the time the drinks arrived. The main meals are all seasoned with medium spices, but chilli heads can upgrade to hot if desired. As this was our first visit to Kashmiri Kitchen, we played it safe and stuck with medium.

The starters arrived promptly, and after a glance around the restaurant it became clear why: at 7pm on a Friday evening, there were more members of staff than customers. The waiters and waitresses were actually lined up against the far wall, waiting for something to happen. Good for us hungry and impatient diners, but I hope it got busier later on!

We kicked off our Indian feast with two poppadom and pickle trays, which at £1.25 each were an absolute bargain. Each tray consisted of three large poppadoms, which arrived warm and weren’t in the least bit greasy or soggy, and a gravy-boat of mint and yoghurt dip. Our £2.50 also nabbed us a sharing platter of delicious mango chutney, an eye-wateringly tart lemon pickle, and a mix of seasoned onions and chopped tomatoes. A fantastic budget starter.

pickle tray

I was scrabbling after the last drops of moreish mango chutney when we were informed that our main meals were ready – or would we prefer to finish our starters first? As the poppadom and pickle paraphernalia already took up most of the table, we opted to finish off the starters first, which turned out to be a mistake. Although it only delayed our main course by 5 minutes or so, the mains arrived lukewarm, as though they’d been left cooling on the side the entire time.

Thankfully, this was the only major issue with the mains. I love okra, so the Kashmiri Bhindi (£4.25) was my ideal meal: a bowl of perfectly-cooked okra. This veggie can sometimes go a bit slimy, but Kashmiri Kitchen got it spot on and served up okra that still had a nice crunch. The spices were deceptively tame at first, but the heat built up with every mouthful, and the spices had the depth of flavour you just can’t get from packets of chilli powder or jarred curry paste. Delicious.

bhindi

My only criticism is that, apart from two wedges of tomato and a sprinkling of herbs, the Kashmiri Bhindi really is just a bowl of okra, and some variation (a bit of onion or pepper, maybe) would have been welcome.

At the opposite end of the table, the Gosht Handi (£5.95) may not have looked particularly appetising, but it was packed with juicy lamb in a rich sauce. Like the Bhindi, the spices were deceptive and built up to a nice warmth.

handi

The final dish was a side order of fluffy pilau rice (£1.50) which was the perfect size to share.

rice

The portions weren’t enormous, but they left me pleasantly full rather than stuffed and guilt-ridden. In fact, I was eyeing up the dessert menu (the authentic-sounding Kashmiri style rice pudding was particularly tempting) but in the end I decided to save that for the next visit.

You have to give Kashmiri Kitchen points for bucking the trend with their limited, unusual menu but it’s the prices where they really have the edge. If we’d been able to resist the call of the wine menu, the price for two starters, two mains and a rice side dish would have been a little over £14.

The only major downside is that you’ll work your way through the menu in just a few visits, which will affect the number of times you’ll return to Kashmiri Kitchen. All in all though, this is good food at bargain prices. Definitely worth a visit if, like me, you’re in danger of getting into a bit of a rut when it comes to your spicy food.

four-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!

The Orchid

July 22, 2012 at 1:12 pm | Posted in Restaurants, Takeaway | Leave a comment
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If you fancy some exotic cuisine, then London Road has you covered: Chinese, Indian, Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese, Turkish – food from the four corners of the globe can be found on this humble Sheffield street. Tonight, we fancied a spot of Thai and, feeling adventurous, we opted for somewhere we haven’t been before: The Orchid.

Inside, The Orchid is all red and gold, with plastic orchids lined up in the window. The decor is more traditional (read : dated) than modern oriental eateries like Sakushi and WasabiSabi, but it’s also spacious, well-lit and clean, so we weren’t put off by the tired decor. Feeling authentic, we ordered a round of Singha beers while we perused the food menu. The waiter inquired whether we’d like large bottles – “why not!” we said. A word of caution: these gigantic bottles come with an eye-watering price tag of £5.50 a bottle, something we weren’t aware of at the time. Although you get plenty of beer for your buck, I personally resent paying over a fiver for anything that comes in a bottle, and isn’t champagne or wine.

Ravenous, we ordered a vegetarian mixed starter to share (£6.95) that consisted of mixed vegetable tempura, veg spring rolls and sweetcorn cakes. This battered platter arrived with a refreshing amount of greenery on the side, including some carved carrot, shredded cabbage, a mint leaf, and a crisp salad soaked in deliciously fiery ginger.

The salad in its hot dressing was soon polished off, and we both raved about the tempura batter, which wasn’t in the slightest bit greasy. The grease-free spring rolls were packed with veggies, and the sweetcorn cakes were an unusual combo of juicy sweetcorn and crunchy peanuts. With a trio of dips thrown into the mix – sweet chilli, minty vegetables, and a creamy coconut-based curry sauce – the sweetcorn cakes, salad and spring rolls disappeared in double quick time. However, the mixed vegetable tempura divided opinion. There was a good selection of battered veggies; whole florets of broccoli and cauliflower, as well as slices of carrot and entire button mushrooms, but I found them a bit tasteless for my liking, and had to ladle on the dipping sauce. Thankfully, there was more than enough sauce to add extra flavour to the veg tempura. At the other end of the table, it was a completely different story, as the tempura won rave reviews.

In the mood for something spicy, we ordered two red curries, one with tofu and vegetables and one with beef, which came in at a rather pricey £7.95 each. To complete our mains, we ordered a helping of delicious-sounding steamed thai fragrant rice (£2.10) and egg fried rice (£2.25). Our curries arrived nicely presented in bubbling pots on top of a candle, and I could already spot a good selection of vegetables – chilli, mushrooms, carrots and bamboo shoots. Finished off with a sprinkling of herbs, the curries looked, and smelt, wonderful.

Despite being advertised with a “two chilli” rating, the red curries didn’t pack any serious kick and had the creamy richness of a korma. While I would have prefered something hotter, the rich sauce went down well, and the vegetables were still a little firm which gave them that satisfying crunch, especially the beans and bamboo shoots.

The meat equivalent was bulked out with plenty of beef, and got a big thumbs up from our reviewer, as did the egg fried rice. Meanwhile, I was left wondering what made my thai fragrant rice so special, as it tasted exactly the same as plain old boiled rice. It also should be noted that at a tenner a pop, this curry and rice main is very expensive for the amount you get. Those expecting to come to The Orchid for a curry and be full, are going to be disappointed.

To cap off our thai feast, we ordered some ice cream, which was served in retro-tastic fashion, complete with colourful sprinkles and a slice of chewy waffle. It was just enough, and the oldschool presentation was very cute.

The grub at The Orchid comes in slightly stingy portions, but there’s no skimping on quality and taste. It’s the sort of place where the tempura isn’t a heaped plate of defrosted, deep-fried pureed veg, but a handful of carefully-selected fresh vegetables. A little on the pricey side and a little dated in terms of decor, but our three-course thai feast was consistently tasty, with quality, fresh ingredients used throughout. Just remember to bring plenty of cash with you, and book in advance because this place gets busy!

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