Dip in to enjoy some pot luck, Szechuan style

SO enough of being cooked for, it’s time for another spot of DIY dining out.

By The Newsroom
Friday, 29th July 2011, 9:00 am

Man Ting Hong on Matilda Street just off The Moor specialises in communal dishes where diners get a cooking pot and choose a range of ingredients to heat up themselves at the table.

It’s been on my list of places to go for a while but at one point I thought it must have closed because I couldn’t see a menu on display.

It turns out that manager Kelvin Quick hasn’t had time yet to get it translated into English.

If you can read it, the menu consists of one small piece of paper at the monent.

He’s a busy lad because he also manages Wong Ting across the street and China Red on the other side of The Moor (it used to be Top Wok and after that became Marble Court).

Man Ting Hong has been open since last December, attracting mainly students of Chinese origin, and eventually it will also offer barbecue dishes as well.

When we arrived the waitress explained about the lack of an English menu and about the type of food on offer, clearly expecting us to say no thank you and walk away.

Apparently that’s happened lots of time with people who aren’t of Chinese origin who are looking for something a little more familiar in the sweet and sour sauce line.

Kelvin says that he will probably start to offer those choices in the fullness of time, which I think is a bit of a shame, but in the end his boss will want customers through the doors.

I get the impression that the place is being left to build its customer base gradually.

In the meantime the emphasis is on food from the Szechuan province, which is where the Man Ting Hong stock pots differ from those at restaurants on London Road.

Inside, the restaurant is all clean lines, with glass partitions and large plate windows letting in a lot of light. The back wall has a splash of red featuring arty close-up photographs of Szechuan dishes.

The dining room is in two halves and our fellow diners were all groups of aforesaid students of Chinese origin.

The Szechuans are very keen on spicy food and we were questioned at every turn as to whether that would be okay.

Our helpful waitress steered us through the different types of stock on offer – mildly or more heavily spiced – and we went for a pot that can take both types.

There’s also a choice of dipping sauces and we went for satay, sesame and black bean.

Unlike some places, where you help yourself to the ingredients you want to cook, here you have to order them separately.

We opted for chicken, beef, lamb, king prawns, noodles, mushrooms and Chinese leaves.

I’m sorry I can’t tell you what we missed out on as our waitress steered us towards choices rather than going through a long list that she would have trouble translating in some cases.

We also ordered some green tea but they do sell some Chinese bottled beers.

After a few minutes our stock pot arrived and we eagerly waited for it to heat up on the glass hob integrated into the table.

Generous portions of all the ingredients began to arrive. Then, once the stocks were bubbling, the fun began.

You get a small plate and a set of chopsticks and a slotted spoon to take your choices in and out with as well.

The thinly sliced meat would take about five minutes, we were told, and prawns are obviously a bit quicker to cook.

The reason that stock pots are so popular with Chinese diners is that the whole process gets you talking and sharing food and it’s a lot of fun dipping in and seeing what’s ready and how the combinations work together.

It’s best to go with a group so that you can increase the range of ingredients you order.

The sauces added a bit of heat and interest to the flavour and the spiciest of the three, satay sauce, went surprisingly well with the prawns.

The black bean sauce had a lot more depth of flavour than usual and it was great with chicken.

The stocks also have a lot of flavour from Szechuan spices and chillis. I was alarmed to see that one of my prawns had eyes all over it until I realised that they were peppercorns.

Some spices have an interesting astringent taste that makes little patches of your tongue go numb temporarily.

Waiters topped up the stock pots twice but we still did not manage to finish off everything on the table.

The meal leaves you feeling pleasantly full but feeling that you have eaten out a little more healthily than usual.

We weren’t offered any pudding or coffees. Our bill came to £42.80.

lVerdict: grab a group of mates and have some fun together fishing for your dinner.

lOpening times: 3.30pm to midnight, seven days a week.

lMan Ting Hong, 21-23 Matilda Street, Sheffield, S1 4QB. Tel: 0114 2781888.