Chinese Fadeaways

THERE were tears, there were hugs and there were last orders of king prawns and fried rice – then a much loved Chinese takeaway was calling it a day.

The New Hing Lung on Abbeydale Road, Sheffield, was full of customers and Thank You cards last Sunday (February 27) as the family, headed by matriarch Xue, decided to finish for good on her retirement, aged 66. It’s been sold on.

Customer Howard Greaves, who with his wife Elsa has been a customer for over 20 years, was one of those saying goodbye. “The standard has always been very high and the prices incredible low,” he enthused.

Although he recommended it to friends they shuddered because the appearance outside belied the food inside.

The humble little takeaway is the latest in a line of well-known Chinese eateries to disappear recently. So has the red fronted Dim Sum on London Road, run by brother and sister Sang and Tina Wan. This was a place noted for its dim sum dishes as well as a conventional menu.

They opened the place, previously Mr Yun’s tiny sandwich shop, in 2003 and later expanded into neighbouring premises.

Sang arrived from Hong Kong aged 14 and was sent to High Storrs School, where, he says, the teachers simply ignored him. He left a year later and gained his education in a leading Manchester Chinese restaurant.

I was sorry to have missed a last meal there although knew the Wans were looking for a buyer. Sang, seeing the rise of New Era Square, had long predicted the demise of Chinese restaurants on the London Road axis.

Also gone, and I can’t tell you when, is the famous Zing Vaa restaurant on The Moor. The tiny entrance, now boarded up, led down some stairs to a large basement restaurant. We went a couple of years ago but the cavernous restaurant was cold, bare and empty so we left before ordering.

It was quite the place in its heyday. Founded by Sheffield-born Harry Yun in 1958, whose family ran the Yun Bun Laundry in Heeley, the restaurant had a long-standing rivalry with the Golden Dragon (now the Wong Ting) round the corner in Matilda Street.

Harry, who had a pronounced Sheffield accent, liked to stand at the foot of the stairs and surprise guests by saying, seemingly incongruously, “Oreyt owd lad?”

Times change. People move on. But all three of these premises were held in affection by local people. Most of the time they just disappear from local history without a fanfare. So this, in its way, is a last goodbye.

Pretty good Monkey business?


Towering ambition – work going on at New Era Square

Building is well under way on Sheffield’s official Chinatown just over 100 years since the first known Chinese businessman, Percy Wong, opened his laundry at 90 Abbeydale Road. It was probably his brother Harry who had a similar business on Ecclesall Road.

Percy and Harry didn’t have that many compatriots in Sheffield. The Chinese population was tiny. The first record of the Chinese here dates back to 1855 when, according to the burial register of the old St Paul’s Church (where the Peace Gardens now are), A Chow, son of magician Too Ki, was interred.

These days the city’s Chinese population runs into thousands, not only locally born residents but students at the two universities. And, according to Percy and Harry’s successor, personable businessman Jerry Cheung, the new project could make Sheffield ‘the Chinese capital of Yorkshire.’

He is MD of the group building a £65 million complex containing an oriental supermarket, shops, offices and flats for 700 students, many of them from China. It will be on 86,000 square feet of land between St Mary’s Gate, Bramall Lane and Sheldon Street.The scheme will be paid for by Chinese money.

The site is just off the city’s unofficial Chinatown, London Road. I am not sure how superstitious the Chinese investors are. A Chinese businesswoman once told me Sheffield’s ‘dragon’ propitiously had its spine running along London road, its neck up The Moor and its head in West Street, where coincidentally a number of new oriental restaurants have sprung up to cater for the influx of students. But she could have been pulling my leg.

The Sheffield Star calls the new development Chinatown but that is not a handle Mr Cheung is happy with. He thinks the word is old fashioned and “carries a little bit of history baggage.” He might be a little too PC. Sheffielders will call it that, instead of New Era Square, its official name.

As the project starts in the Year of the Monkey, regarded as street smart animal, it is worth pausing to recall the development of the Chinese community here. Numbers remained low until the mid-50s when there was emigration from Hong Kong, caused by a collapse in the former colony’s farming economy and the realisation there was a growing appetite for Chinese food.

It is generally thought the first local Chinese eatery was the Rickshaw at 1-4 Broomhill Street, established by 1957, which advertised itself as a ‘restaurant and espresso coffee bar’ open every day from 10am until midnight. In a city tragically short of nightlife, it proved popular.

However, the Fung family, who run the Orient Express on Glossop Road, claim a great grandfather who married an English girl opened up the front room of their home in Pitsmoor just after he First World War.

The Fungs also had the upstairs Golden Dragon (now Wong Ting) in Matilda Street, which started around the same time as the downstairs Zing Vaa on The Moor (1958). The two businesses were bitter rivals.

A contributor to the Sheffield History website recalls the Zing Vaa being run by Harry Yun, whose family had the Yun Bun laundry in Heeley. Harry was born in Sheffield and had an accent to match.

‘He had a very good business head and knew that success was all about customer service. His restaurant on The Moor was underground, below one of the shops. He used to stand at the bottom of the stairs, greeting customers as they came in. If he recognised you as a regular visitor, he would greet you in a friendly fashion, saying “Oreyt, owd lad?” The last thing you’d expect from anyone who was obviously Chinese was an out-and-out Sheffield accent.’

In a magazine article a few years ago I estimated, with the help of a local Chinese businessman, that the number of Chinese students in the city was around 7,000. That figure didn’t quite match up with what the two universities were declaring but there were certainly enough to power the new Chinese restaurants and supermarkets which sprang up to serve them, incidentally providing Westerners with a more authentic taste of Chinese food.

Now it is powering a major new development. Another Helping wishes Jerry Cheung, who is thinking very big, the best of good fortune. It’s a Red Monkey year, good for starting a business. Percy and Harry Wong, who didn’t think bigger than washing people’s smalls, would be amazed.

And magician Too Ki would have thought he’d worked magic.