We’re not very good at bringing in sarnies here at LeftLion. With so many options for a good value lunch just a stone’s throw away, it’s too easy to avoid the disappointing contents of a Tupperware and a fun-sized apple.
One of our regular haunts is U Canteen in Hockley. Situated opposite JamCafe, this small, unpretentious Chinese restaurant is the real deal. Many Chinese eateries distribute the English version of their menus to most clientele, and you have to ask for the authentic menu.
The closest equivalent would be finding a Toby Carvery in Shanghai, but having to insist on ordering from the undisplayed, authentic English menu. That’s not the case here.
The menu is pretty extensive, with well over 150 options, so it can help to go with someone who knows how to navigate it. But that’s less fun. There’s an additional lunch menu (in case 150 options wasn’t enough) which has a variety of dishes, including roast belly pork, sweet and sour chicken and char siu pork, served on a bed of rice (£7 each).
If you’re feeling brave, there are plenty of things you can order with limited descriptive qualities such as ‘special mixed pot’ or the more obscure ‘jelly fish and smoked hooks’.
China is vast, but U Canteen has a good representation of the numerous regional specialities, leaning slightly towards the Hong Kong/Guangdong regions. I’ve established some habitual dishes, mostly from the Szechuan area of Central China – the sliced fish in chilli oil (£8.50) which comes as a huge bowl of broth and oil, with a base of bean sprouts, topped with soft strips of boneless white fish and garnished with red chilli, dried bird’s eye chilli, minced garlic and coriander. It’s got some good heat to it and the liquid is great poured over steamed rice. The beef version is also excellent.
There are several soup dishes that revolve around the same premise: noodles immersed in a light broth topped with summat tasty. The LeftLion favourite is the honey pork noodles (£5.50) – the tasty, thinly sliced marinated pork fillet is light and slightly sweet (from the honey element of the marinade) and the broth is lovely and warming.
I always find a buddy to split the salt and pepper beancurd (£5.50) with as it’s a generous big portion. It’s all about the texture, as the deep fried nuggets of tofu are crispy on the outside and silken in the middle – topped with spring onion, chilli and minced garlic.
The place is pretty relaxed, more of a cafe than a restaurant vibe, and you can eat like an emperor for about a tenner.
7 Heathcoat Street, NG1 3AF. 0115 837 3993.