Location: 1623 Centre St N (Central Landmark Mall)
This restaurant is a place I have frequented since I was a child both for Dim Sum and dinner. Regardless of time of day or month, the restaurant is always bustling. Yesterday, we arrived shortly after 11am and grabbed a number, it wasn’t until an hour later that we were called in and seated. By that time, the restaurant was packed and they had made several makeshift tables to accommodate smaller parties (read: parties of two). Because my Chinese isn’t strong enough to engage in any sort of coherent conversation, the waitresses generally avoided any sort of conversation. From one perspective I can see that that would have been interpreted as being extremely rude, but from another perspective I can understand that some of them know English to the same extent that I know Chinese. From my work experience, it is frustrating for me that they refuse to speak English as this is Canada and it is one of the official languages. I expect that they should be able to speak the language of the country they have chosen to take up residency in. I don’t know if this is an unreasonable expectation, but it is my expectation nonetheless. Due to the language barrier, they did not ask what kind of tea we wanted and just brought one out for us. I’m not even sure what kind of tea it was. The thing that annoyed me was that later when they took our tea to refill the hot water, they delivered it to the wrong table… The one thing I really love about this place is that it still has its tradition method of serving dim sum: through the use of carts. This is one reason why I continually bring or recommend this place to my non-Chinese speaking friends; it is much easier to point to an item than it is to try and figure out what the English or Chinese name is off of a piece of paper that you tick off the items you want to eat. Of course, the disadvantage of the carts is that you have to wait for the item you want to come around if there is something specific that you want, but don’t know the name. On this visit we ordered a total of twelve dishes which easily came to seventy odd dollars. The first round we got Braised Chicken Feet in Black Bean Sauce (Fung zauu), Fried Taro stuffed with Seasoned Ground Pork Dumpling (Wu Tau Kau-according to wikipedia…), Shrimp wrapped in Rice Crepe (Har Cheong), Chiu Chow Dumpling (Chiu Chow Fun Gor), Curry Fish Balls and Chive & Shrimp Dumpling. The Chicken Feet in Black Bean sauce is kinda like a rite of passage dish, every person’s first visit to dim sum will involve this dish. The chicken feet are first deep fried before they are smothered in black bean sauce and steamed or braised. The thing about eating chicken feet are that they are incredibly bony, with the occasional chance of splinters, and essentially you’re just eating the skin off of them. So in other words, there is no way that you will look nice eating them. As I’ve been eating them for a very long time, I can polish them off in about five seconds a piece. Less experienced eaters will attempt to neatly consume them. Don’t. It’s more enjoyable if you just stop caring about how you look when you eat them. The Fried Taro stuffed with Seasoned Ground Pork Dumpling is a personal favourite of mine because of the combination of the sweet of the taro, the saltiness of the pork and the crunch of the outer shell is to die for. However, this time I was disappointed. It was clear that this had been on the cart for a few rounds because the dumpling was cold and not very crunch, but what was more disappointing was the filling. There was hardly any. The dumpling was overwhelmed by the amount of mashed taro filling that I didn’t even notice the pork. Besides that, a random piece of shrimp got mixed in. The Shrimp wrapped in Rice Crepe is another classic dim sum staple. It is exactly as the name states, shrimp is wrapped in a soft, but smooth rice crepe blanket and smothered in soy sauce. The perfect rice crepe is one that stays intact when you try to pick up a piece as opposed to not being able to support the weight of the piece of shrimp which results in the shrimp falling out of the wrap and tearing a ginormous hole in the crepe before falling from the grasp of your chopsticks. Another favourite of mine is the Chiu Chow Style Dumpling. Unlike most other dim sum dumplings, the wrap on this one is closer to the consistency of mochi or sticky rice. The Chiu Chow Style Dumpling is unique because of it’s ingredients, aka not shrimp. It has peanuts, celery, ground pork, carrots, cilantro, and possibly really minced shitake mushrooms. This is one of the few dishes I don’t mind having “cooked” peanuts in because they aren’t cooked until they are soft. Honestly, in my brain, a peanut should be crunchy, not cooked to mush. Though I’ve seen them as a dim sum item, I’ve never actually seen the Curry Fish Balls going around on the carts. It wasn’t bad, though the curry was well flavoured, the fish ball tasted a bit off and had random cuts in it. I’m assuming that was to get some curry flavour in there, but that didn’t work out so well. I don’t think I’d like to try that again. The Chive and Shrimp Dumpling is a variation on the typical Shrimp Dumpling (or Har Gow). It’s another first for me. In terms of taste, it’s not too bad, though the chive isn’t really that noticeable. Other variations of the Shrimp Dumpling include pea shoots and shark fin. The second round consisted of Fried Eggplants stuffed with Shrimp (kei sze), Tripe (gow pak yeep), Bean Curd Spring Roll, Fried Wonton Wrapped Shrimp Ball, another shrimp dumpling (not sure what kind this time), and a dessert tofu. The fried eggplant is another staple for our family. Unfortunately, these ones tasted like they had been on the cart for a while too because they were also cold and a bit hard. The tripe was amazing. Usually I don’t like their preparation of the tripe, serving it with onions and garlic, but this time they seemed to have made a modification to their typical recipe and I enjoyed it immensely. If I had a favourite dim sum item of all time, it would be the bean curd spring roll. I mean what isn’t there to love about succulent shrimps wrapped super crispy fried bean curd? Okay, maybe the fact that it is super high in calories and they decide to serve it with salad sauce (as they like to call it, but really it’s just mayonnaise with chunks of canned fruit in it). I could honestly eat an entire meal of those if I wouldn’t gain any weight from eating that much. Despite being deep fried, the bean curd keeps the dish rather light (but you are constantly reminded about how oily the dish is by the oil pooling under the spring rolls). The fried wonton shrimp balls are essentially the same thing, but aren’t nearly as good. The wonton wrapper is substantially thicker than the bean curd so if you’re looking for something to fill you up, this dish would be a better choice. I think this other shrimp dumpling had carrots and shitake mushrooms, but honestly can’t remember. It’s not a bad thing that I can’t remember. It just means that it was good enough that I had no complaints or problems that I remembered. The wrapper, like all dumpling wrappers of its kind was what Italians would called al dente (that would be the closest term to the Chinese one). It’s sufficiently chewy, but not so chewy that it is like eating rubber, but also not so soft that it would break upon contact with one’s chopsticks. I’m not a fan of the tofu, but the ginger sugar syrup is really good. I could just drink that stuff, but you can literally taste the diabetes. The dish is plain soft tofu in this ginger syrup. Really simple, but it doesn’t make you feel like you ate a heavy dessert. So essentially it is impossible to eat every dim sum item in one sitting unless you have a party of four or five or go several times. Over the years I’ve been to this place for a lot of dim sum. Other common dishes that we didn’t order this time are Shrimp dumplings (Har gow), Pork dumplings (Siu mai), Chicken Sticky Rice (Lo mai gai), Spare ribs in black bean sauce (pai gwat), crispy pork buns (char siu so), daikon/turnip cakes (Lo bak go), Egg Tarts (Dan Tat), assorted fried noodles, and Steamed bean curd rolls (sin zuk gyun). Though their customer service maybe a bit lacking, it’s not any worse than any other Chinese restaurant. Sometimes when I have gone with my Chinese speaking family, I have found that they are rather impatient, but that’s a rare occurrence. The food more than makes up for their behaviour. I’m not saying that it’s okay for them to be rude or anything like that, but if I am going to a restaurant, it is as much about the food as it is about the service. And I never expect much of Asian restaurants (as bad as that sounds, I’ve come to expect some sort of rudeness at some point in the service). They are always noisy and you have to yell just to be heard by the person next to you. The restaurant opens up at 10am and though there isn’t much of a crowd then, there isn’t much of a selection of dim sum and a higher chance that food will be cold. If you go early, be prepared to order thing because you will never get what you want if you just keep waiting. The trade off of coming later for a larger selection of food is waiting for longer, minimum one hour, regardless of what they say (not literally, if you can see that there are three families before you, it’s likely that their estimate is correct, but if there are ten or more, it is completely inaccurate). And the annoying thing is that it’s so hard to get the waitresses’ attention. It’s like they’re on a mission to avoid all eye contact to avoid helping you so it takes even longer to get out of there and that’s why there’s usually a huge delay. In terms of cost, it’s really not that expensive. Each dish is about $4-6 and they really add up, so I suggest that if you have someone who is big eater going with you, order fried noodles or rice to fill them up and save you some money. I know from experience because every time I go with my mom we eat about $30-40 worth of food, but when we add my sister the price is closer to $80… In taking everything into consideration, I’d rate this restaurant 4/5. I would definitely continue to return here. If you don’t mind waiting then definitely give this place a chance.