During our stay in Oxford, we ended up taking the train down to London again, as we had the opportunity to visit Canada House, part of the High Commission of Canada in London. As it was located right in Trafalgar Square, it was a great opportunity for us to visit attractions that we’d missed out on during our stay in London. We visited the National Portrait Gallery, which houses the portraits of what seems like every notable British person ever. It’s an interesting lens through which to view British history, and like the British Museum and the Natural History Museum, admission is free.
Before all this, though, we stopped by Wagamama for a quick lunch. I was wary of Wagamama, as I had been of most Asian restaurants in London. Wagamama reminded me of The Noodle Box in Vancouver, a very Westernized “Asian” restaurant serving a mix of dishes from different Asian cuisines.
I had the Cha Han (£7.80), fried rice with chicken and prawns, mangetout (snow peas), mushrooms, sweetcorn and spring onions, served with a side of miso soup and pickles. The miso soup was the usual predictably salty fare, with tiny tofu cubes and some seaweed. The rice itself was, strangely enough, too oily yet too dry at the same time, but also a tiny bit undercooked. I added some soy sauce to moisten it, which helped. I liked how the veggies were in smaller pieces, as it made them easier to eat, especially in the case of the snow peas. The chicken was sufficiently moist, and the prawns had a nice snap to them. Overall, though, it wasn’t a particularly memorable meal.
Dolph’s Chili Men (£10.95) included prawns, zucchini, red onions, peppers, mushrooms, and mangetout in a spicy tomato chili sauce, on soba noodles. With that variety of ingredients, it sounded delicious, but it fell short of the description. The noodles were quite limp and not chewy enough, while the sauce was one-dimensional, simply being spicy with no other real flavours.
Shawarma opted for the Chili Ramen (£9.65), noodles in a spicy chicken soup topped with grilled chicken, red and spring onions, beansprouts and chilies, garnished with coriander and lime. Like Dolph’s noodles above, Shawarma found her ramen lacking, as there was not much in the way of flavour. While the chilies added some spice, the broth was mostly thin and bland. The noodles were disappointingly mushy, not chewy as ramen should be. She also thought that the dish was quite overpriced, as it really was nothing special.
Pickles had the Pad Thai (£9.55), with egg, beansprouts, leek, red and spring onions, Chinese chives, garlic, ginger and chilies, fried shallots, and peanuts. Despite the plethora of ingredients, she wasn’t very impressed, having had many a good pad thai in her day. She commented that this version lacked flavour, and that it would have benefitted from more sauce.
Overall, we were underwhelmed by our lunch at Wagamama. Hailing from Vancouver, where there are so many excellent examples of Asian cuisine, I suppose I had some unrealistically high standards when it comes to Asian food, especially since I was lucky enough to grow up with my mother’s cooking. Wagamama is fine for a quick lunch, but it’s nothing I would heartily recommend to someone.
After lunch, our group ventured to Canada House, where we were given a tour of the rooms and provided with a quick history of the building. Following this, we ventured across Trafalgar Square to visit the National Portrait Gallery. Trafalgar Square was even more packed than usual, due to a Scotland vs. England soccer (or, as the British say, football) game taking place that day. Scotsmen in kilts filled the square, downing countless beers (and leaving ten thousand empty cans to be disposed of the next day). Before I visited the U.K., I’d always thought of “British” as more or less a single identity, but now I realize how wrong that is. I learned to clearly distinguish between “English” and “British”, as the latter includes the Scottish and the Welsh in addition to the English. One regret I have about my trip was that I didn’t get to spend much time in the English countryside other than passing through it on my way to and from London.
In any case, I suppose lunch at Wagamama was a fond memory for us, but it definitely paled in comparison to more exciting aspects of the day, including experiencing firsthand the boisterousness of drunken Scotsmen. Ah, London.
14 Irving Street
London, United Kingdom WC2H 7AF
A few months ago, my friend Hanzhou (he has a blog about his amazing food escapades too!) told me to try out PiDGiN, whose chef used to work at the restaurant he’s currently working at. Unfortunately, he caught me at an inopportune time, as March was my month of Madness (papers! work! midterms! quizzes! Bolivia meetings!), but I told him that once my schedule freed up, I would definitely visit.
This visit happened on the Thursday before Good Friday (no classes, whee!)– I was downtown with Samson, Darek, David and Emo at the Vancouver International Auto Show at the Convention Centre already, so we decided to make a night of it. A late night, as we didn’t leave the Auto Show until 8:45pm– who knew you could sit in THAT many different cars, grab SO many recyclable bags, and win a lift ticket to Whistler, all in one place?
It was a chilly night and a long walk (since we haven’t eaten since 1pm) from the Convention Centre, so we were glad that PiDGiN was so warn and cozy. We were seated at one end of a long table, and thankfully, no other parties were seated next to us, so we could spread out a little bit. I don’t really know what I was expecting to see when I was seated, but it was a pleasant surprise to see chopsticks and bowls in a decidedly un-Asian looking place.
PiDGiN features a focused menu, with obvious Japanese and Korean influences. Over the course of the night, we ordered a large majority of the dishes, each of which demonstrated the great skill and vision of Chef Ono. Without further ado, our first foray into his menu: the Oyster Shot ($3). I said a few months ago (at Cork & Fin down the street) that I would eventually try this, and here I am, knocking back a Golden Mantle oyster topped with icy apple bits and horseradish cream. I suppose this isn’t quite the same as slurping up an oyster on half shell, but a girl’s got to start somewhere, right? We loved how the flavours and textures worked together (the horseradish cream wasn’t too spicy, and the crispy, cool apple served to contrast the smooth oyster) so much that we ended up ordering another round to finish off our night.
The next dish brought over was the Beef Tataki ($13), artfully presented as a long puzzle of interlocked slices of slightly seared beef. Topping it off were small slices of gruyere cheese, dots of black garlic, wood ear mushrooms, sprouts, and wasabi mayo, with a pile of shredded potato crisps that we crumbled over the beef before we ate it. The beef was served at the right temperature and was very buttery, and each different topping was impactful– we especially liked the black garlic and wasabi mayo for their distinct, but not-overwhelming flavours.
The “Dan Dan” Kohlrabi Noodle Salad ($8) was a little misleading: I actually expected there to be noodles in the dish, but it was actually just long shredded pieces of kohlrabi made to look like noodles, then topped off with the usual dan-dan (tan-tan) noodle toppings– peanut sauce, tofu, shredded pork. The kohlrabi, which none of us had had before, was very refreshing when paired with the sauce–it reminded us of a less pungent Asian white radish. The sauce was adequate, but we would have appreciated a little bit more in the way of spiciness and some more peanuts and almonds, which would have been truer to the dan-dan noodle concept.
The Beef Tongue and Cheek ($17) came at the same time as the kohlrabi, and featured a very, very tender piece of beef that was braised in their house sauce. There was definitely more cheek than tongue in the dish, and Samson stated that more tongue would have been better. We especially liked the garnishes of broccoli pistou (light pesto and minced broccoli that actually looked a little bit like green quinoa) and the tiny fried and heavily seasoned broccoli florets, which packed a lot of flavour into the dish. There was also a scattering of mustard seeds that we ate along with the beef, which helped enhance the flavours even more.
One of my favourite dishes of the night was the Pork Belly Rice Bowl ($12), presented to us beautifully with its melt-in-your-mouth, fatty, delicious pork belly resting on a bed of sushi rice. Topping it off were kimchi pears and a sunny-side up quail egg. The rice was the proper texture, being moderately chewy but fluffy, and soaked up a lot of the sauce so that it was very flavourful, but not too salty. The pork belly had just the right amount of fat so that we didn’t feel too unhealthy, and the meaty parts of it were tender. The quail egg was a nice touch (I didn’t realize it was quail til later, and was wondering why a chicken egg was so dinky), and the kimchi pears provided some crispness and spiciness to balance out the texture of the dish.
Our first round done with, we decided to order some more food, a) because we definitely weren’t full, since portions are on the small side, and b) because the food was so darn good we wanted to try even more of it. I am a huge fan of Mushrooms ($12) in any way, shape or form, though sauteed in browned butter is probably my favourite– these had a touch of soy sauce and yuzu as well for the extra depth in flavour. That same seasoning was used to marinate the eggs, which had lovely brown-coloured whites and a mildly runny yolk (which we dipped the mushrooms into). Along with the mushrooms were several split sugar snap peas, light, crisp and green-tasting, and the same veggies were pureed and used as a garnish (which was also light, crisp, and green-tasting).
We actually ordered the Sea Urchin ($12) with our first set, but it didn’t get put through; it eventually made its way to our table, after much apologizing from our server. This was a favourite of the night, as the chunks (blobs? what would you use to quantify this) of sea urchin tasted fresh and extremely sea-ish, and the cauliflower mousse was delightfully creamy, light, and faintly cheesy. Topped off with plenty of ponzu jalepeno salsa and a few sprigs of sprouts, this was a dish we were very glad we ordered (and our server was very pleased that we ordered this as well, as it was his favourite dish).
Next, we had some Yakiudon Inspired Calamari ($9), which was prepared in the same fashion as the kohlrabi “noodles”– the long, thin slices of roasted squid were formed into a spool of “udon”. This was, again, a stellar dish, with fresh, expertly prepared squid, crumbled bacon as a garnish for a salty hit, and a brush of black squid ink in the bowl to help bring out the flavours. Although the presentation of the dishes can be a little repetitive (you’ll see that to some extent with our next dish as well), I found most of these endeavours to be very interesting and refreshing.
Besides bread and mushrooms, one of my favourite foods are Potatoes ($10) in any style: these julienned potato slivers were served cool, tossed in seaweed butter and spicy cod roe. I found the flavours of this dish reminiscent of the Mentaiko Udon at Sushi Garden, which has a slightly cheesy taste to it. The stringy potatoes ended up tasting like un-fried hashbrowns (it’s tastier than it sounds), and we felt that the roe was relatively fresh. Although this was a good dish, I don’t think it was particularly special, so I probably wouldn’t order it again.
I was excited to try our next dish, the Parisienne Gnocchi ($12), since I had never had this potato dumpling pasta before. I found the skins to be surprisingly thin, and the potato-y filling very light, which totally ran opposite to what I had in mind– not that that’s a bad thing. Garnished by thin slices of light pink radishes and sorrel (which is apparently an herb), I thought this dish was really aesthetically pleasing, reminding me of the cherry blossoms that are outside now. I don’t really know what makes this dish Parisienne– anyone care to enlighten me in the comments?
And now I present to you the final dish of the night: Scallops ($17), seared and served with rectangular blocks of fried polenta, brussel sprout leaves, caper raisins, and house-made XO sauce (for more scallopy goodness). This was an excellently prepared dish, everything having been cooked just right: the scallops were warm, and not overcooked, and the brussel sprouts were unwilted. However, the XO sauce wasn’t as flavourful as we would have liked, though the dried scallops were easily discernible– we definitely wanted a bit more of a kick. Aside from the scallops, my favourite part of the dish was the fried polenta, with its crispy outer coating masking the grainy goodness within that I was still able to pick up with my chopsticks.
Our long day ended with a very enjoyable wrap-up at PiDGiN, as the food, service and atmosphere were all superb, for a newer restaurant that may still have been figuring out some kinks, and especially in light of the protests they’ve been subject to. The plates are on the small side, but they’re meant to be that way (and you can try more), and each dish showed the exquisite care of the chefs. PiDGiN does change up its menu every so often, and I hear they’ve incorporated tasting menus into their line-up, so it would be a good idea to go soon to see what it’s like! I wholeheartedly recommend this restaurant, and will definitely be going there again in the near future.
350 Carrall St
So, Mui Garden closed down, leaving my family in despair. Maybe despair is a strong term, but my family is picky about what we eat, and when it comes to Chinese food, there are many restaurants we can’t dine at due to our aversion to MSG. I’d heard great things about No. 1 Chinese Restaurant on the corner of Hastings and Boundary, so my family drove out there for dinner one night. We arrived early and were seated promptly, but the restaurant quickly filled up, which is always a good sign.
The interior of the restaurant is a bit odd. Beside me there was a mural of a landscape that vaguely reminded me of an amalgamation of Switzerland and Greece. Apparently the spot was formerly occupied by a European restaurant, and the new owners opted not to paint over the themed mural. I personally hate murals (the minimalist in me prefers a plain wall), but a restaurant should be judged primarily on its food.
Apparently the dish to get here is the Deep Fried Tofu with Golden Garlic ($8.50). I had no idea what to expect from this. After all, what’s so special about tofu, right? But we all fell in love within a couple bites. The outside layer is a bit salty and crunchy, but the tofu inside is incredibly smooth and silky. My mom has sensitive teeth and often has to be careful about what she eats, but this was perfect for her. This came out piping hot, so keep that in mind before you take a bite. All the dishes we tried were delicious, but this was the most memorable for me.
The dish I was least satisfied with was the Wonton Noodle Soup ($4.95). The main reason is that I’m not a huge fan of MSG, and I could taste it in the soup, plus I was terribly thirsty and headachey afterwards. Other than that, I found the noodles a bit tough, and thought that they could have been cooked a bit longer. The wontons consisted of a pork and prawn filling and a smooth, slippery skin. The skin was also quite thin, which I liked. I’m not sure I would order this again, though, since I have a low tolerance for MSG.
Next up is the Spicy Szechuan Fried Beans ($8.95). The green beans were fresh and actually tasted like real vegetables, which was nice. I often find that fried veggies lose their crispness, but not here. I also liked how the accompanying pork was julienned, which made it easy to pick up and eat, unlike the ground version found at other restaurants. Also, the beans weren’t saturated in sauce, which was great, and in reality the flavour was quite mild, although there was some heat. I really appreciated how this wasn’t too salty, which made it an enjoyable dish for all of us.
We usually make an effort to order a dish with prawns, since my mom really likes them, and here we ordered the Pan Fried Prawns with Peanuts in Chili Sauce ($12.95). They were fine, but didn’t stand out in comparison with the other dishes at the table. The prawns had a nice snap and retained their natural sweetness, while the veggies tasted crisp and natural. I actually expected these to be spicy, but I didn’t think that they exhibited any real heat. This dish was more than fine, but I didn’t end up eating much of it, since we had a lot of other great dishes at the table.
Next up, we have the Singapore Style Fried Rice Noodles ($7.75), with a vermicelli version also offered on their menu. If given the choice, I always choose rice noodles–I much prefer the broad, chewy noodles to the thinner ones. In addition to the huge heap of noodles, the dish included some bean sprouts and bits of fried egg. The curry sauce was subtle and not too overwhelming, and the prawns were once again satisfying. This was a great portion size, especially considering the price, and easily fulfilled my carb quotient for the meal.
The last item we ordered was the Rock Cod and Tofu with Pork Hot Pot ($9.95). Doesn’t it look delicious in the photo? Well, looks don’t lie, because this was a solid dish, to say the least. I loved how the fish was just a little bit crispy on the outside, and flaky and moist on the inside. The tofu was a bit sweet from having soaked up the broth, but was both chewy on the outside and smooth on the inside. We’d ordered a couple sides of rice, and eating these hot, steaming pieces of tofu and fish alongside the warm, white rice was heaven. This was also a great value for the price, and we would definitely order this again on another visit.
Overall, I have nothing but great things to say about my family’s experience here. The food was well-executed and served in sizeable portions, and the prices were quite reasonable. As far as service goes, it wasn’t exceptional, but the servers were friendly enough and always made sure that our cups were full. I would definitely recommend that you pay a visit–and make sure to order the tofu when you’re there!
No. 1 Chinese Restaurant
102A-3701 Hastings Street
So after three long weeks in Korea, I finally returned home to Vancouver at the beginning of June. Seoul is great with its sprawling department stores, cheap street food and all, but you have no idea how happy I felt when I stepped into YVR to see that familiar old Tim Hortons sign. Thanks to my wonderful relatives, I got to sample a variety of yummy dishes while in Korea, but I was glad to return to a more diverse range of ethnic restaurants…well, supposedly. Korea has the requisite pasta, sushi, and Chinese food, but inevitably there’s a Korean touch to all the “foreign” food (i.e., serving pasta with pickles). Was I secretly pining for my birthplace? In any case, SB and I headed to Potter’s Garden for dinner soon after my return. Actually, I was quite hesitant to go there…considering SB was wearing the “I ❤ Korea” shirt I’d bought him as a joke gift. Boys…
I’d heard lots of good things about Potter’s Garden, not only from SB himself but also from friends as well as bloggers. As a general rule, I feel that Vancouver lacks any stellar Korean restaurants, and I would rather eat my mom’s excellent home cooking than pay high prices to eat similar food elsewhere. Still, I was ready to be proven wrong by Potter’s Garden.
Let’s start with the complimentary Banchan. Here we had kimchi, bean sprouts, seaweed, and the ever popular potatoes. I felt that the kimchi was mediocre at best…I tend to judge Korean restaurants on the quality of their kimchi, and this just didn’t measure up. The napa cabbage and the seasoning didn’t meld together, and it failed to be spicy or refreshing. The potatoes had a nice smooth texture, but were overbearingly sweet. The bean sprouts and seaweed tasted fine, and appeared to be fresh at least. (Difficult to mess those up, though). The waitress was pretty nice about filling these up for us, though. SB personally enjoyed the side dishes, so I may just be nitpicking…but honestly, the kimchi here did not suffice.
We decided to order the Seafood Pancake to share. A lot of Korean restaurants make this way too oily, but not here! We both liked how it had a soft texture, crispy on the outside but not too mushy or doughy in the middle. There was a sufficient amount of seafood, mostly in the form of squid and imitation crab, and some natural sweetness from the green onion. I enjoyed the addition of the potatoes, which added to the texture, keeping the pancake crispy despite its thickness. The accompanying soy sauce dip tasted as it should, both salty and sweet. I’d say this is definitely the best version of seafood pancake I’ve had in Vancouver so far.
I ordered the Mul Naengmyeon, noodles in a cold beef broth. This dish usually comes with both mustard and vinegar, which you can add as you prefer (I usually add a generous amount of vinegar but no mustard). I don’t have much to say about this version except that the portion size was adequate, the noodles were chewy as they should be, and the pieces of radish were nice and crunchy. The soup was refreshing, sweet, and quite cold despite the apparent lack of ice.
SB chose the Dolsot Bibimbap with Beef. It arrived in the standard stone bowl, crackling away, with a mixture of veggies (mushrooms, zucchini, carrots, bean sprouts, seaweed), beef, and raw eggs on top of the rice. This was served with the requisite Korean hot sauce. SB commented that the portion size was deceptively small. He found that the vegetables all tasted fresh, and that there was a good variety of ingredients that kept each bite from being boring. Still, he commented that the beef was oddly bland, and didn’t seem to have been marinated at all. He also thought that the pieces of beef were too small for him to taste much flavour in the beef itself. Still, I liked that they gave him pieces of beef rather than the ground beef you see at a lot of other restaurants.
Hm, so where do I stand on Potter’s Garden? I’ll admit that compared to a lot of Korean restaurants I’ve been to in the Lower Mainland, their service was friendly and attentive, and the food was not bad. The prices were also in line with what you’d pay at other similar restaurants. I was particularly impressed by the seafood pancake, which I always find too greasy at other establishments. Still, the one thing that I wasn’t sold on was the kimchi…it tasted awful, like they’d simply bought it at a supermarket instead of bothering to produce their own. I have trouble respecting a Korean restaurant if they can’t manage to produce proper kimchi, and this is what happened here. Next time I’d probably want to try their barbecue option as well, which I avoided this time (not wanting to have that Korean barbecue smell on me all the way home). I’m willing to give Potter’s Garden another try, but…that kimchi desperately needs some work…
Potter’s Garden Korean BBQ 香辣里
It’s weird, but I take the bus along West 4th three days every week, but I can count the times I’ve gotten off on a stop that isn’t UBC or VCC-Clark on one hand. Still, I do take notice of the many restaurants, and promise myself to try them out sometime. So on a Friday after my econ midterm, Yvonne, Dolph, and I wandered off the bus and into the Kitsilano location of The Noodle Box.
The Noodle Box is actually a franchise–there are two locations in Vancouver (one in Kits, and one in Yaletown), with five locations in Victoria. I’m always a little wary of chain restaurants, to tell you the truth. Still, they can also promise a solid meal in times of uncertainty. I liked the interior of the restaurant–it looked clean and modern. Also, I could see a bottle of Sriracha sauce from where I was sitting–yumm.
I chose the Thai Green Curry, which came with a plethora of bean sprouts, choy, green onion, and too many kinds of veggies to count! The noodles were at the bottom, and were satisfyingly chewy. I was a little surprised by the appearance of this dish, as I expected more of a traditional curry, but I still enjoyed this. I chose to have this with the chicken (the other choices being prawns, beef, pork, or tofu), and surprisingly, the chicken was moist and flavourful. The portion size was also quite large. I would have liked more noodles though…
Dolph chose the Pad Thai with chicken. She thought that the taste of ginger was too overpowering, and like me, she would have preferred more noodles for the price she paid ($11+). The sauce was tangy and vinegary. Like my curry, the noodles were accompanied by a lot of veggies: carrots, bean sprouts, green onions, etc. Dolph was not too impressed with this version of Pad Thai, but I suppose we have to consider that it is western-infused Asian food, and not to be compared with authentic Thai food.
Yvonne had the Singapore Cashew Curry, again with chicken. Now…the noodles. They tasted very strange, and um…stale? I’m not sure if they were fully cooked. Yvonne expressed that while she enjoys chewy noodles, this was more…crunchy? The chicken was flavourful, but the dish as a whole was dry. The veggies were crunchy, with the combination of ingredients creating a great texture, except for the noodles. I liked the taste of the curry, as you can decide the level of spiciness. (Dolph and Yvonne both chose Mild, while I had Medium, although I still used some Sriracha sauce). But we couldn’t really get past these strange noodles when evaluating this dish…
Dolph also ordered some Malay Style Fried Rice to take home to her family. It came in a cute little Chinese takeout box–although I’m not sure how (or if) they managed to fit the generous portions into such a small box. I’m pretty sure it’s more worth your money to eat in.
As a whole, the three of us weren’t too impressed by our experience at Noodle Box. Service was fine–but it is a pay at the counter, then pick up your order system. The food was fine, but nothing to write home about–I guess I’m not a huge fan of inauthentic Asian foods. The prices are also a little on the higher side, but you do have to account for the restaurant’s location in Kits.
The Noodle Box
1867 West 4th Avenue