The Hong Kong style cafe, or cha chaan teng, holds a very special place in my heart (and in my stomach). It was very much a part of my childhood, growing up with baked pork chop on rice and a hot cup of Horlicks. Eating at a cha chaan teng is supposed to be affordable and unassuming. You can expect cheaper cuts of meat for a correspondingly cheaper price. Lobster was out of the question.
But maybe it shouldn’t have been.
In just about every way, Kingspark Steak House (180 – 8291 Westminster Highway) can very much be classified as a Hong Kong style cafe. You can find standard staples like a Singaporean fried rice noodle or a breakfast combo with some ham and macaroni in soup. But like Redbud Restaurant just a couple of blocks away, Kingspark takes the cha chaan teng philosophy and steps it up a notch.
There is lobster on the menu. In fact, there are several items that include lobster and, in addition to the “steak” in the restaurant’s name, the otherwise high class shellfish is one of the reasons why Kingspark is so popular among locals. It’s easily one of the cheapest places in town to enjoy a legitimate surf-and-turf dinner.
Included with the steak dinner, which we will get to in just a moment, is the same Russian Borscht Soup that you’ll find at nearly every other Hong Kong style cafe. This version was too salty for my tastes.
Alternatively, you have the option to upgrade to a lobster or seafood soup for $3.00. For a little more extra, Kingspark offers the same puff pastry upgrade on the lobster bisque as Amigo Restaurant on Alexandra Road.
Even though it wasn’t mentioned on the menu, the steak dinner also came with a side Caesar Salad. This is hardly the most exciting salad, with no croutons or Parmesan cheese to speak of, but it’s still a nice little surprise inclusion. At least the lettuce was reasonably crisp.
Most meals on the menu include a hot beverage. We opted for our usual Iced Coffee Milk Tea and Iced Lemon Tea here, each of which is a $0.75 upgrade. Unlike most other Hong Kong style cafes, the iced drinks were not served in a glass. Instead, they were served in metal steins. These are identical to the ones used for hot beverages, except slightly larger.
The star of the night and the reason why a great number of people come to Kingspark in the first place is the Baked Cheese Lobster and AAA Sirloin Steak ($22.50). You get a half lobster, split lengthwise, along with a six-ounce steak. The main dish is accompanied with your choice of sauce. We opted for the Lobster Sauce, a lighter-coloured gravy with a distinct seafood aroma. Other options include Black Peppercorn Sauce, Mint Sauce, Cream Butter, and Garlic Sauce.
We opted for the mashed potato here as our main side, but you can also get a baked potato, French fries, rice or spaghetti. If I wanted this on a sizzling platter, it would’ve been $1.50 more. The presentation is certainly on point and it decidedly looks like a dish that would cost more than $22.50 anywhere else.
Unlike most “western” steak houses, the sirloin steak at Kingspark is very large, but very thin. The grill marks are almost a little too perfect! The steak is not trimmed, so you will find a layer of chewy fat around the edges. The centre portion is moist and tender, cooked to a medium rare.
As an aside, when ordering a steak like this in Chinese, the common vernacular is to give a temperature level out of 10, with 10 meaning a steak is cooked well done. A medium rare, for instance, is a 3.
The half lobster, which I’d estimate at about a pound when whole, is served split lengthwise, baked with a layer of creamy cheese sauce on top. The sauce seems similar to what you might get with one of the baked rice or spaghetti dishes. While the meat does stick to the inside of the shell, it does come out largely as a single piece. The green guts are still mostly in there, so this may not be for the squeamish.
Conveniently, the claw meat has already been removed for you and it is placed along the inside of the lobster shell. It pulls right out as a single piece, making for one (or two) perfect bites of shellfish goodness.
From the main part of the more typical cha chaan teng menu, we also ordered the Smoked Salmon and Scallops with Angel Hair in Spinach Sauce ($9.65). The smoked salmon is presented like a floral garnish, not unlike what some restaurants do with a carrot, while the relatively small scallops are integrated into the creamy spinach sauce.
Just like the steak and lobster, the presentation of this dish is certainly classier and fancier than you may otherwise expect from a restaurant like this. The exposed portion of angel hair pasta, along with the smoked salmon blossom, help the dish look like far more refined than just a creamy monolith.
That said, the portion size was on the smaller end of the scale and it may not be enough for someone with a healthier appetite. We found that the smaller scallops lacked flavour, whereas the smoked salmon was almost too salty. The angel hair pasta was cooked nicely, though. Some sliced mushrooms round out the dish.
I’ve always equated the Hong Kong style cafe with a cheap and cheerful place that blends influences from east and west. Service is efficient, if not especially friendly, and most dishes are served with a take it or leave it kind of attitude. Times change. People change. Expectations change.
In this way, Kingspark Steak House still holds up the relatively young tradition of the cha chaan teng with inexpensive dishes served in a humble and honest kind of way. But it is also a place where you can get a steak and lobster dinner for well under $30, including soup, salad and a drink. That’s value. And with the closer attention to plating and presentation, that explains why Kingspark remains a popular spot for locals in the know.