I just did a quick count, and I’ve now had dim sum in Richmond over twenty times. Half of me thinks “that’s a LOT,” and the other half thinks “only twenty times? It feels like a hundred!”
Considering I’d only had it a handful of times in the 27 years before this job, twenty dim sums in 341 days is a lot. With an average of about six dishes per meal, that’s 120 different dishes. Ugh, I’m tossing around too many numbers here and it feels like math. Really, what it all means is that I’ve had a lot of steamed buns, heaps of dumplings, and many-a-spoonful of XO sauce. I’ve had the chance to compare various restaurants’ versions of dim sum classics like har gow, and taste their signature dishes that can’t be found elsewhere. And after all of it, the good news is that I’ve enjoyed every single one of these dim sum meals; not every dish has been rave worthy, of course, but you pretty much can’t go wrong if you’ve got friends to dine with, time on your hands, and room in your belly. The bad news? There isn’t any, unless someone happens to steal the last piece of BBQ’d pork pastry you wanted (which has happened to me, and is truly an awful experience).
So where was my 21st dim sum meal of the year? Empire Chinese Cuisine on Alexandra Road. My friends and I hadn’t decided where to go when we headed to the area, but Empire was relatively easy to get into, so our decision was made! People complain online about the service there, and while we didn’t find it to be outstanding, it was decent enough. We got our food and bill when we needed it, so I have no complaints!
It’s large and grand, with high ceilings and chandeliers. We went with some classic dishes, and a few I don’t often see on other menus.
The sticky rice in lotus leaves had both an outer layers of leaves and parchment-like paper, which kept even more moisture inside while they were steaming.
The filling contained pork, preserved egg yolk, and white and red sticky rice. They were gorgeous to look at, and really tasty.
The har gow (shrimp dumplings) were a little over-steamed. The wrappers were torn in places, and the shrimp was rather soft. Not the best I’ve had.
I think BBQ’d pork pastries are my favourite dim sum dish of all time. How can you beat buttery, flaky, soft pastry that’s topped with sesame, then filled with sweet and savoury saucy pork? I don’t think you can. It’s like a Cornish pasty accidentally ended up in China, the basis for both a hilarious sitcom and the most tasty snack ever. I haven’t had one in Richmond that I didn’t love, and Empire’s version is no exception.
Another dish I adore is pan-fried turnip cakes, though I find the quality of these really varies from restaurant to restaurant. Too often they’re under-seasoned and bland, but Empire’s pan-fried turnip cake with XO sauce was outstanding.
They had large chunks of soft and savoury turnip, little bits of salty preserved meat, a crispy exterior, and zingy XO sauce flavour. These rivaled Sea Harbour’s version, which, until now, have always held their place at the top of the turnip podium.
For greens, we had pan-fried gai lan with mushrooms; the mushrooms were particularly wonderful. They were soft, flavourful, and fresh rather than dried.
Fortunately, I had friends with me who enthusiastically embraced the idea of ordering jellyfish with beef shank. Not only did they love it, but they actually requested a container so they could take the rest home. It tasted and felt the same as the first time I had it at Parker Place BBQ – mild, and squishy. The cold sliced beef shank was tender, and just the right ratio of fat to meat.
The Chinese rice rolls with spicy pork and peppers were also well done; the rolls had soaked up the rich flavour of the sauce, almost caramelized, and were soft and chewy.
We ordered the steamed buns with roasted taro, simply because I’d never seen them on a menu before.
The filling looked deceivingly like braised pork belly, but they were honest to goodness just sweet chunks of taro. This was almost dessert-like, since the soft dough was also sweetened.
Speaking of dessert, we ordered the sticky rice with red bean filling, which was yellow and looked like an elongated pyramid.
It was served with a sticky, honey-like syrup, and was a decent way to end the meal. Honestly though, I’d have rather had another bite of BBQ’ed pork pastry. Our total was $56.44, which is incredibly reasonable for four people.
I have 24 days left. The (tired) half of me feels like that’s a lot, and the other half can’t believe it. Either way, there are still plenty of new things for me to try in Richmond, and I have one very specific dish in mind that I’m seeking out today…..stay tuned!
Cash and cards accepted
Vegetarian options available