266 Elgin St., Ottawa – Website
Date of Visit: January, 2016
I dropped into Oriental House as I needed somewhere quick for lunch one day and it happens to be close to the hotel where I was staying. I was surprised, after I had been there for a few minutes, to suddenly remember that I had been at the same place with my wife over 10 years earlier. I don’t recall much about that meal, but the lunch I had on my recent visit was pretty decent…
The restaurant proper is actually below street level and seats about 60 or so. It is quite stylish and nicely appointed with dark wood and yellow trim, and the lighting is quite low, giving it a rather peaceful ambience. The service at Oriental House was pleasant enough but it was a little slow and disorganized. The two servers did not seem to have table assignments but rather brought dishes one at a time to various tables as they were put out by the kitchen. I twice was brought dishes that I hadn’t ordered and there seemed to be quite a bit of confusion despite the place being very nearly empty when I arrived and not much busier by the time I was done.
The restaurant advertises itself as serving Sichuan and Cantonese food but it is clearly a very westernized Chinese restaurant where a knife and fork are provided by default and you must specifically request chop-sticks. The menu has all the westernized stand-bys and includes, in addition to the usual combo plates, separate sections for ‘Sweet and Sour’, ‘Egg Foo Young’ and ‘Chop Suey’. I generally prefer Chinese restaurants that are less westernized myself, but I saw ‘General Tao’s Chicken’ on the menu and, despite this being almost ubiquitous now, I had still yet to try it myself.
Hunan Dumplings – The physical menu at Oriental House is not the same as the online menu as it provides more information about each dish as well as the Chinese character names. In this case, the Chinese name specified ‘Red Oil’ dumplings (which is the way I often serve boiled dumplings at home) but these ones came in a peanut sauce. There did appear to be a little chili oil added (although not enough for my taste) but there was also something else which I think may even have been butter. The dumplings themselves were an odd, rather shapeless fold, and I would be hard-pressed to identify the filling as pork or beef. I don’t mean to sound too critical of these as I actually enjoyed them (despite the lack of actual Hunan spiciness) and I rated them at a 3 out of 5.
General Tao’s Chicken – This consisted of battered chicken, peppers, sweet onion, and chili in a moderately sweet and spicy sauce. The chicken was very lightly battered and, though it was served smothered in the sauce, it retained a very nice crunch, as did the red and green peppers. The sauce was considerably less sweet than I expected, which was fine by me, and I was surprised to see whole, slightly charred chilies in the mix, rather like a proper Kung Pao dish, and the heat and flavor of these was very nice. I gave this dish a 4 out of 5.
You won’t find much in the way of dim sum specialties at Oriental House, nor any of the more exotic Asian delicacies to be found in less westernized eateries, but the food they serve is reasonably priced and well-prepared. The service was a bit haphazard but not all that bad and I thought the place deserves a 4 out of 5.