148 E. Pender Street, Vancouver – Website
Date of Visit: July, 2017
The New Town Bakery and Restaurant is on East Pender Street, which runs right through the center of Vancouver’s Chinatown. Its bakery operation occupies the front portion of the premises while the restaurant lies in the rear. There is a very extensive menu available in the restaurant section but the dim sum they offer is what most drew me to the place…
The bakery is clearly very popular and there was a line of customers filling the store the whole time I got there and the whole premises smelled wonderful from all the baked and steamed goods being prepared.
I didn’t peruse the whole list of bakery items but the steamed stuffed buns appear to be a specialty. They are prepared in gigantic bamboo steamers and I saw stacks of the all over the place. I would love to have tried one but each individual bun is gargantuan and I couldn’t have managed anything else afterwards.
The restaurant is a no frills sort of place with lots of Formica and plain wooden chairs, but it is also a popular spot. It probably seats about 100 or so and it was so busy at 11:30am when I arrived that I had to wait several minutes for a seat.
Once seated, I was immediately given some complimentary tea served, somewhat unusually, in a tall plastic glass. It was very good tea, though, and I didn’t need to order another beverage during my meal. There was soy sauce and chili oil on each table. The soy sauce wasn’t very good… it was very thick and sweetish rather than salty, but it had quite a bitter after taste to it. The chili oil was quite pale and looked innocuous but when I sampled it, it had a fiery bite that rather caught me off-guard.
Pork Dumplings – These proved to be Shu Mai and were very good. They were quite large and the wrapper, neither too thick nor too thin, had the typical slightly yellowish tint to it. I am not sure what the yellow topping on the meat filling was… it certainly wasn’t crab roe, which is sometimes added, and, though it looked a little like melted processed cheese, it had no taste in particular. The meat was excellent; It was seasoned delicately, if at all, and had a lovely springy texture. I thought these dumplings were excellent with just a dash of the chili oil.
Shrimp Dumplings – These were, of course, the typical ‘Har Gow’ served in every dim sum eatery, and generally regarded as the benchmark test for a good dumpling maker. While these ones were very nicely formed with nine pleats each, they weren’t especially great. The wrapper wasn’t bad, but it was a little dry and the filling, composed of large chunks of shrimp (as is most common), was really bland and without that sharp, fresh shrimp taste. I have had worse, but also many that were better.
Pan-fried Lo-Pak Meat Pie – Usually, these are called ‘Lo Bog Gao’ (or some variation on the spelling thereof) and are basically a cake made of grated daikon (with or without added ingredients) which is then steamed. This place serves it steamed, or steamed then fried, and it can be plain, or else prepared with bits of Chinese sausage, dried shrimp and chopped dried mushrooms. I had the fried version with all the additions and it was very good. My only quibble was that cake seemed to have been fried immediately after steaming leaving the center a little soft and overly moist. I like it when the steamed cake is allowed to cool and set for a while before frying so that the texture becomes much firmer. Other than that, though, this was very good.
Dry Squid with Curry Sauce – This offering was a much bigger dish than I expected. Moreover, the squid pieces in it were huge. Dried squid, once reconstituted can be very chewy and this, with large squid being used, was no exception. Scoring the flesh helps a bit but, in this case, it was done for only some of the pieces. I quite liked the chewiness though but, unfortunately the squid didn’t have the same rich umami flavor as usual. The sauce, too, was a bit of a disappointment… Often, I find Chinese and Japanese curry sauces to be somewhat uninteresting and often oversweet. This, however, while having a bit of chili heat was bland to the point of being insipid. Accordingly, though the other dished were fine, I couldn’t rate this one particularly highly.
Despite a couple of quibbles, I enjoyed my meal here. The service was a bit slow but, in fairness, the place was busy and all the servers I saw were kept constantly hopping. The menu here is great and I plan to visit again before the end of this current trip to Vancouver. I rate the place a decent 4 out of 5.