Har Gow (蝦餃) at Le Piment Rouge in Montreal
The palatial surroundings in the now defunct restaurant once known as Le Piment Rouge suggested something a good deal better than the meal I was served on my sole visit to the place. The best of the few dishes I had barely rose to the level of mediocre, while their ‘Steamed dumplings with shrimp’, or Har Gow, were, despite their deceptively pretty appearance, absolutely atrocious.
I think it might be interesting, and perhaps a little helpful to show you the lavish décor inside Le Piment Rouge, as it will give you some idea of my expectations and illustrate a style of Chinese restaurant that is becoming far less common than it once was. As you can see, the décor is quite plush and lavishly formal, with white tablecloths and crystal chandeliers, while the waiters (all male) were smartly attired in a livery of short jackets with ties. Back in the 1960’s, when I was a child living in London, my only memories of Chinese restaurants are of this sort of establishment, and, while I was too young to have ever paid for a meal in those places, I daresay they were as expensive as my meal at Le Piment Rouge.
Anyway, the 蝦餃 at Le Piment Rouge definitely were a disappointment and far below the standard of what you might expect from such a palatial, not to say pricey, establishment. When they were served, the waiter brought them in a nice little steamer basket and then dished them out on to my plate with tongs. This was very curious, and something I have not seen either before or since. I might have been impressed had he plated them attractively, but he just plopped them down haphazardly and the departed without offering anything else, such as soy sauce or black vinegar, or the like. In point of fact, I almost never use condiments of any sort with Har Gow but, in this case, something (anything) might have improved these a little.
The folding of the 蝦餃 wrappers was definitely well done and the overall appearance was very delicate and pretty, almost like some of the fake food items made from plastic you see displayed outside some Japanese Restaurants. Sadly, the actual experience of these dumplings made me wonder if perhaps the plastic sort might have tasted better.
Despite being nicely translucent, suggesting a decent steaming job, the skins here were awful. It was possibly the result of having been held over too long, but these had dried out to be leathery and unpleasant in texture. The filling consisted of chunks of shrimp which were dry and tasteless and bound together with some sort of starch that was congealed and chewy. I have had far better at the meanest hole-in-the-wall type of establishment and can only describe these as being so laughably bad as to be atrocious.