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lai wah heen - off day?

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At the risk of putting my foot in it with my first post, we went to Lai Wah Heen today based on the copious recommendations. Sadly, we were quite underwhelmed by the food.

Big Disclaimer: This is our first dim sum in Toronto after moving here from Vancouver, which is one thing, but then we just came back from a week in Hong Kong, where we had the best dim sum we've ever had at Lei Gardens (among other places!), which is quite another thing altogether.

Having said that, though, the dishes today seemed to have additional execution problems that I can't imagine would be normal. Almost all of the dishes were under-seasoned and many of them were just too dry.

The only dishes we thought were memorable were the crab dumplings and the mango and cream bun.

Chao siu bao was gummy, filling nothing special, har gow skin was not delicate, rice wraps were rubbery, purse of glutinous rice was dry. Besides the crab dumpling, the unique creations we had, wagyu beef, abalone and shrimp wrapped in vermicelli, crispy roll of seafood with malaysian sauce, all had their different problems, with nothing much to recommend any of them.

The high prices mean we won't be back to give them another chance unfortunately.

BTW, anyone know where to get a good mango and pomelo in sago? Search results point to Tracy Desserts as being the most likely ...

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  1. Welcome to the Chowhound fraternity!!

    Lei Garden in the IFC Mall and Wan Chai has one of the best Dim Sum in Hong Kong. Some of the main ingredients, especially the shrimp/prawns used, are far more superior in quality than anything Toronto has to offer. As such I am not surprised by your thumbs down on LWH's Dim Sum when you do comparison with some of HK's best. (Especially the Har Gow). For your next HK trip, Fu Sing in Wan Chai and the Michelin 3* Lung King Heen are another two must-try!

    Anyways, regarding your dessert question. You are in luck! The co-owner of Hong Kong Sai Kung's 'Full House Dessert' (the original inventor of the 'Sago dessert) has opened up a shop in Richmond Hill. The address is:

    Full House Dessert
    Richlane Mall
    16th & Leslie, NE Corner
    9425 Leslie Street, Unit 12
    Richmond Hill
    Tel: 905 737 2300
    ( Close Wednesday ).

    Their dessert menu is 99.99% that of the HK's main store!! And their Sago dessert is equally yummy ( but fattening! ). Ha! Enjoy!

    7 Replies
    1. re: Charles Yu

      I figured as much. I just didn't quite realize how high Lei Gardens set the bar until today. Stupid shrimp bar raising. The best shrimp we had was in the wontons at Ho Hung Kee on our first night, that was quite a revelation.

      I'll check out Fu Sing and Lung Hing Keen next time we're in HK - I think a trip back is in our future. We also went to Lok Cha Teahouse, which was charming and had a few outstanding dishes.

      Thanks for the Full House tip, very timely as we're going out to Restoran Malaysia tonight and will hopefully be able to make it a double bill. Luckily in HK, I just had the dessert at some random place, so I shouldn't be disappointed by the comparison :)

      (Quite a food day, I don't usually eat like this every weekend!)

      BTW, your posts in the China chow boards helped us out immensely in Hong Kong, and we ate fabulously, so thanks for that too!

      1. re: DoNutAlter

        You're most welcome!
        If you do make it to Full House, let us know what you think of the dessert. BYW, the Viet/Thai place a couple of store down from Full House has pretty good Pho and curries too! The B-B-Q place next to it is also very high standard.

      2. re: Charles Yu

        Hi DoNutAlter ,

        I think I have to agree on this one. It is just not comparable when comparing dim sum in Toronto to Hong Kong, Toronto has some nice dim sum, but it has been pointed out on this board numerous times that it is not comparable and not fair to compare to the ones in HK.

        Not sure if it is Lai Wah Heen's off day but probably it can also be true as any restaurants including any star restaurant has it's off day. But in general, Lai Wah Heen's dim sum is already the best you can found in Toronto and most consistent in quality.

        For mango and pomelo Sago dessert, I have tried Full House recently a few times and it has been slipped in quality, not so fresh mango and too watery but still good, and expensive at $6.5 a bowl ! But definitely you can find much much better quality in HK imo (if you have to compare) like Fat Kee (發記) and Full House Hk, and I like Fat Kee more with it's big chunk of really fresh mango.

        1. re: skylineR33

          Hi SkylineR33,

          somehow I got the "best in North America except for maybe some places in Vancouver" part of the Lai Wah Heen rec, and missed the comparison with HK. Dang! Although I wasn't consciously trying to compare to Lei Gardens, just looking for some good dim sum, honest!

          My wife's theory is that LWH is going for a more healthy take on dim sum, so less greasy, less salty and no MSG.

        2. re: Charles Yu

          wow thanks for the full house dessert info! I know I can't expect it to taste exactly the same, but something close enough would be perfect! can't wait to try it - although I wish it wasn't so far north!

          1. re: Charles Yu

            No luck at Full House for me, as skylineR33 notes, the mango was not fresh and also the pomelo was quite dry.

            I think I'll buy some nice fruit and make a mango and pomello panna cotta.

            1. re: Charles Yu

              You are a treasure of info Charles. I haven't been in that mall for ages. I never found anything special in there that made me want to go again and again. Usually just the big chinese resto when I'm a little bored of the usual suspects along 7. I'll have to make a stop for dessert. Any suggestions for good dinner set meals at a decent price around there or closer to the North end of Richmond Hill? You might have to start a new post.

            2. We used to head to LWH often enough, but found that quality had dropped a bit over the last two years... And further, that we could enjoy comparable (or better) dim sum at Rol San (for a third of the price).

              -----
              Rol San
              323 Spadina Ave, Toronto, ON M5T2E9, CA

              2 Replies
              1. re: JonasBrand

                Thanks, I live near Chinatown, so it would be nice to find a cheap go to place there.

                Next dim sum stop is in the New Year, an HK friend (who really really enjoyed the sago dessert at Restoran Malaysia BTW) said there's a good new place across from the Commercial building (?) up north somewhere.

                1. re: JonasBrand

                  Can't say that I found Rol San particular good after a couple of trys. Ok for the price point but I have to stick to Garlic Pepper and Spring Villa in Markham for dim sum on the cheap.

                2. I think a few others and I have noted inconsistencies in execution at LWH. Others have denied that this restaurant can be inconsistent, but I doubt there are many restaurants (in this city) that are immune to having 'off days'. I think your experience may be able to support my claims. For the price, I have found some of their performances to be unacceptable. About a year or so ago, I had a very mediocre meal there. Definitely not worth the price. On my last visit a few months ago, it was quite good. If the price is a bit out of your comfort zone, but you are in search of good dim sum, do give Grand a try: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/557688

                  Cheers!

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: BokChoi

                    After repetitive visits, both my chow-friends and I have found the newly opened 'Yang's' on 9665 Bayview Avenue to have consistent and very good Dim Sum! Worth a try, if one is up Richmond Hill way!

                    1. re: BokChoi

                      I would back you up on that one, BokChoi.

                      HK vs. Toronto, and quality of ingredients aside, the main problem was that the food was underseasoned. Given that LWH has the conceit to not have seasoning on the table, I would expect that they don't usually have this problem.

                      Maybe some old chef with hypertension was in charge of the seasoning that day!

                      I'll add grand to the list when I get back from Vancouver in the new year, awesesome review!

                      1. re: DoNutAlter

                        LWH has been all over the map for me for the past 2 years. It's hard to give them a second chance when being charged such prices. Grand has been able to satiate my dim sum craving consistently for about $20 for the last 2 years. They have a few imaginative dishes, but what truly makes them stand out is their delicate dumplings & wrappers, as well as their excellent rice noodle rolls. They have the best textured cheung fun wrappers in the city currently, IMO.

                      2. re: BokChoi

                        Talking about Grand, someone even tried to compare Grand to some of the better one in HK, that's a pure joke ! Note the inconsistency reviews in the Grand review link, I don't think one can top. In "overall", the closest to HK when one wants to have both nouveau and traditional dim sum and considered the most consistency in Toronto (which does not mean it has no off days), LWH is the choice. These can be traced by many of the reviews in Chowhound, yes it got some bad and average reviews, but 90% of the time are great reviews.

                      3. My girl friend and I visited Lai wah heen today because I have always been curious about it… we have to agree with everything you said. I was even disappointed with the décor; it just didn’t seem “fancy” enough.

                        At the onset, my girlfriend was offended with the “moot lai” tea that they served, saying that it was incredibly bland, even after getting extra leaves put it. There was some scent emanating from the tea that brought me back to a time of moldy showers and unwashed toilet bowls…

                        The food we ordered consisted of crystal shrimp har gow, rice roll with bass and thousand year egg, Steamed crystal purse of glutinous rice & sun-dried baby shrimps, cha sui bow, wagyu beef dumpling, Malaysian seafood roll, deep fried dumpling of banana and sweet potato and Pan-seared soft cake of lily bulb, glazed with osmanthus syrup.

                        The har gow had a very sticky skin, and was quite bland though my GF enjoyed it.

                        Rice roll with bass and thousand year egg was underseasoned, the rice roll was mushy and fell apart as we picked it up… the sauce that came with it was flavourless…

                        Wagyu beef dumplings were extremely underseasoned with the slices on top including many pieces of connective tissue...

                        Cha Sui bow was ok, though I’ve had softer skin, the meat inside was quite lean which got a thumbs up from the GF…

                        Steamed crystal purse of glutinous rice & sun-dried baby shrimps were underwhelming, with hardly any taste … the presentation for this was horrible… one of them looked like someone sat on it...

                        Malaysian seafood roll reminded me of a vegetarian spring roll as there wasn’t even a hint of seafood in it. I was confused how to eat it, as it came with a shot glass of something. I suppose it was intuitive to just dip it, but at first I was like, do I pour it on, dip it or drink it after?? I guess I was sleepy but you would think that you would get a little more explanation from the servers at a place of this caliber or even an acknowledgement of what was being served rather than having it plopped down, circling the number and leaving….

                        For dessert, the deep friend banana and sweet potato dumplings were a bit greasy but had a nice bananaie-ness to it that reminded me of my grandmother’s banana sticky rice dumplings, and I liked how it looked like a fish (I like fishing), the presentation was more of what I expected at this resturant; however, the lily bulb cake with osmanthus syrup was one of the worst things I have ever tasted. The cake was so so, I lack the vocabulary to describe its averageness, but the syrup was just horrible. It had this strong offensive quality to it that I tried to get out of my mouth with the bland tea, but it just stayed there, exploding disgustingness all over my mouth… it was the first dessert I have ever ordered that I left on the table after 2 bites.

                        Even with the bland food, I would have thought that this place would have had amazing service, but it didn’t seem any better than an average Chinese restaurant. The presentation of the food was very boring, most lacking any artistry or innovation….

                        I'm not sure if it was an off day or we just ordered the wrong items, but Lai wah heen was a very disappointing experience, and even at half the price, I don’t think we would bother giving it a second chance. The dim sum restaurants that we find much better in Toronto are: The Grand, Casa imperial and Yang’s fine Chinese restaurant.

                        13 Replies
                        1. re: Pigurd

                          Thanks for the review Pigurd. LWH has been extremely inconsistent for me. I keep giving it so many chances. My most recent visit was very pleasant, but I don't really like gambling at such high stakes with dim sum when I can get a solid meal elsewhere for 1/3 of the price. Love Grand. Yang's is quite good as well. Dislike Casa Imperial, but enjoy Empire Court. Sorry to hear you had a bad experience.

                          Cheers!

                          1. re: BokChoi

                            I havent been to empire court yet for dim sum, though i've been for dinner... the constant hovering over my table as i ate made me a little too uncomfortable to go back there, but that might have been to due the fact it was empty that night. I guess i'll try out empire next time im in town (ill search for any empire court postings to see whats good, anyone here have any quick recommendations?)

                            1. re: Pigurd

                              They are generally pretty empty. It's unfortunate, since many of the poorer quality restaurants are generally more frequented.

                              The crispy eel roll on their dim sum special menu was nice: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-...
                              The green tea ginger puffs were a nice surprise (the heat from the ginger was very uplifting): http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-...

                              Overall, I enjoyed them considering how close they are to my home. Their dumplings are not standout though, nor are their cheung funs - but they are definitely above average.

                              The rest of the photos can be found here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-...

                              Cheers!

                              1. re: BokChoi

                                wow, great pics BokChoy! i love looking at food pics, though it gets me very hungry... i guess a trip to empire court is in order now.

                                1. re: Pigurd

                                  Good luck and let me know how it goes. If you go on a non-busy day, you might get the hovering again. You can ask for the booth in the front of the restaurant if it's available. They tend to forget about you if you're there - not sure if that's a good thing.

                                  Cheers!

                          2. re: Pigurd

                            I had better experience with LWH, although I have not been there for a few months. I just don't understand why people will say Grand is good, their Har Gow (shrimp dumpling) and Cheung Fun (rice noodle roll) are a fail to me. Both have a thin layer of oil to make it smoother, the cheung fun is even worst as it is way too sticky, especially when it is left cold. Yang and Casa Imperial have better ones. I don't have a dim sum that I am impressed when I tried Grand a month ago, I have also given some other details in other post.

                            1. re: skylineR33

                              Yes, based on recent experiences, prefer Yang's, Casa Imperial and Empire court over The Grand. The latter, not worth the drive!

                            2. re: Pigurd

                              I have to agree... I had heard a lot on board about it and was disappointed recently. Although some of the dishes we had such as the dim sum were good ...they were not spectacular and definitely not for the price of the entire meal. It seemed too overpriced for the quality of food ..The room also did not engage us. Even they were playing a radio station with soft rock which didn't suit the space or cuisine

                              1. re: cynthias

                                Is this the one in the downtown hotel or the new location up on Mount Pleasant?

                                1. re: Squeakycheese

                                  this one was downtown in the metropolitan hotel. the parking in that hotel is so tiny...o i really hated driving in there in a suv

                                  1. re: Squeakycheese

                                    this was the one on Mount pleasant

                                    1. re: cynthias

                                      We were regulars at Dragon Dynasty (?) on Brimley and Huntingwood for a long time. But not impressed with Grand for lunch or dinner.
                                      Our recent favourites are Casa Imperiale and Casa Victoria. Casa Imperiale for individual shark fin set dinner. Well worth the money. We were at Casa Victoria for Chinese NY dinner. $459 for set dinner. Shark fin soup had plenty of shark fin. Lobster with Maggi sauce was perfect. Portions were adequate but tasted great.

                                      1. re: caitlink

                                        Hello caitlink,
                                        Used to frequent DD too but havn't been for a long time. How's the food quality these days? Remember their whole roasted piglet to be one of the best in TO.
                                        Thx!