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Dec 30, 2012 09:23 PM

Lai Wah Heen -- My Dim Sum Experience

Thanks for prima and others suggestions, I went to Lai Wah Heen (麗華軒) for Cantonese Dim Sum. It was a very nice hotel restaurant with great service and good tea. Prices were about 3 times of the regular tier dim sum restaurants. I ordered four dim sum dishes. They are “Crystal shrimp dumpling”(水晶蝦餃皇), “Steamed barbequed pork bun” (蜜汁叉燒包), “Shrimp & sprout leaf in rice roll with sweet soy sauce” (豆苗鮮蝦腸粉) and “Double-boiled egg white & cream in a pitaya bowl” (火龍果燉雙皮奶).

The crystal shrimp dumplings tasted fine. The filling seemed standard. Usually they are of shrimp, sliced bamboo shoot, chopped ginger and white pepper powder…etc. I wasn’t able to taste the ginger, so it may not be present here. The filling was relatively large. The skin (shell) was well made and successful. This is usually the toughest part for shrimp dumplings, to make the skin tough enough to hold the filling, but tender enough for taste. Because the filling was large, it demonstrated a high skill to achieve this. Of course, the folding at the opening was done well. In conclusion, I don’t think the shrimp dumplings taste much different than many other places, but high skill was shown by making heavy filling.

The shrimp and sprout leaf in rice rolls were good too. The sprout leaf certainly added an unique but subtle favor. The rice noodle was good. It wasn’t the smoothest I have tried, but it stroke a good balance. Here, in Philadelphia, Ocean Harbor offers rice noodle rolls which are smoother and slipper, but, as one of my friends said, they also taste rubbery. I didn’t find this in Lai Wah Heen rice noodle rolls. Is it better? I think that is subjective, but they are certainly good.

The double boiled egg white & cream was creative. The double boiled egg part is not any more different than other places, but the inclusion of pitaya bowl was creative. I usually dislike pitaya due to its bland taste, and much prefer the flavorful kiwi fruits. However, kiwi fruits won’t work here because of the strong favor. The contrast of the smooth double boiled egg white and milk and the crunchy seeds from pitaya worked very well. Interesting and refreshing.

I saved my writing for steamed barbecue pork bun last because I know this dish the best. I have made shrimp dumplings, double boiled milk and barbecue pork buns, but I have significantly more experience in the pork buns. The pork buns are the most and least impressive. What do I mean by this?

Pork buns have many ingredients, but I like to mention three: yeast, sugar, and ammonium bicarbonate (or baking soda: sodium bicarbonate). Yeast is what gives them the standard bread/bun texture. However, Cantonese steam pork buns have a much different texture than the northern Chinese buns. Cantonese steam pork buns are lighter and fluffier, and have the so called “cotton” softness to them. Sugar and carbonate salts play a very important roles in this. They disrupt and weaken the original yeast gluten. A successful pork bun has to have “cracks” to demonstrate this: http://i.istockimg.com/file_thumbview...
In fact, the more noticeable the cracks, and the more puffed up the bun, the better. This can be achieved by adding more sugar and more bicarbonate salt. However, based on my experience (from eating and from making), this also make the buns taste drier and often the bicarbonate taste will show up. Lai Wah Heen’s pork buns have the “cotton” mouth feeling, and tasty, but they are definitely not the most puffed up buns and the cracks were limited. I feel this (possibly) showed the chefs have the confidence to not chase after the appearance and stay safe within the tasty range. And yes, the filling was fine too.

Overall, I think the dim sum dishes were good, the chefs have demonstrated confidence and creativity, the servers were polite, and environment was pleasant. The tea was good too (not the low quality tea in most other restaurant). The price, however, was indeed much higher. Is it worth it? I don’t know, but I won’t mind going back there next time. Thank you.

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  1. In really good Cantonese restaurants, using top notch ingredients, such as those find in Hong Kong. Grated ginger is seldom used in 'Har Gow' so as not to impede on the fresh, sweet taste of the prawns. The fresher the prawns the less chance one would find ginger being used!

    1. With the sale of the hotel and switching to a Hilton Doubletree it is doubtful that this restaurant will continue to operate for much past the renovations.

      18 Replies
      1. re: ingloriouseater

        Oh wow, I didnt know they sold the hotel. The Doubletree hotel near the airport has The Grand Chinese restaurant in it so it maybe possible they keep this restaurant going.

        I know it isn't the best dim sum in Toronto/GTA but at least in my global social circle, LWH is one of the restaurants that's commonly mentioned when non-Asian people arrive here.

        1. re: Nevy

          Empire Court also operates in a Hilton branded hotel. I wouldn't think a change in hotel brands necessarily means an end to LWH.
          LWH serves some of the best dim sum. It would be mentioned more often if its dim sum wasn't so expensive. It costs more than the other high quality luxe dim sum in TO.

          1. re: prima

            Thanks for your recommendation. I had fun at LWH. I may get up to Toronto again sometime end of this year (again for roadtrip and having fun). I will then ask you for advice again.

            1. re: Chemicalkinetics

              I'm glad you had fun. If you return to LWH, the chef's prix fixe set lunches (which includes a sample of several types of dim sum) are neat, too.

              Let us know next time you're coming. Sometimes it works out to organize a Chowhound meetup when out-of-town Chowhounds visit.

            2. re: prima

              Agree prima....that's why I didn't patronize LWH or its late sister, LTH. The dim sum satisfaction to price ratio was not there for me.

              1. re: T Long

                Where do you go for very good dim sum that's good value, too?

                1. re: Full tummy

                  Hi Full tummy: This is very subjective, but near where I live (N.Scarborough/Markham), there must be well over 15 establishments that I can choose from and many more that I would not even consider. Of these, my current gold standard for good & good value would be Sam Woo Seafood @ $2.50 for S/M/L during a liberal (more extensive) early bird period....they even have discounts during non-early bird periods. Many of the 15 have "better" or equal dim sum (quality, presentation, selection, room) than SWS, and some have lessor (still decent) and cheaper pricing. An example of better would be Casa Imperial, where I would expect to pay approx 50% more and an example of cheaper would be Landmark, where I can expect to pay 25% less....Very often, the choice of where I go for dim sum is not my call so for a variety of reasons, I can end up at any of the 15. After which, I almost always feel I would have been happier going to SWS (if it was strictly about price/quality). Of course, YMMV and dim summing is usually more about the social aspects of dining rather than the food! Downtown, we have lately been going to the Dynasty where the dim sum is great and I always feel ripped off;)....oh well. (So, you can see LWH represents another level to me).

                  1. re: T Long

                    Thanks! I will have to give SW a try! Any must try dishes?

                    1. re: Full tummy

                      Must try - none really....SWS's dim sum lineup is pretty traditional and could be considered limited compared to nearby competition. eg. Currently it does not feature the standard tripe dish which is one of my favorites. Also the baby beef ribs can disappoint.

              2. re: prima

                It may also get more attention if it isn't located on the second floor. :P (It took me quite awhile to find the place).

              3. re: Nevy

                While I don't like the prices at LWH, I would still consider it to be the "best" in Toronto/GTA. Yang's in RH is up there too, but LWH wins imo. Are there any other contenders??

                1. re: T Long

                  Some of my Chowfriends give Grand an edge on some dishes. I've usually chosen Yang's when I'm choosing the resto, but I'm due to revisit LWH!

                  For contemporary dim sum, I would think LWH has the lead. I have mostly enjoyed the classic dim sum at Yang's and Grand, and haven't been wowed by their more contemporary dim sum.

                  Has anyone had dim sum at Empire Court recently? Where would you rank their dim sum now?

                  1. re: prima

                    Ref: Empire Court
                    Based on experience a couple of months ago. Still pretty decent. Love their rather quiet ambiance. Foodwise, most dishes comparable to Casa Victoria across the road.. At least the Har Gow tasted better! Also, more appealing plate presentation. .

              4. re: ingloriouseater

                Oh I didn't know this. But why is the change of ownership will affect the operation of LWH? Is it because Hilton Doubletree will be too low scale for LWH? I don't know.

                1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                  I believe the Metropolitan Hotel group also had/has a hand or stake in the restaurants that operated in their hotels. Certainly that was the talk about LWH. So if the Hotel has been sold to another chain, the future of its restaurants would likely be in play also. So LWH could disappear, or continue under old or new ownership, or evolve into something else? Senses in the SoHo Metropolitan had/has some connection to the "old" LWH...so that soap opera will be interesting to watch too.

                    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                      We go to Casa Imperial more often. But for a treat, we go to LWH. It's great for dinner as well. Pricey but every dish we had were great. And there were some Cantonese specials that weren't on the website menu. Steamed fish maw, scallops, etc. The big hit that night was the preserved meat with rice in clay pot. My dad and husband loved it. Service was excellent.

                      Only thing was tea was expensive too. I think it was $2 or $3 per head but it was good tea as well.

                      1. re: caitlink

                        <The big hit that night was the preserved meat with rice in clay pot.>

                        Is that like Lap Cheong (Chinese sausage), Lap Yuk (Chinese bacon)...in rice? :)


                        Nothing against LWH, but I won't want to keep going to the same restaurant especially since I don't live in Toronto.

              5. Are there any updates on this restaurant in the past year, good or bad? Some co-workers will be at this Doubletree for an upcoming conference and I'm trying to put together a few suggestions for places to eat since they love food. Thx!

                5 Replies
                1. re: Kat

                  Sorry, I have not been back to Lai Wah Heen. It was good, but that was like 1.5 year ago. I do enjoy Crown Princess which is walking distance (17 min).


                  1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                    LWH has undergone both management and kitchen team changes within the past year!

                    1. re: Charles Yu

                      What is your current view of LWH? I have a 60th birthday to plan.

                      1. re: Herne

                        Sorry Herne. Cannot help you there. Haven't been back for almost half a year! So many good existing and new restaurants up in 905 way.
                        May be downtown hounds can help?!

                    2. re: Chemicalkinetics

                      FWIW I don't find Crown Princess is anywhere close to what LWH was at its prime...

                      That said, I have not been back to LWH since the management / kitchen changes (one of the chefs now runs Kwan Dim Sum, a new spot near St Clair + Yonge which I think is tasty, but alas not near the DoubleTree).