Kirin Richmond -
Kirin is arguably the most popular and well-known dim sum chains locally. It was the one restaurant that was unanimously recommended to me by friends who have lived here when they found out that I was moving here. And its downtown and Cambie locations were my first and second local dim sum experiences when I was visiting the city on my house-hunting trips early last year.
The thing that I found out about Kirin was that the quality of its food varied greatly between locations. I tried Kirin Cambie first and thought that the dim sum was as good as I thought it would be. But then I tried Kirin Mandarin downtown a few days later and was let down by the food that I got. And a few months later I tried Kirin Richmond, which turned out to be the best of the three branches of Kirin that I’ve tried.
It is expected that there is a difference in the quality of food from different branches of a Chinese restaurant, since each branch employs different chefs who are used to making the same dishes in different ways. And that is part of the beauty of Chinese food; two restaurants could offer the exact same menu, but serve dishes that taste nothing like each other. The chef’s control of the heat/wok-fire, the ingredients, the seasonings, and the garnishes is akin to a signature. It allows the chef to put his personal spin on a classic dish.
Even though this is so, there should nonetheless be a consistency of quality between different branches of a restaurant. A prime example of this is Red Star, with a location in Vancouver as well as one in Richmond. I’ve tried the dim sum at both, and the flavours of the food at the two restaurants were not exactly the same. But the quality of the food I got at both restaurants were quite high. One restaurant might be better at executing a certain dish than the other, but both versions of the dish were tasty and high-quality.
Kirin was sort of an oddity in this sense because I remembered the quality of food to vary greatly (like night and day) between its different locations. As I’ve mentioned in past posts, human memory is very volatile and unreliable. So I thought that it was possible my memories of my dim sum meals at the various Kirin locations might be corrupted and mixed up by memories of the numerous other dim sum meals that I’ve had since I’ve moved here. I decided that I would perform a little memory validation by visiting two Kirin restaurants two days in a row for dim sum to see if the differences in quality and flavours of the food are really that big.
I chose Kirin Richmond for my first meal. I went there with my wife, mother-in-law, and my son. We ordered a variety of dishes from their dim sum offerings.
First, we had the lotus leaf wrapped sticky rice with chicken.
All three of us adults really liked this dish. The sticky rice was soft and sticky. It was also very flavourful because it absorbed the flavours of the lotus leaf it was wrapped in, the fibres of dried scallops enveloped in it, as well as the chicken, salty duck-egg yolk, and mushrooms that lay below it. The textures of all the ingredients were also great matches with each other. The softness of the rice went well with the tenderness of the chicken, the firmness and powdery-ness of the salted yolk, and the chewiness of the mushrooms.
The second dish we had was the Phoenix Claws (Chicken Feet).
The claws were also pretty tasty. First of all, they held their forms while being transported by chopsticks from the dish to my plate, which was an accomplishment in itself. Often times, the skin of the chicken feet break apart during the transport. I liked the tangy flavours of the claws and the fact that there weren’t too one-note sweet or one-note salty. The texture of the claws was also done right. It was slightly chewy so that you could feel gelatinous collagen tissues while not being too break-apart tender that you felt that it had been sitting on the steam stack for too long.
The third dish we had was the Tofu Skin Rolls.
The tofu skin rolls were pretty good. The skin was thin and crispy, albeit a little oily. But the included black vinegar did manage to cut out the oiliness when it was drizzled on top of the rolls. The vinegar made the otherwise-sublte flavour of the tofu skin bold and aromatic. I don’t think I got a lot of flavours from the filling, but I did detect a very pleasant teeth-bouncing texture. This thick, elastic texture was a very good match with the crispy tofu skin.
Our fourth dish was the Salt & Pepper Deep Fried Squid.
The fry job on the squid was excellent. The batter skin was extra crispy while the inner-squid was chewy but also chewable. I had no trouble breaking each piece of squid into smaller pieces in my mouth. I liked that there were no fishy-squid flavours that usually came with salt and pepper deep fried squid. The squid we had today was fairly mild-flavoured; the main flavours of the dish came from the salt and hot pepper seasonings. The flavours of this dish veered more towards the spicy than the salty, but neither flavours were too overdone that they stole the show. There was just enough saltiness and the spiciness did not prompt any one of us to take even an extra sip of our teas.
The fifth dish that arrived was the Soy Sauce Fried Noodles.
This dish was prototypical of soy sauce noodle dishes, which meant it was made the right way. There were no extra ingredients or extra garnishings to take away from the enjoyment of the noodles. Again, like the squid dish, the saltiness of the dish was just-right. The oiliness of the dish was also just right. The individual strands of noodles were neither too wet nor too dry. They were by no means limp but they were also not as stiff as dried instant noodles. The noodles were seasoned simply, sauced simply, and fried perfectly.
Dish number six was the Fried Steak Cubes in Special Sauce.
This dish was ordered solely as a meat for my son to have with his rice. We asked them to make this normally spicy dish non-spicy. Without the spiciness, the beef tasted sweet, with ginger and green pepper flavours showing up along with the usual beefy flavours. There were also a lot of textures going on in this dish. The green and red peppers were crunchy while the water chestnuts were juicy and crispy. The beef was tender and the stir-fried dough fritter slices were pleasantly soggy. I thought that there was a possibility for a great contrast of textures, but I did not get to prove this theory because I was too busy eating food from the other dishes.
The seventh dish was the Turnip (Daikon), Tripe, and Tendons.
This dish had both good and bad components. The flavours of the dish were just ok. Every component of this dish had flavours similar to garden-variety Cantonese beef brisket. I liked the gelatinous stickiness of the beef tendons, but I didn’t like the too-chewy-to-bite-through tripe. The daikon radishes were both pleasant and unpleasant. They were unpleasant because I did not like the fact that some pieces had a gauze-and-mesh-like skin still attached to them. They were pleasant because they were cooked long enough so that they had an apple-pie-apple like texture, which allowed them to soak up the juices of the sauce.
Our last savory dish was the Rice Roll Wrapped Dough Fritters.
This was a very good dish, with both the rice rolls and the dough fritters retaining their appropriate textures. The rice rolls were thin, slightly teeth-bouncing, and smooth. The dough fritters were crispy on the outside and a little chewy on the inside. The dried pork garnish added just a bit of crunchiness on top. Combine these three elements with the three different sauces, and you get three entirely different flavour combinations. The hoisin sauce was straight sweetness, the sesame-peanut paste added a peanut-butter like thickness, and the sweet soy sauce accentuated the crispy textures of the dough fritters. This dish was finished in no-time because every one of us wanted to try each different sauce individually with the rice roll wrapped fritters.
We capped off our meal with the sweet Egg Tarts.
The egg tarts here were excellent the last time that we had them and this time they were even better. We asked our server to grab us a plate straight from the kitchen, and the plate arrived with the egg tarts freshly baked. The crust was hot and beautifully flaky while the egg custard had an amazing, almost-liquid texture that was smooth and manna-like. The custard also had a very pronounced custardy-egg and not-too-sweet flavours that made it stand out among the only-sweet flavours of egg tart custards served at most other dim sum places.
Like our last meat at Kirin Richmond, my wife and I thought that the dim sum meal we had today was excellent. The food tasted amazing, arrived very quickly, and the service was more than adequate. As far as dim sum restaurants in Richmond go, I think that Kirin is right up there with The Jade and Red Star as one of the top three dim sum meals that we’ve had at Richmond. Let’s just see if Kirin Mandarin, which is the Kirin branch we will be trying tomorrow, will serve us a dim sum meal that ranks as one of the three best dim sum meals we’ve had in Vancouver.