There is a lack of quality Chinese food in West Van, so I was quite excited when I found out about Shanghai Village as I drove by its front doors on my way home one day. I was even more excited when I found out that it was an established and fairly well-regarded authentic Shanghainese restaurant transplanted from Vancouver proper.
As excited as I was about finally having possibly good Chinese food within a ten minutes drive from my house, I didn’t visit Shanghai Village immediately. There were simply too many Chinese restaurants in the local metropolitan area on my list of restaurants to try that I always opt to cross the Lion’s Gate Bridge whenever I crave Chinese food.
It was not until two days ago, when time constraints meant that we had to find a local place to lunch, that my wife, kids, and I finally visited Shanghai Village.
I really like that the restaurant opened early. We needed to be done with our lunch before 12:00 PM, and Shanghai Village’s 11:00 AM opening time allowed my family to have a fairly un-rushed meal.
We ordered a variety of items from different categories in the restaurant’s menu in an attempt to determine what type of food the kitchen excelled at preparing (i.e. noodles or stir-fry dishes or buns or cold dishes).
For our “appetizer”, we ordered the spicy and sour cucumbers.
The cucumbers were enjoyably cold, crunchy, and juicy. But they were neither spicy nor sour. They were instead sweet and had very distinct flavours of shao shing wine. Although a little disappointed by the lack of sour and spicy flavours, my wife and I still thought that the appetizer tasted good.
After the appetizer came the cold meat dish that I ordered as a bridge between the cold appetizer and the hot main dishes. The cold meat that I chose for the meal was the salty-water duck.
As soon as I had my first bite of the duck, I knew that I failed in my attempt at ordering a cold meat dish. The duck was warm; it was heated up. I’m glad they heated it up. The warm duck tasted better than some of cold versions of this dish that I’ve had locally. The meat had slight gamey flavours that were just enough to differentiate the duck from generic chicken but not too gamey for my son to reject it. The “salty water” was definitely felt in the thorough saltiness in each piece of meat. Every piece of meat was also just bitey and chewy enough to create a pleasurable mouthfeel without being too chewy. The portion size of the half order of duck was also enough to satisfy the four diners in my party.
As our “hot” protein, we ordered the spicy dry pot chicken.
Unlike the cucumbers, this order of stir-fried chicken was spicy enough. It had a level of heat only usually found in szechuan restaurants. Even my wife -who is usually never satisfied with the spiciness of “spicy” dishes – commented that she felt spiciness when she was having the chicken. Apart from the spiciness, the most recognizable flavour in the dish was that of cumin. The cumin was ever-present. I could taste it in the chicken, the potatoes, and the lotus root. Although both my wife and I thought that the dish was generally good, we did notice a few noticeable deficiencies with its preparation. We thought that there was a bit too much oil/grease used in the dish. The pieces of chicken buried at the bottom of the dish were covered wit so much oil that they were almost unrecognizable to the naked eye. We were also a bit weirded out by the pieces of lotus root. They felt half-done. They had neither the crispiness of slightly cooked lotus root nor the soft bitey-ness of fully cooked lotus root. They had an undecided, semi-soft, and semi-stale texture that felt odd when bitten into.
For our starch dish, we ordered the hot and sour noodle soup.
The ring of chili oil you see in the picture above came from our request to make the soup spicier. We also requested that they made the soup more sour. The soup tasted neither hot nor sour when we received it. It tasted very neutral…and unenjoyable. The lack of spiciness and sourness basically skewed our views of the soup towards the negative. It made us not like the abundance of eggs stirred into the soup; it made us complain about the relative lack of other ingredients in the soup; it made the way-too-soft noodles feel even softer than the included strips of tofu. The soup was probably not as bad as we felt it was. It was probably on par with many Americanized Chinese versions of the same soup served at Chinese restaurants in North Dakota (or Alaska).
No visit to a Shanghainese restaurant would be complete without an order of XLB; we ordered the dish for the sole enjoyment of my daughter.
My daughter had all six of the steamed buns so I can’t comment on what the XLB tasted like. From looks alone, I was disappointed that more effort wasn’t put in to arrange in buns in a more symmetrical manner in the bamboo steamer. My daughter was displeased with the way-too-thin skin of the XLB. She breached the skin of four (out of the six total buns) just by touching them with her chopsticks. She also thought that the filling was too salty as well as being too big in size. I think she was trying to articulate that the skin-to-filling ration of the XLB was totally out-of-wack.
I think it is clear from the dishes that my family ordered at Shanghai Village that the restaurant served better meat dishes than starch dishes. It seemed more like a restaurant where you could have a sit-down meal of stir-fried dishes with rice than a place where you could have a quick and easy meal of noodles, soup, and dumplings. In this respect, I would have to conclude that the restaurant should be considered more of a formal (Chinese) restaurant than a casual joint.
Note: The restaurant is no longer located at South Cambie St. It has moved to 1479 Clyde Ave. in Ambleside Village.