Though the holidays have come and gone, some Toronto restaurants were not without their gifts. With a masterful selection of what can easily be acclaimed Toronto’s best dim sum – certainly it’s most inventive – Lai Wah Heen in the Metropolitan Hotel assembled a holiday menu worthy of any occasion.
Master Dim Sum Chef Terrence Chan and Head Chef Ronnie Lam showcased their top dishes for the season with premium dim sum lunch menus, special fusion prix fixes, and traditional dinner menus. While my standard, and frequent, dim sum outings are fuelled by gluttony, intense cart consorting, and a head full of the previous night’s drink, at Lai Wah Heen I was on my best behaviour… whatever that means.
With two, 8-course prix fixe lunch menus on offer ($36pp and $48pp) this was a meal worth “splurging” on. Scrap the disposable plastic tablecloths for fine white linen, the aggressive clanking of dishes for soothing string music, and the more practical elements of the kitchen for nothing but perfection. After 30 years of refining his skills in the art of traditional dim sum, Chef Terrence Chan has earned the right to infuse creativity and variation into this culinary art.
As the cold afternoons become increasingly unruly, I’m ever more enticed by the idea of a good bowl of soup. Fresh Dungeness crab and seafood bisque provides the hearty warmth I’m looking for. With crunchy bits of asparagus speckling the silken broth – thickened by light strands of egg-drop – fresh pieces of crab, shrimp and scallop, and a pretty dollop of fish roe on top, the meal is starting out to my liking.
When I first read the menu, I didn’t picture the steamed lobster dumpling to appear as a playful emulation of it’s former self! Stuffed with shrimp mousse and finely diced vegetables flavoured with garlic and green onion, this presentation was as unconventional as the dish was delicious.
Siu mai… simply put, my favourite! Wrap it in glutinous rice and I’m thinking, I’ll see how that goes. Insert foie gras and I know, one will never be enough! There are dozens of favourable adjectives that could describe this dish: smooth, rich, meaty yet balanced, salty and sweet in all the right places. I could go on and on if I weren’t brought to near paralysis just thinking of its goodness. I’ll do my best not to damage my keyboard as I drool all over it like one of Pavlov’s dogs. Do I hear a bell?
Flanking a white truffle dipping sauce made of pure awesome, we enter the deep fried portion of the meal. A crispy deep-fried, breaded chicken and mushroom ball topped with black truffle, resting on a crisp piece of nori – smart! The filling was dense and a small quail egg yolk in the middle was a welcome surprise. A football shaped dumpling made of rice flour and gluten powder was like a thin, delicate, and supremely well-made version of another dim sum favourite of mine, haam-sui-gok. Stuffed with shrimp and sunflower seeds, this unconventional twist on a staple dish was amongst the best of the meal.
When one thinks of ‘the best’ and then about beef, Waygu commands attention. Packed into an exquisitely prepared steamed dumpling along with the addition of more, thinly sliced Australian Waygu beef on top, this is an all-too-small package of joy that sits basking in a bath of chili oil and soy sauce. Not too salty, not too fatty, the dumpling melts away on my palate… along with my heart.
If you thought that I was getting full yet, it’s worth noting that I could, and would, eat myself to the bursting point with this food if ever given the opportunity. However, in the name of the civility I so demandingly tried to uphold during the meal, I was on to the final dish with whirling emotions. (Note: Lambast me if you must, I don’t believe dessert to be real food.)
I was slightly disappointed to find out that the more hearty, northern style “family noodles” made of wheat were not done in house, though, they were just so damn delicious that my dispiritedness quickly dissipated; they’re topped with truffle and lobster escalopes, tossed with truffle scented oil and accompanied by julienned green and golden zucchini. The lobster was maybe the only element of the meal that was a little overdone and chewier than I would have liked, but the rest of the dish was so delectable that no morsel went uneaten.
Not just to be gracious, I delved into the dessert. How could anything not worth a taste come out of the Lai Wah Heen kitchen, right? A small, striped brick of mango and coconut jelly topped with a sliver of kiwi was a fresh palate cleanser. It was nothing spectacular but I could see people liking it. The egg custard tart, however, belonged in a league of its own! Warm, soft, and nestled in a light, flaky phyllo dough basket – it’s executions like these that make dessert memorable for me!
With that, the meal was over, but it would be far from the last time I’d think about it. With every type of cherished cuisine there are the spots that one frequents and there are the spots that one fantasizes over. While my wallet wouldn’t approve of Lai Wah Heen as my new dim-Sunday tradition – for now – Lai Wah Heen has got the steamers of dreams, the dumplings of lore. A dim sum experience to entrance at each visit…
Editor’s Note: While the 8-course prix fixe deliciousness Jason describes above is no longer on offer, Lai Wah Heen routinely serves up specials menus such as this. Thus, stay in the know so you can eat well when you go…