Never Heard Of It is a collection of reviews of the countless and often extraordinary hole-in-the-wall restaurants of the Lower Mainland that don’t get anywhere near the attention they deserve. Explore the NHOI archive here.
Richmond’s Hoitong Chinese Seafood is a special gem. Despite recognition by several restaurant critics (it has won awards and been covered in various local publications), the little place has still managed to fly somewhat under the mainstream radar for years. And I urge you to go soon for two reasons: it is very good; and the chef, Yiutong Leung, who is nearly in his eighties, may not be cooking for much longer.
Some local food writers have gone so far as to call Hoi Tong “the best Cantonese restaurant” in Metro Vancouver. And I concur. But why is the food here so special? For many years, Leung cooked in a number of private kitchens – most notably the one inside the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. Private kitchens in China are known to have intimate settings and good food. This iteration in Richmond isn’t far off.
Stylistically, his menu is a concise compilation of Cantonese classics (think “sweet and sour pork”) and southern Chinese home-style dishes, all executed with rare technical rigour. All the dishes here have a “crafted” quality to them; Leung’s skills are evident in his precise knife work, near perfect deep-frying, balanced seasoning, and classic presentations. When applied to home-style cooking, the results can be transcendent.
Leung deftly elevates the traditional home-style dish of pork belly with preserved mustard greens and soybeans (I liken this dish to Chinese “pork and beans”). His sweet and sour pork is one of best in the Metro. He uses pork cheek which provides the perfect balance of chew and tenderness. It’s then battered and deep-fried expertly.
Another of his signature dishes – the bitter melon omelette ($28) – seesaws between the subtlety of the egg omelette and the often bracing bitterness of the melon (pictured at top). The stir fried milk and tofu puffs ($41) epitomize Leung’s light-handed approach: crab and thickened milk stirred together in a perfect balance of sweet and savoury. His salted chicken is perfectly seasoned (deep into the meat) and served with a lightly thickened sauce made especially memorable by a mysterious source of umami ($28). Is it mushroom? Dried ham broth?
Hoi Tong is not your typical Chinese restaurant. Like a private kitchen in Hong Kong, it is small, serving only seven tables. And prices are relatively high – dishes are roughly $30-$50 each. Some of the specialties have to be ordered in advance so I recommend doing a bit of pre-planning. A group of six to eight people is the about the right size to make good, representative work of the menu. Again, go soon.