Okay, I've finally done it. Every single location of Kirin, I have visited them all. No, it wasn't a lifelong dream of mine. Trust me, there are other good Chinese restaurants. I think the biggest reason it has taken me so long to visit this location is due to habit. Habit? Yah, for the longest time, we've been comfortable going to Victoria Seafood Restaurant for our Downtown Dim Sum. Don't get me wrong, Victoria is indeed good; but it was about time that we changed it up a bit. Now, it begs the question: why is it even necessary to visit all of the Kirins if it is essentially a chain restaurant? Here is the thing, as much as we consider chain restaurants to be consistent across the board, in reality that is never the case. This is even more true for Kirin. Probably the weakest of all the locations would have to be Coquitlam. The strongest? It's debatable; but I find that the Richmond location to be the best in my opinion (yah, it had to be Richmond...).
Now in terms of comfort, they are all very different as well. Naturally, the newer, specifically built locations such as Starlight, Coquitlam and Richmond are generally spacious and great for weddings. But, City Square has got to be the most claustrophobic being horrible for weddings. There are certain tables where all you see is wall. If you got stuck at that table, you would need to wonder where your friendship stands with the bride and groom! The newly renovated Downtown location is no better with cramped seating and pillars here and there. Also, it'd better be a small wedding because the restaurant ain't so big either. Although I must give them high marks for decor, the place looks amazing.
Another reason I was prompted to visit the Downtown Kirin had to be the recent visit by San Fransico's top food blogger Foodnut. He seemed to have a good experience... so... here we go! Much like Victoria Restaurant, there is validated underground parking. In fact, the reason that Kirin was closed for awhile (including the Olympics, epic fail!) was due to the relocation of the parking lot entrance from the front to the back. Now about that back entrance... Can they possibly make it MORE narrow??? I thought I was going to hit something for sure. My thoughts? Not a good idea when you have big luxury SUVs trying to navigate it.
Enough of my rambling, on to the food. We started with the Sui Mai (pork & shrimp dumpling). Immediately, I noticed the the colour was more pale than usual. This was a good thing since that meant more shrimp than pork. Ultimately, that resulted in a much lighter dumpling with great texture (that crunch you get from cold water shrimp). Furthermore, the large amount of shrimp resulted in a sweet and lighter tasting product. Of course we had to get the Haw Gow (shrimp dumplings). However, I would say they were quite disappointing. First, they were very small. I saw more bamboo steamer than dumpling. Second, we found the shrimp to be overseasoned. We could taste salt and little else. At the very least, the shrimp had a nice crunchy texture.
With the kiddies present, it was a no-brainer that we'd get the Shrimp & Taro Spring Rolls. In fact, there are 3 options for spring rolls including vegetarian, meat & veggie and the one we ordered. As much as I'm not convinced that taro and shrimp go together, I kinda liked it. Something about the aroma of cooked taro that appeals to me. It slightly upstaged the shrimp, which was crunchy - that means good. Something out of Melody's playbook, we got the Beef Meatballs (she loves meatballs, among other things such as beef tongue and shrimp heads). Despite what I thought was too much onion and cilantro, the meatball itself had a nice meaty texture without being tough.
For comparison's sake, we got the Shark's Fin Soup Dumpling. I long consider Victoria Restaurant's version to be one of the best, albeit very pricey. The one here at Kirin was alright. The consume was a bit on the bland side while the dumpling itself had little in the way of significant filling. Rather, it was mostly cilantro, green onion and undissolved gelatin. We got the Chee Fan (sticky rice roll), which is a dish usually found at Shanghainese Dim Sum. Consisting of a salty Chinese donut, pickled mustard greens and dried pork floss wrapped in sticky rice, this can be good if prepared correctly. Sadly, this one was not. The donut was fried beyond the point of no return. Despite the rest of the rice roll being good; the extremely crunchy (hard to chew) donut killed the whole thing.
On a more positive note, the Pan-Fired Rice Noodles with soy sauce was a winner. Not being overly oily or salty, the soft noodles exhibited the pan-fried exterior we all look for. The kids seemed to like it too, which in turn made me like it even more! With a fluffy exterior and a substantial amount of filling, the good ol' BBQ Pork Buns were good. I found that the filling had a good balance between savoury and sweet. It's too bad that these are such filler items. I ended up only eating half of one. I love them; but I certainly don't want to be full off of them! Typically, the Eggplant stuffed with fish mousse would be fried, plated and then topped with a black bean sauce just before serving or at tableside. However, in this case, it was fried, placed on a plate, sauced and them steamed. We felt that this was an epic fail since the steaming completely negated what makes this dish good. Generally, the freshly fried eggplant would be soft; but still have a nice crispy texture on the outside. However, this one became a mushy mess and the sauce was diluted due to the steaming.
At this point, we were quite full; but we got 2 more items anyways. It was Viv! I didn't order anymore, honest! So the dish she chose was the Spicy Beef Tendons. The tendons were very soft while still maintaining their shape. The sauce was indeed spicy while not to the point where it would scare anyone. This would've went well with either a bowl of rice or a bowl of soup noodles. By itself, it was heavy and a bit too much flavour. For our last dish, we got the Egg Tarts, which were mainly for the kiddies. At first, we thought that they might've been overcooked due to the considerable browning on the sides. However, the pasty was perfectly flaky and light. The colourful egg filling was lightly sweet and smooth.
It was a fairly decent Dim Sum for a surprisingly reasonable price. Kirin is by far the least expensive of the "big 3" Downtown Dim Sum restaurants. Imperial is the most expensive, while Victoria is not far behind. I feel that Victoria has the best Dim Sum of the 3; however, there is better (and for less) at restaurants out of the Downtown core. Despite the many issues with the food here at Kirin, it is a good option in Downtown considering the relatively reasonable prices compared to its nearby competition.
- Reasonably-priced given its location, venue and food
- Nicely decorated dining space
- Free parking
- Dim Sum is mediocre
- Very tight seating arrangements