CLOSED: Chalau Dim Sum Restaurant (Toronto)

Location: Toronto, Canada
Address: 476 Yonge Street
Type of Meal: Lunch



In my lifetime, I’ve had a lot of dim sum. If you have no idea what that is, head over to my all about dim sum post here to learn more. Admittedly, most of my experiences with it have been at traditional locations in downtown Chinatown or in the suburbs. But, I’ve also splurged and tried contemporary locations such as Luckee as well. So, when my cousin suggested we visit another new age location, Cha Lau, I was gamed.


Cha Lau is the Cantonese saying for 'tea house', which is where dim sum is served. Historically, people would go to these places for tea and socializing, but there happened to be food available as well. Presently, individuals generally go for the food and the tea becomes an afterthought. At Cha Lau, their tea was nice and fragrant, served in beautiful dishes that look more at home in an izakaya than a Chinese restaurant.


For most families, you haven’t had dim sum until you’ve ordered har gow (a shrimp dumpling) and siu mai (a pork dumpling). The pork siu mai ($4.25) was the better of the two: plump, juicy and had a nice sweet seafood essence from the shrimp mixed throughout and scallop on top. Meanwhile, the supreme shrimp dumplings ($4.85) were far from “supreme” and pretty ordinary. Nonetheless, the wrapper was a nice thinness and the chef did take the time to remove all the gritty black innards that can be found in shrimp.


For my buck, I’d rather spend it on the shrimp, scallop and asparagus dumplings ($4.85) instead. They had a richer seafood taste to it and the asparagus added a pleasant fresh contrast to the protein.


Another typical dish to order is the steamed rice noodle rolls (cheung fun). We tried the shrimp ($5) and chicken and Chinese mushroom ($4) versions. The rice noodle was daftly made so that it was thin but still had the strength to hold in the fillings. It was also nice that they slit them apart so the soy sauce could get into all the nooks and crannies.  


The BBQ pork buns ($3) and pan seared white radish cake ($3.95) were both forgettable. There was nothing inherently wrong with them but nothing impressive as well.


The saddest dish of the meal was the spare ribs with black bean sauce ($3.85). After pushing them together a bit the photo turned out much better than expected. Cha Lau should consider raising its price and giving more pieces per dish. Somehow scrawny pieces of spare ribs swimming in a pool of clear broth isn’t an appealing sight.


The pan seared shrimp and Chinese chive dumpling ($4.85; 2 orders shown below) had some great flavours but was very over priced for its size. The menu notes their customers call it a “hockey puck”; I’d describe it closer to a flattened golf ball.


If you couldn’t tell already, Cha Lau’s serving sizes are small. Perhaps Chinese restaurants in the suburbs now super-size their dishes, but we were hungry and had to do a second round to satisfy ourselves. Luckily, we loaded up on starchier dishes like the steamed vegetable rice with chicken in a bamboo steamer ($5) and rice noodle in soup with pork chop ($5). Both were decent – I enjoyed the addition of the chopped Shanghainese bok choy in the rice and the rice noodles were silky and not overcooked.


The fried stuffed chicken wings ($6) were interesting and showed some skill. Here, Cha Lau debones a chicken wing and stuffs it with a glutinous sticky rice with small bits of lap cheung (a cured pork sausage). The chicken was hot and crispy but the glutinous rice needed further ingredients to add flavour - more lap cheung, some salt and some green onions to give it freshness. The dish did show some skill, but was a far cry from the stuffed chicken wings I’ve had as a child where the chefs would debone the entire wing (both the drum and middle parts) and serve it whole.

 

As a warning, the desserts are single size portions – these are not meant to be shared. The mango pudding ($3) was smooth but could have benefited from some pieces of real mango in it.


I was excited to see the steamed trio crystal buns ($3.65) as Ginger and Onion use to have a similar dessert where the wrapper is made from tapioca starch (sadly, it’s been displaced from their menu). Cha Lau’s arrives in little balls, filled with egg custard, red bean paste and taro paste. I only tried the taro one but everyone agreed that the fillings needed to be sweeter as the tapioca bun layer had no flavour so really dulls the dish.


Cha Lau is pricier than other locations, despite the smaller portions. But, it’s understandable with the higher rent attached to its Yonge and College location. So, if you have no means to head uptown or over to Broadview, it would be a decent alternative. But, for the mobile, I suggest branching out instead. 

Overall mark - 6 out of 10


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Gastro World's Grading System

  • Anything under 5 - I really disliked and will never go back
  • - decent restaurant but I likely won't return
  • 7 - decent restaurant and I will likely return
  • 8 - great restaurant that I'd be happy to recommend
  • 9 - fantastic restaurant that I would love to visit regularly and highly recommend
  • 10 - absolute perfection!
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