CLOSED: Chic Xi (Toronto)

Upon entering Chic Xi, the scent of steamed soup brings back memories of Chinese New Year at my grandmother’s or a special Sunday meal prepared by my father. For my family, a hot bowl of soup can start or end a meal. It’s the hours upon hours of cooking, as an ingredient’s flavours are slowly coaxed out and co-mingles, this is what makes it special.

So with the intoxicating rich aroma permeating the air, I already knew Chic Xi wasn’t going to be the typical chop suey “Chinese” restaurant. Indeed, their menu includes over half a dozen soups and boasts they’re prepared in individual vessels and steamed for three hours. This is the proper preparation that should result in a flavourful broth.

However, timing is everything and not serving the soup in the proper order can detract from the experience. The first thing to arrive was their ramen ($12). Akin to a beef noodle soup, their broth is unlike any other – rich in flavours (there must be a piece of jinhua ham somewhere) with a silky mouth feel. The beef pieces are slowly stewed so the spiced soy sauce marinade permeates the meat rendering it tender, even the soft bones could be eaten. Meanwhile, the noodles are the hand-pulled variety so it’s chewier and doughier than a Japanese ramen, but stands up to the flavourful broth. Whenever I’m craving a bowl of hot noodles, I’ll be going to Chic Xi.

Since the ramen’s beef broth was so rich, when the free range chicken soup with sea coconut, conch and bamboo fungus ($18) came afterwards, it was like drinking diluted consommé. If you really concentrate there’s the faint umami taste of the chicken bones and the bamboo soaks up the soup’s flavours. But being under seasoned, especially following the salty ramen broth, the steamed soup feels underwhelming.

I understand that steamed soup is generally less salty as it’s the broth’s natural sweet essence people value. But then it’s important to serve it first and at least provide soy sauce or salt for people to dip the pieces of chicken into.

At almost every table you’ll find a white porcelain container holding a candle underneath. These are Chic Xi’s luxurious rice pots topped with abalone or shark fin. Having stopped eating shark fin for animal welfare concerns, we tried the braised whole abalone lo fun ($32) where two glistening plump ping pong ball-sized abalone sit on a mound of steamed rice in a pool of oyster sauce. The abalone is well braised so it’s fragrant and soft, while the rich sauce makes the rice delicious by itself.

Despite looking plain, the stir fried vermicelli ($18) is still tasty thanks to a generous spoonful of XO sauce. The noodles incorporate plenty of plump mushrooms and sufficient crab meat dotted throughout (some in large chunks while most in smaller pieces). While the vermicelli is more neutral compared to other dishes, it goes nicely with some of the other flavourful offerings.

In fact, it pairs nicely with the spiced squid roll ($12), also known and spicy salt squid in other restaurants. Here the pieces are smaller so it develops a lot of the crispy edges and takes on more of the spices.

The special marinated pork cha siu ($16) is worth trying. Warmed before serving, allowing the fats and juices to combine, the meat is laid out on a plank; being well glazed, it’s sticky, salty, and sweet with slightly crispy edges.

With only three vegetable dishes to choose from, the simple stir fried Chinese broccoli with mashed garlic ($14) had to suffice. The chef uses the baby Chinese broccoli and takes the time to shave off the outer skin of the stems so the vegetables are delicate and crispy. While snow pea shoots weren’t found on the menu, they were served at a neighbouring table so there may be off menu seasonal vegetable dishes as well.

Chic Xi also offers a condensed selection of seven dim sum dishes. The siu mai ($9.50) arrives hot as it’s made to order; each dumpling topped with a whole spot prawn, scallop, and a dollop of truffle paste. While double or triple the price of the other dim sum restaurants, if you’re craving them in the evening, these are satisfying.

From the limited dessert selection, the osmanthus jelly with coconut juice ($5) sounded interesting. While pretty to look at, since the top jelly layer holds small delicate flowers, the dessert is rather tasteless with only a mild rock sugar flavour. The jelly would be better if the coconut juice bottom was made with a richer coconut milk instead and incorporating a touch more sugar.

Chic Xi’s service has improved since an initial summer visit. At the beginning, the servers seemed lost and didn’t think to serve the proper cutlery with each dish – we had to ask them for spoons for the ramen. While returning in November they seem more comfortable, but still have difficulties with describing a dish.

The menu has also been shortened (sorry the salt and pepper squid has disappeared), but at least most items are actually available. During the soft launch, out of four dishes we wanted to order, two weren’t available. In November only one dessert item, which we didn’t even want, couldn’t be filled.

While there are better Chinese restaurants located in Toronto, within the Yonge and Lawrence to York Mills area Chic Xi is by far the best. It’s my go-to place for a bowl of ramen where it’s comforting warm broth envelopes me from the cold winter chill.   

Overall mark - 8 out of 10

How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 3471 Yonge Street

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Gastro World's Grading System

  • Anything under 5 - I really disliked and will never go back
  • 6 - 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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