HuTaoLi Music Restaurant & Bar 胡桃里音乐酒馆 (Markham)

Let’s just say HuTaoLi Music Restaurant and Bar is unlike any Chinese restaurant I’ve ever been to. There’s flora sprouting from the ceiling and trinkets galore. I almost feel like I’m entering a brighter version of Rainforest Cafe minus the massive animals.

Yet, things feel rushed. The dishes come out way too quickly, so take it from me and order in waves. Otherwise, it's impossible to fit everything on the table and the enjoyment level starts depleting as you scramble to divide everything onto the side plates, only to have to scarf it down to make room for more.

From what I can remember, the sliced beef and tongue in chili ($9.99) actually contains beef tongue and tripe, thinly sliced so it’s tender and sits in a flavourful oil that’s spicy but not overwhelming. If offal makes you squeamish, the lotus root with special chili sauce ($6.99) offers a similar flavour and a great refreshing crunch.

Probably one of their most photographed dishes is the house special roast chicken ($16.99), which arrives with a lot of glitz – the chicken sitting in a wooden bird cage, the top opened with a flourish. As great as it looks, it’s really just deep fried crispy chicken in a much smaller and disheveled format. At least it’s a good rendition of the dish, the meat moist but cooked through and the skin crispy.

Their spicy stir-fried shrimps ($18.99) deserves more credit with its generous portion allowing there to be plenty to split amongst a table. It’s another powerful tasting dish, especially if you dig to the bottom and get pieces of the numbing Sichuan peppers.

HuTaoLi has some really interesting options like the durian pizza ($17.99) where the fruit adds an element of sweetness against the salty cheese and really works. The durian’s aroma isn’t too strong but is definitely present and actually meld nicely with the cheesy essence. Overall, it’s a surprisingly tasty dish, if only they swapped out the store bought pre-made pizza crust with an oven-toasted version that’s thinner, chewier and crispier… this would be a dish to contend with.

Others didn’t work quite as well like the Spanish style roasted rice with squid ink ($22.99). Really, other than the shallow iron pan it arrives in, it’s nothing like paella. The rice is darkly coloured but there’s no ink flavour. I can only describe the pineapple chunks topping the rice as strange and mildly off-putting. It’s a dish, which for me, really really doesn’t work.

I’d much rather have the simple things like the stewed mixed vegetable ($10.99), where HuTaoLi incorporates daikon and cucumber for a bit of crunch. With all the other heavier dishes, it was really nice to have something fresh to balance the meal. 

Switch out the Spanish style roasted rice for the brown sugar crispy rice cake ($7.99) instead. What a fantastic dessert incorporating sticks of chewy glutinous rice that has a light crunchy crust. The brown sugar syrup adds just enough sweetness but keeps things light enough that I could have downed an order to myself.

HuTaoLi’s main draw is, of course, the live music. This starts after 6:45pm when a soloist takes the stage crooning Mandarin songs while playing the piano. We heard that later in the evening a band takes the stage and 9pm onwards the place turns into a bar.

Since it’s located in Markham, someone will likely need to drive. Luckily, HuTaoLi has a decent non-alcoholic drink selection, the mango pineapple coconut juice ($7.99) refreshing and tasty to sip on while listening to music.

If only there was more time in the evening to really take everything in and enjoy yourself. Amongst the flora wonderland and soulful ballads, it’s a place where you want to stay and really enjoy yourself. Too bad the rushed service emits a pressured feeling to pay and get out. Even though HuTaoLi offers live music, but it sure doesn’t feel like a music bar.  

Overall mark - 7 out of 10

How To Find Them
 Location: Markham, Canada
 Address: 3760 Highway 7 East

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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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