Urban Hakka (Toronto)

As you walk by Urban Hakka, don’t be surprised when the dining room looks empty. Unfortunately, the restaurant inherited a long narrow set-up where the seating area is split into two with a bar in the middle. During the cooler months, they smartly sit guests in the back, where it’s slightly warmer and everyone is hidden from view – a disservice if someone is peering in and deciding whether they want to dine at the place.

The shrimp pakora ($13) is a great way to start the meal. Its batter is applied with enough to cover the large prawns without being overly thick. Although how long the pakoras are fried needs to be standardized – one night it was absolutely perfect creating crispy parcels of prawns, while on a follow-up visit it’s golden but the centre slightly underdone so each bite finishes mushy. While it isn’t overly flavourful, the spicy Thai basil chutney that comes with it is absolutely delicious.

This same chutney goes really well with the Hakka style rice noodles ($12), which is very plain by itself, but is a good choice to pair with other saucier dishes in lieu of rice. They’re essentially like Singapore noodles without the curry.

Urban Hakka’s Singapore noodles ($12) gets the Hakka touch with a healthy dose of curry powder, probably 2 to 2.5 times the normal amount you’ll find at Chinese restaurants. It’s not terrible, but creates a rather strong dish where you’ll only need a small portion.

Luckily, they provide a big bowl of rice with the rest of the dishes and even offers refills if it gets empty. You’ll need the rice to accompany the Manchurian chicken ($12), which packs a flavourful punch. With a choice between wet and dry, we stuck with the recommended dry and it was fantastic - still a moist dish with each morsel of chicken covered with a salty, spicy, aromatic rub that appears to be made with freshly pureed ginger, garlic, and a host of other spices.

Hakka cuisine is essentially Chinese-style cooking outside of China. In Toronto, it tends to signify Chinese dishes with an Indian influence. At Urban Hakka, the dishes that lean towards the Indian side of the spectrum is a lot better, while the Chinese side falls flat. For example, the General Tao chicken ($12) essentially tastes like sweet and sour, which could be overlooked if it wasn’t so saucy that the batter is rendered mushy and it tastes like you’re eating gluey sweet chicken.

The sesame crispy beef ($14) is better, but extremely salty and is too powdery so you taste the flour and corn starch. If you’re going to get a “crispy” protein dish, stick with the crispy chicken ($14), which is cut into larger pieces and not as heavily coated. Nonetheless, eat quickly. When it arrives, scalding hot, the sauce is fantastic; once it starts to cool it begins to crystalize and tastes like candy coated chicken.

I can’t help but notice how their poorly laid out dining room affects the experience. The food delivery companies keep stomping through the dining room to the kitchen in the back, which is distracting when the restaurant is so silent.

Urban Hakka wants to create a serene environment, the décor is posh and there’s jazz music playing in the background. If they’re going to create a tranquil space than they have to go all in and get rid of the distractions… mainly all the people walking by within inches of a diner’s table. Simply ask the delivery people to wait by bar and have a staff member get the food from the kitchen (this could be a problem as the place is already understaffed) or ask the delivery people to go to the kitchen through an outside door (likely the more realistic choice).

Otherwise, Urban Hakka can drop the jazz music all together and just create a livelier loud environment. When I eat Hakka cuisine I’m going for the bold loud flavours. It doesn’t hurt if the restaurant has a vibrant loud environment to go with it.

Overall mark - 7 out of 10

How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 3305 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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