Where to eat lunch this week: Lai Wah Heen

Where to eat lunch this week: Lai Wah Heen

This legendary haute Chinese kitchen delivers a full—and fully delicious—dim sum experience in less than an hour

Seafood dumplings and cream tarts 

The place: Perched on the second floor of the Metropolitan Hotel, Lai Wah Heen has long been Toronto’s go-to spot for haute contemporary Chinese dining. A maple-panelled room provides privacy for VIPs, but the main room has its own austere calm, despite the lunch rush.

The crowd: Friendly and efficient staff alternate between tables of serious suits and retirees. A distinguished-looking man enjoys his midday break at a tucked away table with a couple small plates and a glass of wine.

The deal: Besides the premium rice and noodle plates, and the famous two-course Peking duck ($56), Lai Wah Heen does excellent, proper dim sum. It’s a communal affair so we choose to go a la carte, mixing traditional options with chef Terrance Chan’s innovative Hong Kong-style creations.

The dish: Our party of four starts with two orders of cookie-crusted pastries filled with a salty-but-good mixture of cured ham, shrimp and pork (three pieces for $6). Dim sum staples are well prepared, especially the crystal shrimp dumplings (four for $6) and pork-shrimp-scallop siu mai ($6 for four). Complimentary XO sauce—dried shrimps and scallops in chilli oil—is amazing when used judiciously, namely with the steamed lobster dumplings ($3.50), the pan-seared rice cakes topped with loose crabmeat ($3.50) or the deep-fried vegetable and exotic mushroom roll ($3.50). The carved zucchini basket, filled with cured ham and shrimp mousse ($5), needs no accompaniment beyond its flavourful broth. Notable reinterpreted classics include shredded chicken in cream sauce inside deep-fried taro root paste (three for $6), rice rolls wrapped around diced chicken and sweet corn (three for $8) and aromatic dried seafood over a checkerboard of steamed turnip and taro cake ($6). We finish the meal with mini cream custard tarts (four for $6) and a trio of durian cream pastries (three for $6)—pungent fruit cocooned in layers of flaky pastry.

The time: A 52 minute feast

The cost: $160 for four people ($40 each) to split 22 plates, including tax, tip and bottomless pots of Iron Goddess tea ($2). Leftover pastries made a fantastic mid-afternoon office snack.

Lai Wah Heen, 118 Chestnut St. (at Dundas St. W.), 416-977-9899, laiwahheen.com.

Read the Toronto Life review of dinner at Lai Wah Heen »

Clockwise from top left: rice cakes with crab meat, zucchini basket, pork-shrimp pastries, tunip-taro cakes (Images: Renée Suen)