Located in the most competitive area in Victoria (Fort St, between Douglas and Blanshard), Pho Hoa is a chain Vietnamese restaurant. It is exactly across from Pho Vy, a local favorite when it comes to Pho.
It is a medium sized place, and has a look and feel very different from Pho Vy (its tables are nicely spaced and its the menu screams chain restaurant).
I ordered a #44: Pho Chin, Nam, Gau, Gan, Sach: Brisket, Flank, Tendon, Tripe & fatty flank. What a mouthful. I was slightly disappointed. The meat was dried out, and overall, felt average.
The natural comparison for this restaurant are its two Vietnamese neighbours: Pho Vy, or around the corner, Saigon Harbour. In my opinion, both places offer a better product. In terms of price, there is not much variance between the three.
There is, however, one saving point for Pho Hoa. It is a place that stays open later than the others. They close at 10:00 PM, if I remember correctly, which is why I sometimes end eating there.
Verdict: there are better places around.
For more information, including address, please visit:
Thursday, January 13, 2011
On the South side of the Bay building, this is a tea shop that sells both the tea leaves, and by the cup.
It is hard to describe the process or ordering a cup of tea. You come to the counter and you are confronted with what they call "the Tea Wall", that features literally more than 100 bins filled with different varieties of tea.
They will try to gauge your understanding of tea and try to show you teas that you might like, giving you some background about each, opening the bins, inviting you to smell them. It is an educational experience, albeit overwhelming. Of course, I had no way to know how accurate their information was; after all, they are a biased source of information.
I am keen on lightly or non-roasted tea and became curious about their white teas, and ended ordering simply white tea, and ordered a cup. The cost was steep --4.20, tax included, but, if the tea is as rare as they promise, I think it is not a bad one (regular teas are priced a 2.75).
You are invited to seat---they will bring the tea to your table--- something I appreciate it. The table next to mine was like a Tupperware party. They were having a tea tasting, discussing flavour and aromas like sommelier (apparently they were planning a tea party).
I got my tea. The cup is probably 350-400 ml. Large. The tea had, as I expected, a subtle flavour. As I expected, it was slightly sweet, but didn't have much smell (something I missed). Definitely a good cup of tea.
The place is small. it sits approximately 16 people in a combination of tables and comfy chairs.
One think that bothered me is that I didn't get to see the tea leaves. I understand the process of making tea, but I would have wanted to see what the leaves turned to after they are used. Otherwise, what guarantees me that the tea I got was the one I ordered?
I enjoyed my visit. It turns tea drinking into an experience of discovery. If you are willing to take the time to listen to their descriptions (and sales pitch), and to learn about teas, Teaopia is worth the visit. The downside is that, if you are looking for a cup of tea only, it will be an expensive one.
The obvious comparison is against Murchies. As a tea speciality shop, I feel Teaopia is better. At Murchies (the restaurant) you can order almost any tea, but there is no ability to ask about each, or get to smell them. They will not educate you (that is what the store is supposed to do, but they can't make the tea for you, you have to go back to the restaurant). On the other hand, Murchies has coffee, pastries and food (much better than Teopia). Murchies has more sitting space, and is cheaper.
Verdict: Expensive. Visit only if you are tea aficionado.
For more information, including price, visit:
Wednesday, January 12, 2011
Cafe Bliss is located in Pandora, just west of Government.
Open for breakfast and lunch, Cafe Bliss specialices in salads and soups.
This is vegetarians paradise. Cafe Bliss claims to use local and in-season produce, and to prepare everything organic and raw. Yes, no cooking allowed.
Prices range from 8 to 14 dollars, depending on the salad, or whether you want soup or not.
I am not a "salad" as lunch person, and I was feeling it was unfair to rate this restaurant based on a pizza and a soup, but I didn't feel like having a salad today. I was, however, curious on what a "raw" pizza looked like.
The space is narrow, and long. It has few tables and a long bar, where I sat. It feels inviting, and it is filled with a smell of tea brewing.
To call this dish a pizza is a misnomer. This was more like a huge cracker with a salad on top: spinach, pear, cream, cucumber, onion, nuts, what felt like an avocado-based sauce. The soup is not traditional either. It was a corn "chowder", and the corn was not cooked. The rest of the ingredients read: winter squash and cashew cream. It was very interesting.
I am torn in how to evaluate it. I think in terms of inventiveness and presentation, this place gets top marks. The flavours were there, but they are not the expected ones, because the food has not been cooked at high temperature. You might like them or you might not. My last concern is that, I felt it was expensive for the amount of food that I received, and there are very few options to choose from. If you like salads for lunch, this is definitely a place to come to.
If you are vegetarian, you probably know about Bliss already. If you are not, and you can enjoy a full meal made of vegetables, give it a try.
Verdict: Recommend for vegetarians, or salad "nuts", otherwise your might or might-not.
For more information, including location, please visit:
Dynasty is one of the many restaurants in "China Block".
I have been thinking about coming this place for a while. I was very curious about their crab. The entrance says: Live Crab, limit 1.
I like crab and I don't get many opportunities to eat it at lunch time.
As the waiter approached, even before I sat I said: "I want the crab". The waiter looked startled. He asked me if I wanted
No crab. Darn! I feel cheated.
I looked at the menu. It is rich with options, and less formulaic than the Ocean Garden. Had I come with somebody else I'd venture into more expensive dishes that seem made to share, like the steamed salmon. I settle for eggplant and pork belly schezuan style (I have "a thing" about Schezuan style of cooking). I suspect I was given the dinner menu because it only had one "special", and most dishes were above 12 dollars. I am ok with that. I actually prefer good food that value food.
Almost every table has a Chinese person. Its size is in the "medium" range, compared to the other Chinese restaurants in the block. The music--Chinese style--is slightly loud, making it somehow annoying. Even though it only has windows in the front, it feels brighter than Ocean (which is in a corner). Partially it is the white cloths on the tables, which beautifully bright the place, and make the tables more elegant.
As I waited, I observed how the table next ordered. They were given a different menu than me, one with photos. I later discover that they have dimsum at lunch. I suspect that, because they don't the number of clients as Don Mee, people have to order their dim sum from the menu. It also explains why the other tables have dim sum. Ok, my mistake. I jumped the gun by ordering before I got a menu.
The dish arrived. I could hear the signs of approval of the looks of my plate from neighbouring another table. It looked and smelled wonderful. And it tasted wonderful too. The meat was tender and the eggplant was braised to perfection--soft but without falling apart.
When I think about the dish I was served the day before (schezuan prawns on rice, at Ocean Garden) and compare it to this, there is no contest. Dynasty is head and shoulders above Ocean Garden's food. I paid more, but I was left with leftovers for dinner.
How does it compare to the other Chinese restaurants? That is a more difficult question. The food I received was recommendable, and I am already planning my dim-sum lunch visit. And yes, I still want my crab!
The crab-bait-and-switch scam was the only thing that made me cautious of fully recommending it.
Verdict: tasteful food that feels authentic.
For more information, including address, please visit: