I didn’t clean the house, I failed to buy a new pair of shoes, and I forgot to wear red. To top things off, I had neglected to get a much-needed haircut. My disregard of Chinese New Year traditions was so unintentionally comprehensive that I needed to make amends. In the end, I did so by overdoing the only tradition I hadn’t overlooked: The Chinese New Years feast.
I had made a point of phoning Sea Harbour Seafood Restaurant in Richmond and making reservations three weeks in advance for the special occasion. My foresight netted us one of the last tables of the evening, an 8:00 p.m. seating. And no wonder. Sea Harbour’s folksy fish ’n chips exterior belies the fact that it is one of the city’s top Chinese restaurants, offering unique, upscale menu items one would be hard-pressed to find anywhere else outside of Hong Kong.
We arrived a little before 8:00 p.m. to a full and festive house: red and gold decorations, children in traditional Chinese dress, whole roast pigs, and plenty of red wine and scotch. The floor staff was constantly on the move, from tables to kitchen and back, stopping only to take orders and sing Happy Birthday on two separate occasions. Thankfully, despite the expected full house, we weren’t confined to a specific New Year’s menu. And so, we ordered a la carte, starting with shark fin soup.
Sea Harbour offers five varieties of shark fin which can be prepared one of seven different ways. All three of us elected to go with a braised premium double-order. I had the Golden Mountain spike fin – long, thin, translucent strands in a light, subtle brown sauce. The Ya Jian fin Fondy and our friend, Jackie, ordered was shorter and thicker, their accompanying brown sauce denser, darker, and richer. Although both soups were excellent, I preferred the bolder flavors of their selection while they preferred the texture of my dish.
The house “hand-ripped chicken” was next – perfectly roasted and lightly seasoned, it was moist and tender. Available in half or full orders, it is the highlight of the menu and not be missed. We went with the full order and ended up picking the bones clean. Another stand-out menu item – and, not so coincidentally, another popular specialty of the house – is the steamed barbecue pork bun, available by the full or half dozen. They arrived at our table, hot and still steaming. The faint sweetness of the bun nicely complimented the atypically not-so-sweet barbecue pork it contained. We also had an excellent fresh, steamed rock cod with soy, ginger, and green onions, and a stir-fried vegetable plate that included elm fungus, water chestnuts, lotus root, snow pea, cloud ear mushrooms and gingko nuts. The only dish that failed to impress me was the sweet and sour pork shoulder. I found it too cloying but, to be fair, Fondy enjoyed it.
Unable to decide on one dessert, we opted for three. The first, was a very good steamed white bun with lotus paste. For me, lotus paste has always held an almost peanut butter trace, and Sea Harbour’s version also included hints of almond. The second dessert was a deep-fried dumpling, its exterior casing flavored with bitter gourd, its interior a dark sesame paste. Also very good but slightly greasy. Our third dessert was the consensus favorite, another steamed white bun, this one filled with a rich liquid sweet and salty egg yolk.
Dinner wasn’t cheap and the place can get mighty noisy, but Sea Harbour is well worth the trip – especially at dim sum where diners can order from a less-pricey menu that includes pictures of every dish available (in the event your Chinese is a little rusty).