My foodie friend, Grayelf, told me about this relatively new restaurant in Richmond serving Shanghainese cuisine. After perusing some online pictures of the soup dumplings (xiao long bao or XLB) from Ningbo Seafood Restaurant, I was determined to check it out as the soup dumplings (xlb) looked top-notch. Hence, on my recent trip to Vancouver a couple of weeks ago, I made an effort to have lunch at Ningbo. Based on the street address provided on Urbanspoon, I ended up at Parker Place but I still had a heck of a time trying to locate this restaurant. As I was walking around inside Parker Place trying to locate Ningbo, I stumbled upon their interior entrance. The issue that I have with this interior entrance is that there is no English signage. Fortunately, I recognized their logo or I would have walked right past it. They also have an exterior entrance that faces the parking lot and this entrance does have English signage.
The restaurant is actually named after a city in China called Ningbo, which is located approximately 220 km south of Shanghai. Since the two cities are located in close proximity to each other, their cuisines are rather similar though not identical. As I was perusing the menu, I came across quite a few dishes that I’d never come across before at other Shanghainese restaurants in the Vancouver area.
Thanks to my dining companions who could read the specials that were printed in Chinese, we found a few good deals that were only available during breakfast/lunch on weekdays. One was the House Special Chinese Doughnut (on special for $1.50 during breakfast/lunch on weekdays; otherwise, regular $2.50). Texture-wise, this was one of the better Chinese doughnuts or yao tiew that I’ve tasted in a long time. It was crispy on the outside and soft and light on the inside. My only quibble is that the oil used to fry the yao tiew wasn’t as fresh as could be and we could taste that in the doughnut. I’d give this another shot the next time. If the oil is fresh on my next visit, this will be a big hit.
Another one of the specials for breakfast/lunch on weekdays was the Shanghai Dumplings (on special at $3.95 for 6 during breakfast/lunch on weekdays; otherwise, regular $5.95). The Shanghai Dumplings, better yet known as soup dumplings, or xiao long bao (xlb), were very well executed and are a worthy contender against some of the best that the Vancouver area has to offer. The wrapper/skin was very thin, though possibly not as thin as the ones from Lin’s. I really enjoyed the soup base in this version as I find the version from Lin’s to be a tad too salty. It’s all a matter of personal preference as Grayelf said that she still prefers the ones from Lin’s. But personally, I thought these xiao long bao may have become my new favourite. I thought they were even slightly better than the ones from Long’s Noodle House, which is one of the better known places for xiao long bao. And at the price of $3.95 for 6, they were definitely a steal. We were so impressed with the quality that we ended up ordering a second basket of these. I’d definitely be back to Ningbo for their xiao long bao.
The third special that we ordered was the Braised Noodle with Chicken (on special for $4.95 during breakfast/lunch on weekdays; otherwise, regular $7.80 for a bowl and $12.80 for a nest). This is a traditional Shanghainese style soup noodle dish. I can’t really comment on its authenticity as this is the first time I’ve tried it. We found the noodles a bit soft for our liking. Otherwise, I did enjoy the flavours in the soup base even though they were actually quite mild. To me, this is comfort food. Again, it’s more of a personal preference as I really do enjoy soup noodles. I was actually quite surprised at how large the portion was. This was supposedly a “bowl” and it was on special for $4.95. There was more than enough for the four of us and with lots to spare.
In addition to the list of special priced items, there was also a discount of 12% on the rest of the appetizer, dim sum, and noodle/rice dishes that were part of the regular menu. Again, this discount applies for breakfast/lunch on weekdays only. The discount of 12% actually seems a bit odd at first but it actually stems from the Chinese belief that the number 8 is an auspicious number. So the discount is actually a play on this and the deal is the patron pays 88% of the regular price on appetizer, dim sum and noodle/rice dishes.
I wanted to the Deep Fried Radish Cakes ($4.18 after the discount; otherwise, regular $4.75). Even though the translated English name is the same (the actual Chinese name is different for each), this is the Shanghainese version of the dish and is very different from the Cantonese version. The Shanghainese version is actually a pastry filled with shredded radish whereas the Cantonese version is actually cooked twice. First, the radish cake (loh bak goh) is steamed and almost resembles a pudding cake. It is then diced into cubes and deep-fried. An example of the Cantonese version is the one that I had at Good Choice Restaurant for dim sum.
This dish is more of a personal preference. I personally enjoy both the Shanghainese pastry version and the fried Cantonese style cubes. However, Grayelf found the radish flavour to be a bit too strong in this version. Personally, I thought this Shanghainese version at Ningbo was well executed. The pastry is very soft and flaky while the shredded radish filling was very flavourful. I thought this version was almost as good as the version that I had at Long’s Noodle House. I liked the version from Long’s more as their pastry was more crispy so there was more of a textural contrast than this version.
I was really craving wine chicken (aka chicken in wine sauce) but it wasn’t available on the menu. Instead, Ningbo had a cold chicken dish called House Special Chicken which was similar to poached chicken and had no wine flavour. It didn’t really appeal to us, so I decided to try one of their signature dishes, the Ning Bo Soy Sauce Duck ($6.38 after discount; otherwise, regular $7.25) based on our server’s recommendation. I thought this dish was just ok. The duck meat was a bit chewy and the special soy based sauce was not that memorable.
Grayelf wanted to try the Sticky Rice ($3.43 after discount; otherwise, regular $3.90). Ningbo offers both a savoury or sweet version of this. We chose the savoury version. Again, this is a classic Shanghainese dim sum item. It consists of a long Chinese doughnut along with pork floss and crunchy pickled mustard greens (ja choi) rolled in sticky rice. This version at Ningbo was served lukewarm unlike many other places that serve it cold. I actually quite enjoyed this version and thought that it was better than the one that I had at Long’s Noodle House previously. The crunchy pickled mustard greens (ja choi) really provided good flavour to an otherwise, not very flavourful snack. This item is more about contrasting textures and flavours – the chewiness of the sticky rice, the crispy Chinese doughnut, flavourful pork floss and the crunchiness of the pickled mustard greens.
For dessert, we ordered the Baked Sugar Cake ($4.31 after discount; otherwise, regular $4.90). This is one of Grayelf’s favourite dishes. She was the one who introduced me to it at the now defunct Shanghai Village a couple of years back. I thought this version was just ok. We both agreed that this version was no where nearly as well executed as the version from Shanghai Village. The pastry was not as light and flaky.
I’m really glad I got to try Ningbo. Though not all the dishes were stellar, there were a few hits. The one that I really enjoyed is their Shanghai Dumplings or xiao long bao. Ningbo has an extensive menu for lunch. I’d definitely like to go back to try some of their other dishes.
Ningbo Seafood Restaurant
#1150, 4380 No.3 Rd