To begin with, I would like to express my appreciation to ex-hound 'Ray' for recommending this obscure, Scarborough neighborhood, ‘pseudo-hole-in-the-wall’, Cantonese gem to me. After tonight’s mouth-watering experience, for sure ‘Liwan’ will retain a permanent ‘must-go’ position in my GTA culinary map.
With a store name taken from a popular iconic eating destination in China’s ‘Old Canton‘, this jewel offers a wide range of scarce and labor intensive, authentic and down to earth, traditional Cantonese comfort food. From individual make-to-order, steamed rice crepe roll, aka ’Cheung-Fun’ as well as specialty rice congees, to soup noodles and popular Hong Kong style street food snacks, to stirred fry dishes permeated with an abundance of wok-hay and lastly, a wonderful array of old school and modified ‘Claypot Rice’…..among which, rare house-made ‘ wind-dried preserved FISH as topping ‘!
In order to obtain the best and most varied picture of their food offering and gauge the caliber and authenticity of their kitchen and food, our party of four ordered a diverse, potpourri list of dishes.
- Stirred fry free range, bone-in chicken pieces with shallots, ginger and fermented black beans.
- The iconic Cantonese street food - Hand made ‘Cheung Fun’ with sun dried shrimps and scallions.
- The iconic Cantonese ‘wok-hay’ dish – ‘Stirred fry flat rice noodle ( Ho-Fun ) with beef’, aka, ‘Gone Chow Ngau Ho’
- The popular and addictive snack – ‘ Deep fried Squid tentacles with seasoned salt ‘
- Claypot rice with toppings of preserved sun-dried salted-fish & pork pattie with added salted duck egg.
The skill level of the cooking was indeed very high and met most of our pre-meal expectation with ease!
The stand-out dish has to go to the ‘Gone-Chow-Ngau-Ho’…hands down! The wok-hay taste and aroma of this grease-less dish was amazing. The well-seasoned beef tender and nicely caramelized, the crunchy vegetable condiments perfectly ‘slightly under-cooked’! Definitely in my GTA top 3 GCNH list! So good, we ordered an additional portion to take-home. This time, with a special enhancement request to the chef to add some yellowing chives to the dish!....a la Hong Kong Michelin 1* - Ho Hung Kee's rendition!
The hand-made Cheung-Fun rice crepe rolls were well executed and enjoyable, featuring a generous amount of fillers. Though not as velvety and flaccid as Sam’s Congee version, however, Liwan’s version was definitely more than acceptable and a cut above their competitions. Sadly, no roasted sesame seeds were provided.
In terms of enjoyment factor, the Claypot rice came a close second to the GCNH. The pork pattie was juicy, moist and not overly dense in texture. Hint of finely minced Water-chestnut was detected. The fine-quality, wind dried, salted fish used was aromatic and not overly salty. However, the winner was that perfectly cooked, crispy and crunchy crust at the rice/pot interface! Lovely, addictive mouth-feel!
Apparently, there were two versions of their deep fried squid tentacles....those with and those without batter. Not realizing the choices available, we ordered the version with the batter coating. Though still delicious, however they were slightly under-seasoned due to the presence of the crispy coating. Our server later on highly recommended the non-coating version for our next visit…..'much more flavorful', she said! Nice sales job for a return visit?! Ha!
Only, minor downside unfortunately belonged to the most expensive dish, the stirred fry free range chicken with fermented black beans. Tasty but the slightly over-handed use of starchy gravy jinxed the textural feel rendering the chicken pieces a bit 'slimy'?!
Overall, the offering of large quantity of scarce, folklore Cantonese dishes plus the high caliber of their execution definitely warrants multiple re-visits!
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