Neighbourhood: Fort Garry
Address: 6 – 33 University Cres
Entrees: $14 – $26
North Garden became a quick hub for traditionalists seeking the authenticity of Northern China’s cuisine without having to venture to Chinatown 25 years ago – a perennial favourite among international students attending nearby university. Today, diners still flock here over steaming pots of soups and stews wafting alluring aromas. Generous dishes are shared without need for servers prompting – it is obvious.
An easy to navigate menu, categorized by style of dish rather than main ingredient breaks from trend. Dim sum, soups, noodle dishes and rice bowls round out a la carte dishes available at lunch. Noodle and rice bowls topped with star ingredients give daytime diners a taste of the house signatures. Melt in your mouth braised pork belly, fanned over rice and barbequed duck and gai lan topping a robust noodle filled broth are superb, revealing the talent behind the kitchen door.
Although metal trolleys are de rigeur for dim sum in Chinatown, room layout dictates made to order service here. Amply loaded shrimp and pork dumplings arrive quickly. Each tender morsel is delicately flavoured, accentuating the hero ingredient filling its rice wrapper. Pan-fried shrimp rolled in tofu wrapper adds a subtle crisp bite. Opt for a baked pork bao and be treated to beautifully flaky pastry hiding tender pieces of saucy barbequed pork. Beef short ribs, pan-fried tender with button mushrooms and sweet onions are reminiscent of a succulent steakhouse starter.
Dishes introduced to appeal to non-Chinese customers, mark the menus of many Chinese food restaurants. North Garden, was the first in the city to serve the now-ubiquitous ginger beef for example. Still a top seller, crispy fried beef slices are beloved for the sweet honey sauce ever so lightly laced with chilli, garlic and ginger.
As palates have evolved popularity today is tied to more exciting and umami-rich flavours paired with prime ingredients. Kung pao chicken delivers its characteristic crunch of peanuts delivered in a piquant, chile laden sauce. Purple eggplant glistens on a plate mixed with stir-fried ground pork. Garnish chiles and scallions add a soft punch. Tender beef medallions, offering little chew resistance, are complemented with vibrant broccoli and whole button mushrooms. On their own, each dish is a meal, combined and shared, a genuine feast.
Keeping up on the pulse of modern cooking put North Garden on the forefront of Chinese cuisine. Today, it continues to preserve traditions and blaze forward with fresh takes that hit the mark for an east meets west dining experience.