DIM sum is a many splendoured thing.
Some think the phrase is derived from yat dim sum yi, meaning a "little token," which fits. The occasion often sees sticky buns, steamed dumplings and luscious mango custards wheeled through a noisy restaurant dining room, where many generations of families can choose from a long list of savoury and sweet pre-made treats to eat with their tea.
At the Hotel Grand Pacific in Victoria, it's a more elegant affair. Emory Haines, the hotel's director of operations, said it was past experience managing dim sum at a Toronto restaurant that got him interested in the mid-day meal. When the Grand Pacific promoted Hong Kong-born chef Rick Choy to the position of executive chef in 2007, Haines saw an opportunity to begin introducing authentic Chinese elements to the menu.
It couldn't be like other dim sum meals though, said Haines. It had to be upscale, to fit with the hotel's character, and it had to have a West Coast twist. The result is a delicious partnership between Asian flavours and Vancouver Island ingredients on a menu that always lists eight items (a number that is considered lucky in China). It's also the first dim sum menu that is Ocean Wise.
"Everything on the menu is made in house, from scratch," said Haines, during a tasting last weekend. "At first it was more challenging than we imagined it would be to train the team." Though the kitchen brigade is flush with talented young chefs, not many were familiar with Chinese techniques. "I came in once and had congee that was the texture of risotto."
There's nothing wrong with its texture now. The B.C. Seafood Congee is served in a tilted bowl of polished white china: creamy rice porridge hiding thick chunks of velvety wild salmon, plump halibut and sweet spot prawns.
Dense, chewy steamed buns are filled with braised pork from Sloping Hill Farm at Qualicum Beach. Prawns are rolled into housemade brioche along with prosciutto and chives and fried until crispy and golden. Duck, from B.C. of course, is barbecued and stuffed into spring rolls; sticky rice balls are flavoured with pork; Qualicum scallops are folded into pretty envelopes of rice paper along with water chestnuts and XO Sauce.
Dessert is a tart that is equal parts dense buttery filling to airy toasted coconut topping.
Dim Sum diners at the Hotel Grand Pacific get betterthan-average tea service, as well. The tea program offers a custom mix of single-estate teas and blends, curated in the same way that a sommelier chooses a wine list. The hotel works with renowned Victoria tea house, the Silk Road Tea Company, on both the selection and the presentation.
The current tea menu includes the oolong tea Iron Goddess of Mercy; Philosopher's Brew, made with lemongrass, citrus peel, rosehips, and lavender blossoms; a Hotel Grand Pacific House Blend; and one of my favourites, Gen Mai Cha, Japan's famous popcorn tea.
Guests can also sample the teas at the hotel's daily West Coast Afternoon Tea service, or even in a cocktail. Bartenders have created tea cocktails and non-alcoholic tea sodas, using the same Silk Road teas. Top sellers include the Sunday Breakfast cocktail - bourbon and maple syrup infused with Silk Road Lapsang Souchong tea and muddled basil.
For more information, call 1-800-663-7550; or visit hotelgrandpacific.com.