Restaurant: Empire Chinese Cuisine Restaurant
Cuisine: Chinese/Dim Sum
Last visited: August 8, 2010
Location: Richmond, BC (Richmond Central)
Address: 8251 Alexandra Rd
Price Range: Dim sum $10-20 / Dinner $20-30
1: Poor 2: OK 3: Good 4: Very good 5: Excellent 6: Tres Excellent!!
- Dim Sum/Lunch/Dinner
- Popular to Chinese locals
- Traditional, authentic Chinese food
- Fresh seafood, in house tanks
- Lots of variety
- Great for dim sum or dinner
- Moderately priced
- Good quality, reliable, quick service
- Clean, comfortable, spacious
- Great service esp. for Chinese restaurant
- Same owners as Empire Seafood Restaurant
- Better than Empire Seafood Restaurant
- 10% off before 12pm? (I think)
- Available for private parties
- Reservations recommended
- Free parking, but fills up quickly at peak hours
**Recommendations: Dim Sum, crab, lobster, steamed soy sauce prawns, steamed broccoli with crab meat and egg whites, Peking duck wraps, steamed scallops on tofu with back bean sauce, crispy chicken with soy sauce tea leaves, baked tapioca pudding with taro paste
Empire Chinese Cuisine Restaurant is a very popular restaurant for dim sum or dinner in Richmond, BC. Despite the small signage with an English name that is barely legible, this place is busy all the time no matter what day of the week. The atmosphere is clean and comfortable and it seats a lot of people so even when there’s a line-up you’re not waiting long as the service is fast. The service is actually quite attentive for a Chinese restaurant and they’re really good at remembering faces.
I’ve been coming here for years for either dim sum, dinner or private parties and have not had a bad experience yet, so I can fairly say the food is consistently great. It’s definitely well liked by my friends and family so that’s why we keep coming back. The quality of food is high, the seafood is fresh and the prices are not cheap, but not expensive either. It’s the same owners as Empire Seafood Restaurant on Westminster Highway also in Richmond. I like both locations, but I like this one better. The atmosphere is better and the food is better as well.
On this occasion I came for a birthday dinner, so the menu was from one of their set dinner menus for 10-12. There were a few substitutions and upgrades made from the set menu, but the restaurant is accommodating and they will charge you appropriately. I do like coming here for regular dinners more than event dinners, but that’s how I feel about all restaurants. They just have more care and everything tastes and feels less “mass produced” when it’s not a set menu or banquet menu. I’m not sure of the exact names of each dish we had, but everything can be ordered separately although it’s more worth it as a set meal.
On the table:
Crab & Fish Maw in Supreme Clear Broth – 3/6
- This is a clear Chinese seafood soup. It’s not for everyone, but it’s very typical of Chinese set dinner menus.
- It’s a step down from Shark’s Fin Soup, but a step up from a daily soup you would have on a regular occasion. I don’t eat shark’s fin anyway, so I liked this better.
- This is a “high class” soup and it’s made with expensive ingredients like crab and fish maw. The fish maw is a Chinese delicacy. It’s chewy, jelly-like and has slightly crunchy parts and it’s also slimy. If you don’t grow up with it, it might freak you out a bit. I like it though.
- Overall the soup has a somewhat slimy texture, but it’s very rich in ingredients, yet mild in flavour. There’s no heavy spices, herbs, or dairy so it’s really quite a pure soup made from gourmet seafood. The clear broth is a thick broth though and this one was loaded with ingredients.
- I’ve also had this Crab & Fish Maw soup at Kirin Restaurant.
It’s common to eat this soup with red vinegar. It brings out the flavour and adds a tang to the seafood that is very well liked, otherwise it can be a bit plain.
- These are pretty good and it’s a common item to have on a banquet style menu, but not to order between a small group.
- It’s a big ball of pureed prawn meat lightly battered in breadcrumbs and deep fried until golden brown. It’s about the size of a small mandarin orange.
- It’s pretty crunchy and it’s normally eaten with either chili sauce, red vinegar, or sweet and sour sauce. I like mine with sweet and sour sauce, just because I think deep fried things go well with that. Its got a crispy outside and the prawn meat was crunchy and juicy inside. They’re very hot and hold a lot of heat though so be careful!
- The more expensive version of this will also have the shrimp paste wrapped around a crab claw with the crab meat. That’s delicious!
- Who doesn’t love this dish? It doesn’t matter the age or nationality – crispy duck skin with prawn crackers wrapped in a crepe – what’s not to love?
- This is a classic dish that’s usually part of any set menu for parties larger than 6. It’s almost always served in a 2 part set with duck lettuce wraps to follow.
- This skin is nice and crispy and there was a thin layer of juicy fat and then a little duck meat still on it. It was quite fatty, but not too greasy.
- The one at Kirin doesn’t have any fat or duck meat, it’s just the skin – that’s really hard to do, but that is the authentic Cantonese way to serve it.
- See my post for Peking Duck in Beijing for details.
- The crepes are served hot and they’re nice and fresh and homemade.
- They were thin, but strong enough to hold the ingredients, soft and moist, yet not too floury and also soft and chewy in texture.
- You wrap a piece of duck with the skin in the crepe, add some Hoisin sauce, cucumber, green onions and a prawn cracker if you wish and eat it all rolled up. It’s delicious!
- You get the salty duck with the crispy skin, the chewy soft crepe, crunchy raw veggies and some sweet Hoisin sauce to give it more flavour. It’s a perfect appetizer.
Braised Whole Conpoy with Lettuce and Garlic – 4.5/6
- This is a traditional Cantonese dish with big pieces of canpoy (dried scallop) that are rehydrated and braised in a salty Oyster based sauce. It was a bit overly sauced for me, but it’s supposed to be. The veggies just kind of get all slimy because it’s swimming in this thick sauce.
- Dried scallops are a highly prized Chinese delicacy and they’re expensive. Smaller dried scallops are shredded and used to flavour soups, sauces, fried rice or congee. The flavour is intense so a little goes a long way and they’re expensive so they’re used sparingly.
- In this dish they use large dried scallops, so it’s a gourmet appetizer. The scallops are chewy coming out of their dried state, yet the quality is good and they’re well prepared so they’re still tender to the point where they just shred apart. The dried scallops almost taste like a really intense Oyster mushroom.
- It sits on top of braised iceberg lettuce and lots of whole garlic cloves. The garlic cloves are deep fried before they’re braised so they’re all nutty and caramelized and very creamy in texture. The garlic just melts in your mouth and they’re very sweet so there’s no garlic bite. The scallops are meant to be eaten alone and the garlic is eaten along or with the lettuce.
- This is the 2nd part of the duck that follows the duck crepes. It’s iceberg lettuce, sauteed duck meat with celery carrots, and water chestnuts and Hoisin sauce.
- This dish is normally very good here, but in the banquet style menu it wasn’t as good. It was excellent on a regular night.
- The duck was a bit dry and the majority of it was water chestnuts. I barely tasted any of the carrots and celery and I wanted more of a balance with all the ingredients. It was nice and crunchy, but they’ve done a better job with it.
**Lobster with Supreme Stock Sauce – 5/6
- The seafood is very fresh here and they’re famous for it. They have their own in house tanks, so seafood is a best seller.
- You can order it with a lot of different sauces, but the supreme stock sauce is the standard for a more formal banquet menu.
- The lobster was sauteed nice and tender and perfectly crunchy, however I wish they had more green onion in it.
- The sauce is made from the lobster stock, garlic, ginger and green onions and it’s pretty thick and gluey in texture.
**Crispy Chicken with Soy Sauce Tea Leaves – 5/6
- A standard Chinese banquet menu will usually come with Crispy Chicken, not this Crispy Chicken with Soy Sauce Tea Leaves.
- This was an upgrade and a nice change from the usual, it was actually my first time trying it.
- Crispy Chicken is great when it’s done well, but often it comes out dry – so this version of it is a great answer.
- It’s still crispy chicken, but it’s served with a sweetened aromatic soy sauce infused with tea leaves. The lea leaves are the black things you see in the corner.
- The chicken was nice and moist with a crispy skin and the sauce made it extra juicy. It was juicy without the sauce too though. It was salty all throughout and had wonderful flavour.
- The lea leaves also tasted great on their own. It was soft, salty sweet from the soy sauce and very aromatic. You wouldn’t even be able to tell it was tea leaves unless you knew.
**Steamed Broccoli with Crab Meat & Egg Whites – 6/6
- I’ve had this dish twice, and it’s an excellent dish, but it always falls off my radar because it’s not a common dish or even a dish people know about.
- Traditionally it’s a Shanghai dish so it’s not as familiar to Cantonese people.
- It’s definitely not a common dish for a traditional Chinese banquet menu and it was a substitution for another vegetable dish.
- It’s perfectly salted steamed broccoli on the bottom layer, layered with a mixture of scrambled egg whites and crab meat, and topped with a raw egg yolk.
- The server will mix the egg yolk into the crab and egg white mixture after presenting it.
- The theory is that the egg yolk “cooks” with the heat of the vegetables, but it doesn’t really.
- The egg white and crab mixture is amazing! The egg white bits are all puffy and I think they mix it with cornstarch to give it that texture.
- It’s all silky smooth and it’s very light to eat.
- The egg yolk gives it an added richness and acts as a creamy like sauce.
- It’s all slippery smooth as it glides in your mouth and I could eat bowls of this without getting full.
- There’s way more egg white than there is crab, but the texture together is still great.
- It’s perfectly salted and there are really no other flavours to get in the way of this delicate texture.
- It almost seems steamed because it’s not oily, greasy or is there one brown mark from being sauteed. I just really love this dish!
Steamed Sole Filet, Chinese Ham & Vegetables – 1.5/6
- Every banquet menu has to have a fish dish. This is a step down from a whole steamed fish, but it’s still very common at all Chinese restaurants.
- The fish was frozen and it was very fishy tasting and tasted muddy. I was disappointed because they’re known for their seafood.
- The boneless sole filets are layered with a slice of Chinese ham (a preserved salty ham) and a slice of Shiitake mushroom.
- The combination of flavours is usually great with the tender fish, salty bite of ham, and juicy mushroom – but since the fish was not good it kind of ruined the entire dish.
Crispy Chow Mein Noodles with Seafood – 2/6
- This was another upgrade from the standard yee mein or E-Fu Noodles – the “lucky noodles” or “happy noodles” that always come at the end of every Chinese banquet dinner.
- The chow mein wasn’t too great here. The noodles were very fresh but they were very thin so they got overcooked and quite soggy.
- The sauce was also bland and there wasn’t much flavour going on at all.
- The seafood was squid, scallops, fish and some prawns, which were all cooked fine, but just bland.
- I actually prefer chow mein at non-fancy restaurants, because it’s not a fancy food to begin with.
Diced Seafood & Chicken on Fried Rice – 4.5/6
- I’m not sure what the actual name of the dish is and this was another upgrade from the usual fried rice on banquet menus.
- This was actually quite good, but the sauce was a little gummy. It was a very thick oyster based sauce similar to the one served with the braised scallops.
- The rice wasn’t dry and even if it was, it had enough sauce to compensate.
- The toppings were a mixture of barbeque pork, minced white meat chicken, shrimp, and baby scallops.
- Overall it had a very seafoody flavour, but I liked the chicken and pork in it to give it more texture and meatiness.
- The seafood taste got a little repetitive, so I liked the meat in the mixture.
**Baked Tapioca Pudding with Taro Paste – 5.5/6
- This is one of their famous dishes so don’t miss out! This was an add on to the set menu and it’s worth it!
- You can try a smaller portion of it during their dim sum hours too. They sometimes sell out of this so you have to pre-order it.
- Baked Tapioca Pudding can only be found at some Chinese restaurants, but the paste will vary between taro, black sesame, red been and lotus seed. Some will have no paste at all and that’s how I prefer it, but that’s because I’m not a fan of Chinese desserts. This one, however is in a different league and I love it!
- This is a very traditional Chinese baked custard made with sugar, egg, tapioca and evaporated milk.
- It’s served hot and it has a baked crispy and crumbly crust made of flour, sugar and butter.
- Not all places will serve it with this topping either so it’s a real treat when it has it.
- It’s the same topping they use for their baked BBQ pork buns at dim sum – it’s called a Pineapple bun topping because the design resembles a pineapple.
- The taro root paste is a layer in between the sago and it’s almost like a custard, but it’s starchier, creamier and much thicker.
- It’s the sweetest part of the dessert and I wasn’t really a fan of it, but it’s better than the lotus seed paste version. See the Baked Tapioca with Lotus Seed Paste version here.
- I like the contrast of the tender bread like topping with the creamy filling.
- It’s a rich dessert, but the flavours aren’t that strong because the tapioca pearls only have a soft chewy texture, but not really a flavour.
- It’s an n/a only because I don’t like red bean soup. It’s not a dessert for me. People that like it, liked it here though.
- This is the standard banquet menu dessert – actually it’s standard Chinese dessert all the time and it’s usually free if you ask for it. I would never ask for it though.
Chinese food is based on yin and yang(balance…the 4 elements: colour, aroma, flavor and shape, artifice(food which turns out different than what it looks), texture, umami(savoriness) and divided between “fan”(grains) and cooked meat and vegetables. Banquet food definitely doesn’t offer much “fan” till the end. China has known much wealth and much poverty. The chef designs banquet meals to show prosperity…westerners get overwhelmed by a steady array of rich seafood, fowl, and meats before “fan” comes. ;
Now to the Empire’s menu…it must have been one of the more expensive menus; sometimes restaurants ignore the yin and yang just to serve food which is expensive; the seafood chow mein and the seafood and chicken fried rice is too much !!! After all that rich food preceding it , some plain simple e-fu noodles and fried rice would give the palate a rest before dessert.
The frozen sole is simply the Empire being cheap!
One of the best books on Chinese culinary food concepts is a work of fiction by Nicole Mones, “The Last Chinese Chef”. A must read which explains the incredible depth of how Chinese chefs view food.
I suspect that the Peking Duck is better at Golden Great Wall
Appreciate your review of this restaurant. At least I have another choice when I am in that area the next time. 🙂
Bow – I love all your comments! They’re so entertaining for me to read, so thank you! I can see where you’re coming from about having plain fried rice and noodles… however I have these banquet dinner so often that this was a great change and it made for an interesting blog post since the switch up was a bit unexpected. I would also never order the 2 dishes we ordered if it wasn’t for the banquet dinner, so I am glad to have tried it… and it was really better than plain fried rice so it didn’t bother we as much. I understand what you mean by the “balance” and “yin yang” though. Thanks!
^_^ – I appreciate you reading and commenting! I haven’t tried Golden Great Wall yet… that’s you favourite I’m assuming?
Your 1st photo is kind of disappointing. 13 pieces only. That means 1 piece per person. I’m so spoiled by restaurants who serve up enough Peking duck 2-3 pieces per diner. he .. he ..
^_^ – I just noticed your comment now lol… wow! good eye!