February 09, 2011 | | Comments 16

West Lake Vietnamese Kitchen: The Return of a Family Favourite

I remembered West Lake. The old West Lake.

For a long time it used to be our family favourite restaurant. We used to visit West Lake at least once a month. That was the days before chowtimes and into the earlier days of chowtimes. We stopped going simply because we started needing to find new places to blog about.

We liked West Lake because it is cheap and the food was pretty good. But what we liked best was that it is not just a Vietnamese restaurant, it also has elements of a HK Style cafe. You see, back then, you could get a pho for a low price and it will come along with a HK Style Milk Tea!

Arkensen and Nanzaro loved that pho and milk tea combo a lot.

I even recall very clearly the one time I blogged about the old West Lake. That was when they were located in the Empire Center on No 3 Road. It was about 5 summers ago when we had just returned from a long road trip and the first place we headed to after we landed in the airport was to head to West Lake. We wanted Asian food and it was an unanimous decision to go to West Lake – pho and milk tea.

In case you want to follow the trip reports of our vacation, here is the overview of what we did. That was simply one of the biggest trip we ever had as a family.

  • We started off in Las Vegas where we had some of the best buffet. We managed to visit the Hoover Dam and the Fremont Street Experience made a lasting impression on us.
  • We then drove past Death Valley on our way to the Yosemite National Park. One word describe the entire trip … jaw-dropping!
  • Next came our visit to the Bay Area during which the high-point was the day spent at the Great America theme park. Our boys enjoyed this the most.
  • San Francisco was absolutely marvelous. We all love SF and did all the sights we wanted — Alcatraz, Fishermans Wharf, Chinatown and rode the Cable Car. Oh … the sourdough bread too!
  • We then moved on to Reno and Lake Tahoe for the final leg of the trip.

And then without any warning back in the summer of 2010, West Lake suddenly closed. We were taken totally by surprised.

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The West Lake name reappeared in mid January about half a block away. It has that unmistakeable logo that we were familiar with on the space that used to be Celsius Cafe. We were monitoring their opening and as soon as we saw that “Now Open” banner went up, we went there for our family weekend dinner.

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This new West Lake is much smaller but cosier than the old West Lake. The entire dining area was sectioned off with partitions and booth seating. This does make the place look even more smaller because you can’t really see beyond the few immediate tables next to you.

We were there on their only second day of re-opening. Already the place was all packed. Considering that they re-opened without any advertising and fanfare other than the “Now Open” banner outside, they sure have a successful opening weekend.

It was later I found out that most of the customers … were their old time customers. Just like us, we were back to check how this place is compared with the old.

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The menu is pretty big. And it is also different. Oh we were quite disappointed to see that they no longer have that Pho and Milk Tea combos we always like. Instead they have a different like of combos (click right-most page above) which took me a while to understand how that all worked.

But the prices are still very good and inline with every Vietnamese restaurant around:

  • The Pho noodles are $6.00 (regular) and $7.00 (large)
  • The Rice dishes are $7.00
  • The Combos ranges from $8.00 to $12.00

The most expensive item is a large claypot rice dish that is $16.00. Other than that it is all under $10.00. So prices are very agreeable with my wallet.

Service wise, it was very good. But then I guess it was because we were “spotted”. Apparently one of the people who worked there (perhaps a family member of the owner) followed chowtimes and had just days earlier followed our twitter account. The camera first gave that away. The lady came by first asking if we are bloggers and I said yes and my name is Ben. The next thing the lady said was “… and you must be Suanne”.

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Nanzaro ordered from the Chef’s Recommendation section of the menu. He is picking up the finer points of looking for bloggable dishes from us. LOL! You won’t go wrong choosing signature dishes that restaurant stake their reputation on. Smart guy. Maybe there is a second generation of chowtimes after all. A glimmer of hope!

He got the Spicy Pork Hock & Beef Flank Rice Noodle Soup on Vermicelli. There are two sizes: $6.50 and $7.50. The growing boy naturally asked for the larger version.

Suanne and I has a taste of it. It was good and the soup was what we expect. What stood out, strangely, was the crunchiness of the onion rings. I don’t know why it stood out because after all it was just onion rings.

The first thing we tasted was a spoonful of the soup with the onion ring and it instinctively made us go for the next spoonful and the next until Nanzaro yell “Hey!”. Suanne and I laughed at him.

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There are two big pieces of pork hock which is quite meaty. I like meat like this. Just reminded me of the delicious, mouth watering discussions that we had in the post on Roast Pork yesterday. I had been thinking of nothing but Roast Pork the past couple of days. I just can’t get it out of my head!

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Like Nanzaro, Suanne also ordered from the Chef’s Recommendation section. She got the Canh Chua Ca/Tom which is Hot and Sour Fish/Prawn Vermicelli Soup. The prices are similar to Nanzaro’s order: The regular is $6.50 and large is $7.50.

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This bowl of noodle has prawns, tomatoes, bac ha (spongy vegetable), and pineapple in it. The soup is amazing. It is sour. It is also spicy. And yet it is also salty. Moreover, the pineapple added some sweetness to the soup. Such a potpourri of tastes.

We describe this dish as very “hoi wai”. That Cantonese word is translated as the opening of stomach and it means appetizing. Chinese eating related words are weird.

Suanne has posted  a recipe similar to this before. Click here if you want to check it out.

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I like the the cruchiness of the bac ha. This really sponges up the soup very well.

I wonder how this will go well with other types of noodle soups … you know, like Beef Noodles and Laksa!

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Benny ordered the House Combo C which is one of the more expensive item on the menu. This is $12.00 and has Curry Beef Flank, Chicken Leg, Vietnamese Spring Roll on Rice or Vermicelli.

Frankly, it was not particularly good and I did not quite enjoy this for the most part.

The chicken leg was just so-so and a tad dryish.

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The curry beef flank was decent and came in a bowl too big for the serving. The curry is kind of oily although it was not a problem for me personally. Am saying it because it might not be what everyone else wants to see. The beef is very tender.

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But the spring roll has chewy skin. It has very thick and chewy skin that I had never come across before. It also tasted so bland that I dunked it into the curry because it did not even include a fish sauce dip.

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Yeah, no fish sauce. I normally likes fish sauce with vermicelli. But this time I just had this … “jhup with vermicelli”. Close enough to Jhup with Rice.

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At the beginning of their menu, they had this section which they call “Shared Plates”. At first I thought Shared Plates are like dishes you order in a Chinese restaurant. It was not. Shared Plates here are basically appetizers … small plates.

They had a good selection of interesting shared plates and we wanted to try at least one of it. So we ordered the Nam Nuong Bo which is $4.50.

As you can see above, the size is small as compared to the fork by the side.

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It is Baked Mushrooms. Specifically, it is button mushroom baked in a buttery sauce with herbs. It doesn’t burst with flavour but the butteriness is what it is all about. This would make a good “jhup and rice”. But we did not have rice to go with it.

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For a close, we ordered something from the Dessert section. We got the Banana Wrapped with Sticky Rice which is $4.00.

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This wasn’t exactly what we pictured this to be. The sticky rice is a little charred from the grill and is topped with coconut milk. It is interesting but it did not quite wow us.

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West Lake does accept credit card which is nice.

After the meal, the owner came over and talked to us. His name is Jimmy and he was the same person who owned the previous location in Empire Center. I was curious if the previous owner sold the West Lake name to a new owner but it wasn’t the case.

Jimmy said that West Lake had been in Richmond for 18 years already. So he has a steady customer base of regulars who are already familiar with West Lake. That helped a lot in re-booting this new location.

I told Jimmy that I picked up that they spoke Cantonese and asked if they are actually a Chinese restaurant (not that it’s a problem to us). He said that West Lake is a family business and that they are Vietnamese Chinese. He then told us about the time he came over to Canada as a refugee from Vietnam. Seems like he is one who had made a successful good life here in Canada.

West Lake was closed for about 4 to 5 months before they reopened. He said he was forced to close the previous location because it was too big and too hard to handle. The biggest issue for him was the high rental. This reminded me that Pho Viet took over their old location and then had to close just after a few months too. Perhaps the rental in that location is indeed brutal.

Jimmy wanted us to know that he had made changes to the menu and that they are not quite ready for a grand launch yet. That is why he did not put up a splash as yet and wanted to have the operations settled down and they work out all the bugs first. That was partly why he was quite apologetic that if the food that was served to us on the second day of operation wasn’t as good as we liked. He did say that he uses better ingredients, i.e. they now use fresh noodles instead of dried ones in the previous place.

If there is only ONE wish I have for West Lake, it is for them to bring back the Pho and Milk Tea combo that we liked a lot. It is like going to two restaurants at one time … Vietnamese and HK Style Cafe. OK … I know I am disappointing the Pho purists and the HK Style Cafe purists out there but I don’t care. LOL!

I know what I like and I will eat what I like.

West Lake Vietnamese Kitchen on UrbanspoonBUSINESS HOUR

7 days a week
11:00 AM to 10:30 PM

Lunch Combo Available from 12:00 PM to 2:30 PM
Dinner Combo Available from 6:00 PM to 8:30 PM

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  1. LotusRapper says:

    “I had been thinking of nothing but Roast Pork the past couple of days. I just can’t get it out of my head!”

    Me too. So guess what I “had” to have for dinner ?

    Luck wasn’t on my side, though. After a personal appointment ended at 6-ish near Main/Marine Drive, I headed up Fraser to Money’s at 49th, the closest place where I can get my “fix”. I got there and they had this small, sad slab of roast pork hanging there. It actually didn’t look too good, like it’s been there all day. So I passed, and went up the street to try Ho Yuen Kee. Waitress said: “Sorry, no BBQ pork tonight, and we never have roast pork.” Wut ??? Arrrgggh. So I headed north again, now hunger pangs starting to hit home. Decided I should just drop into Congee Noodle House at Broadway, at least they have BBQs in the window. Arrived, sat down, ask if they have any RP left. Yup. Yippee. Plate of RP and BBQ duck on rice arrives a few mins later. Finally, very “sau” (lean) cuts of RP that had rubbery skin, accompanied by a rather skinny duck (mostly skin & bone, not much meat), greeted my throbbingly-empty stomach. At least there was a fair amount of “jhup”, and they gave me a hug bowl of house soup. But overall a very disappointing BBQ meal, I must say.

    Is Congee Noodle House no longer on top of their game ?

  2. joyluckclub says:

    yes, funny about the roast pork thing…….it has taken on a life of it’s own at A Wok in the Tuscan Kitchen. nothing to do with West Lake, but kind of uncanny….guess where I had lunch today?
    Uncle Ben is going to think that I am stalking him. Won’t post about this for a few days. Let the Chowtimes effect simmer a bit.

    Off to figure out how to roast a suckling pig now :-)

    • LotusRapper says:

      I feel like Mick Jagger at the moment: “I can’t get no …… good Chinese roast pork !!”

      Tomorrow I might go over to Crystal Mall food court and eat at Delicious BBQ ……

      • Ben says:

        Hi LotusRapper: I went to Crystal Mall today and wanted so much to get Roast Pork. I didn’t because I just had the free McDonalds’s Buttermilk Biscuits already in the morning. Did you see the wild lines in McD the whole morning? Tomorrow … tomorrow I’ll get some roast pork on the way home. Ben

        • LotusRapper says:

          I saw the free biscuits ad when I walked by McD yesterday morning (I park outside Chapters in the morning). So were the biscuits good ? Do they not have biscuits already (sorry I’m not a McD eater) ? I recall last year when they were giving out free coffee and there were some lines, but prolly not quite as long.

          I trust you also saw the new Tim Horton’s that’s gonna open up like 50′ across from McD.

          Were you gonna get roast pork from Delicious or Top King ?

          • LotusRapper says:

            Actually, if I were to guess your commute route home, I’d suggest trying the roast pork from Yu Kee: http://goo.gl/MKMFk

          • Ben says:

            Hi LotusRapper: LOL! Yeah, I saw that new big Tim Horton’s outlet opening across from McD in Metrotown. These two locations is prime spots in Metrotown and will be interesting who will win more customers. Oh … the roast pork … hehehe, am going to Parker Place to get it tomorrow (not in Crystal Mall although it’s pretty good too). Ben

    • Ben says:

      Hi JLC: LOL! Really? You went to West Lake too? How was it? Go ahead and post about it now. Would be great to see what your experience is. :-) Ben

  3. Maggie says:

    I just had dinner there earlier! I’ve been going there with my family since about the time they opened (and when Jimmy had black hair, although the salt and pepper look suits him). The best part is, even though they printed new menus, they didn’t take it as an opportunity to increase prices like most other restaurants would.

  4. 604munchies says:

    Lol that’s so funny! We had tried to go for dinner there on friday, but we ended up in the Empire plaza thinking it was at that location, so we ended not finding it afterall. I think that teaches us to read better next time lol

    Agreed, I also enjoy my pho with milk tea too and I think the last time I visited Pho99 , they had combos w/ hk style milk tea! :)

  5. Cici says:

    Totally agree with you Ben……what I liked the most about the old West Lake was their lunch / afternoon tea / dinner combos, with drinks, appetizer and pho / rice. I went to the new West Lake last weekend and while the food was as good as ever, I just sorely missed the drink and their deep-fried chicken wings!

    • Ben says:

      Hi Cici: It seems like we are not the only ones who missed the pho-milk tea combo specials. I think West Lake monitors this post. Let’s see if they do. :-)

      Hi West Lake: What says you? Will you consider bringing back that pho-milk tea combo? :-)

      Ben

  6. maxmillan says:

    Thanks again for another entertaining review. It is no wonder you have such a large following. This review, like others, is very honest and unpretentious. I can really relate to the the Chinese descriptions and I love the kids’ input.

    Keep up the great work!

    • Ben says:

      Thanks a lot for the kind words maxmillan. Appreciate it. Sometimes I do feel like I am in a cross hair and I do try my best to deal with it by focusing on the positive side of things. Frankly, I do feel beaten up today on matters relating to chowtimes and your words was timely and helped. :-) Ben

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