[CRA 2010 Signature Dish] Lamb Hotpot 羊腩煲 from Excelsior Restaurant, Richmond

Updated: 3rd Nov 2014; This restaurant is closed.

There was an interesting question posed to me at a BBQ party we attended last week.

I was asked if my choice of dining is dependent on the dishes or on the restaurant. Without hesitation, I said it is the food, not the restaurant. More often than not, it is because I wanted to try a certain dish. You probably have guessed as much by now if you had been following chowtimes for sometime.

I am often guided by recommendations from our readers who would point out to us certain dishes that they like. Of course too, of late I had been using the CRA list for the choice of my dining outs.

I rarely gravitate to the latest and hippest restaurants, especially if I don’t know what exactly they have on their menu. For example, I will pay more attention if someone tells me that they had this great dish and rave at length describing why it is good; as opposed to some new funky resto opening somewhere in downtown. I find myself asking “what did you have” when anyone tells me of a restaurant.

So there you go … that’s me. What about you? Is it the food or the restaurant that determines the choice of your dining out?


Anyway, we made a return visit to Excelsior because we wanted to try the Lamb Hotpot which won silver in the Lamb category of the 2010 CRA. Our last and only other visit to Excelsior was just earlier this year. We like Excelsior. We had their Steamed Chicken with Soy Sauce which was superbly executed.

Excelsior is what we would call an old school Cantonese restaurant. It is one of the better Cantonese restaurants around but it had seen better days although it is still a popular restaurant. The restaurant is still packed during dinner time. It is just that you don’t hear much of them mentioned anymore. You can hardly find reviews of Excelsior on the the internet.

Excelsior is located just by the Skytrain Brighouse terminal station in Richmond. That place is unbelievably busy with foot traffic ever since the Canada Line began operations last year. Richmondites, don’t you find that the case? I was really thinking that if they put in a few street food stands here, it will be an instant success. Anyway, I digressed.


As luck would have it, we were again seated in that little room that was an extension of the restaurant. That room was a weird location because it is accessible only via a narrow corridor. I thought that it is quite a death trap in case, you know, touch wood, there is a fire.

The worst thing about being seated in this room was getting the service when you need it. You got to wait till a waitress walks in. Either that, you have to walk out to the main dining area to get what you want … which is what we did during the dinner.

See that table above? That must be one of the biggest round Chinese-style tables I had ever seen. I am not sure if there are any tables bigger than that. That table seats 15 people comfortably! Even at that size Suanne and I thought that it is almost impractical because even with the lazy Susan, one has to stand up to get the food.


They have a very interesting menu which we like a lot. There are many dishes that are our favourite.

It took us a long time looking high and low in the menu for the Lamb Hotpot. We could not find it. So we asked the waitress about the award winning dish and for the longest time the first waitress did not know what we were talking about. She had to summon another more senior waitress because we were not giving up without having tried the lamb Hotpot.

Guess what. They don’t have it!!!

How could they NOT serve an award winning dish? Other restaurants would give an arm and a leg to win a CRA award and they, they took it off their menu! They explained that they only serve the Lamb Hotpot in winter because according to the Cantonese, lamb is a “heaty” dish. LOL!

Our hopes were dashed. And now we had to wait for another 6 months to try it.

Anyway, the waitress was wonderful and recommended something nice …


She was pretty good describing the special of the day. It is two dishes based on a single fish. It is not on the menu because they only do this if they have supply of the fish. They call it the … “Red Chicken Fish, Two Ways”.

A lot of tables got this dish. The 15 seater table next to ours ordered the same dish with a fish that weighted EIGHT pounds.

We did not have to order anything else for the two of us. One fish, prepared two ways is more than enough. The first way (above) was the Stir Fry Fish Ball (Chau Kau). This is served with baby bok choy.


The fish is unbelievably firm, springy and smooth. It tasted almost like lobster. I don’t know what the fish is called in English and the waitress only said that it is “red fish” in Cantonese. The sauce complements the boneless meat very well. The sauce was ginger-y and green onion-y.



The second way is simply called the Braised Fish Head (in Cantonese). This is prepared vastly different from the first way. The fish head is first deep fried and then braised. It is served with tofu, bean curd, mushroom and whole garlic cloves.


The fish meat here has bones, quite unlike the earlier dish. This is equally very good.

Our waitress told us that they can even use the fish head and steam it (for a lighter flavour) if we want but deep-fried/braised fish head contrasted the first way better.

It is just me, OK? I like this kind of “surprise me” dining. Only a good and experienced master-chef would be able to execute any dishes based on the latest and freshest ingredients he has. I think that Excelsior is one of the restaurants that has such a chef.

On a related note, I had always find it interesting when I contrasted a western restaurant with a Chinese/Asian restaurant. Many western restaurant reputation are pinned on the chef. Not only is it  known who the chefs are in western restaurants, often the fortunes of restaurants rises and ebbs with the chef. On the flip side, Chinese restaurant chefs are often anonymous. You know that some Chinese restaurants are good but you don’t know who the chef are. They are just faceless and nameless. Do you find it the same too? Next question is why is it so?


The meal came with free soup. It is pork and salted/pickled mustard. It was better than your average free soup.


It also came with free red bean dessert soup as a dessert. Nothing fancy here.


For the quality, I don’t feel that the forty bucks are awfully expensive. Although I must say it is on the high side. The downside is that we did not get to taste the award winning lamb hotpot – darn!

We shall return.

Excelsior Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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  1. iluvtofish

    The fish is commonly called “Red Snapper” but the proper name is Yelloweye Rockfish. It is related to the Rock Cod or “Sek Ban” but the meat is much denser which is why it is favoured for braising or stews. Did you know that these fish are very slow growing? A 10 pound fish is probably about 30 to 40 years old. I remember catching one that was about 15 pounds up in Port Hardy and was told that the fish was about 50 years old.

  2. lilly

    “Many western restaurant reputation are pinned on the chef…some Chinese restaurants are good but you don’t know who the chef are…?”

    I think you are talking about very expensive western restaurants. Only expensive restaurants brag about their chefs. It’s just marketing. Also it’s good for chefs’ ego if investors of the restaurants are willing to pay for that kind of PR. It will make chefs work harder because their reputation is on the line.

    Chinese are more skeptical about marketing. They believe in word of mouth more. Chinese know their food. They know tasty food doesn’t have to come from a famous chef. If you ask them what’s their fondest food memory, most people mention about food they had in their childhood at the shops in their home town or neighborhood. Some would say their mom’s cooking. I never heard people brag about some super famous chef’s restaurant had the best food they ever had.

  3. flown

    interesting.. i see that on the receipt you dined there two days ago (july 5), but you were only charged 5% gst instead of the 12% hst =)

    1. Crispy Lechon

      The date could also mean May 7th.

    2. Ben

      Hi Flown: That meal was in May, not July. Ben

  4. Janice

    How have I never noticed this restaurant? Especially since it’s in such a central location? I’ve even been to the restaurant beside it… several times!! It sure looks like they have some pretty mouthwatering food (especially that braised fish head – DROOL!). Can’t wait to give them a try this week 🙂

    1. Ben

      Hi Janice:

      Oh? How was the Shanghai restaurant next door to the Excelsior. We had never been in there before. They looked expensive. Expensive restaurants intimidates us. 🙂 Tell me more about the restaurant and their signature dishes if you don’t mind.


      1. Janice

        Hi Ben,

        I think their décor is a bit deceiving… especially that giant vase out front… it makes them seem like an upscale fancy pants expensive restaurant but they’re actually quite casual. It depends on what you order I guess… but main dishes generally run around $12 dollars each, which I feel is pretty reasonable.

        There is some stiff competition in Richmond… especially in the Shanghai category… and taste as a whole is very subjective… so Shanghai House may or may not “wow” you. All I know is, my family enjoys the food, the price point suits us and the location is convenient for us.

        Dish recommendations… their “You Dou Fu Gai Bo” (a chicken and fried tofu pot with a sweet sticky sauce) is very addictive and the “Mo Dou Chow Fenpi” (stir fried green bean noodles with edamame and pickled veggies) is pretty unique. Not sure however, if these are considered their signature dishes… we’ve never asked! We just eat… and eat and eat 🙂

        (Sorry for butchered Canto-Mando pingyin)

        They also have quite a number of shanghai dim sum items like XLB and what not… which are maybe $4 to $6 each… but we’ve never been there for lunch so I can’t comment on those, sorry!

    2. LotusRapper

      Yeah, actually I noticed the Shanghai resto next to Excelsior in the picture which got me curious. Do tell, Janice 🙂

      1. Janice

        Wow suddenly I feel so important. I’ve been to a restaurant that both Ben and LotusRapper haven’t! Hehe 😉

        1. LotusRapper

          You got me beat in Richmond, Janice. Not a fan of driving around there, meandering through the endless strip malls and parking. I always get lost in Richmond unless I know my landmarks !

  5. koji

    i think chinese restaurants are rarely owned by the chef and if the chef has publicity, then he’ll as for more money. I’ve worked with a few chinese fast food cooks and they’re already pretty cocky and arrogant to the point of even bossing the owners.

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