I am sitting here trying to figure out if MUI Garden should be categorized as a HK Style Cafe or not. Which brings to an interesting point – what characteristics defines a HK Style Cafe?
The brand is reportedly from Hong Kong but they are known more for their Malaysian dishes. Yet at the same time you can’t really call them a Malaysian restaurant, not when you scan their menu.
There are four Mui Garden locations with two in Vancouver, one in Richmond and the other in Burnaby. The main one is located on Victoria Drive and 43rd Avenue in Vancouver. This is the first of the four Mui Gardens.
On their website, Mui Garden also claim that they were an established restaurant in Hong Kong prior to opening in Vancouver. I tried googling this but I can’t find anything with Mui Garden in Hong Kong at all. Does anyone from Hong Kong knows about their original operations in Hong Kong?
Anyway, Mui Garden is well known for their two Malaysian dishes: the Hainanese Chicken Rice and Malaysian Curry Chicken. These are the two dishes we wanted to try.
Mui Garden had been in the local restaurant scene for a long time having started in 1992. They do brand themselves as a HK Style Cafe according to their website. After almost 20 years, they are still going strong but it does seems like they are in the dire need to rebrand themselves.
The restaurant was running at capacity for lunch the day we were there. There is even a short wait for tables for people who came after. Most of the customers looked like they are regulars and they are from the neighborhood.
How can I tell?
A few weeks ago, Suanne and I had dinner with Grayelf, JS and TS. We had an interesting conversation about “home clothes”. It simply dawned on me that the concept of “home clothes” is quite foreign in the western world. You see, for Asians, we have clothes which we wear at home and those that we wear when we go out. The shabbier worn-out ones are for home. When we go out, we take a shower and out on go-out clothes. The further we go, well, the better we dress. So if it is to the restaurant around the corner from our home, it is simpler than say, we go all the way out to Vancouver.
So the clothes that the customers wear in Mui Garden are the ones we would wear if we were going to the restaurant around the block. Hehehe … what say you? Is that how you would tell if the customers were from the neighborhood?
Service was quick and efficient but really nothing remarkable. They are well staffed and most of the waitresses looked like they are lifelong employees. How can I tell? I’ll let you figure that out.
The restaurant is obviously showing its age and pretty seasoned. I am not surprised that Mui Garden is no longer a destination restaurant drawing new customers. They are on cruise mode. They have steady, regular customers and they have made a name for themselves based on two main dishes.
I don’t recall that they have a combo menu like the ones you see in all HK Style Cafes. I am talking about the ones that has a main, drink and soup for a low price. I did not notice because we were here for their two main dishes.
Other than the two main dishes, the rest of the menu are unexciting. You may click on the menu above to show larger. Take a look at the first page above, items #20 to #22. Yeah, they have that too.
What they touting was their “Authentic Malaysian Curry”. They are called out right under the logo of the restaurant. You can see that everywhere – on the menu, on the sandwich board outside and on their website. You can’t miss it coming here. I just can’t wait to try it again (last time we were here was way before chowtimes days).
One of their two signature dishes is the Hainanese Chicken. This is $10.50 for a half-bird which is … good for the four of us in the family. Actually I can eat the entire half-bird if I want. When I was a teenager, that wass what I had for lunch after school a lot of the times … half a chicken. That worries my mum because I have such expensive appetite.
The chicken is served with some salted peanuts which is crispy and tasted like it is freshly baked (i.e. not “jau foong” … or loose translated as “the wind had escaped”).
That was just the chicken. You don’t really just eat the chicken. You need it with rice of course and it is not included with this order. You can order a single serving of chicken plus rice which is about $8.
So we ordered rice and of course the only right way to eat Hainanese Chicken is to eat this with “oil rice”. A bucket of the “oil rice” is $6. It is not oily and lightly flavoured. It tasted good but I had much better ones before. Arkensen and Nanzaro both love this rice. They had it more than us.
The oil rice is cooked with the stock from the chicken. So it has a nice chicken flavour.
Take a closer look!
The chicken is served cold. It is farm chicken and therefore fattier and juicier.
The condiments included with the chicken are green onion ginger and chili sauce. Particularly the green onion ginger … it is the most essential part of having it with the chicken. Any good Hainanese Chicken Rice MUST have an excellent accompanying condiment of at least the ginger.
They used plump chicken. Good thing it is not the free range chicken which is the fad. Free range chicken MUST NEVER be used to make Hainanese Chicken because it spoils the texture it is meant to be and that you need this to be fatty, oily.
Look at the skin too. It is almost jelly like, the way it is meant to be.
So, yeah … Mui Garden does great Hainanese Chicken for sure.
The winning combination: PLUMP chicken, JELLY-like skin, OILY rice and the Ginger-Green Onion dip. I can see why Mui Garden brags about this dish.
However, Mui Garden does not brag about the Hainanese Chicken as much as they did with the Curry Chicken. Yeah, their money dish is the curry chicken.
But I don’t know why … because I was not impressed with this. As a matter of fact, we all thought it was awful. Suanne can cook this better standing on one foot and one eye closed in the kitchen. By far.
It is called the Deep Fried Chicken with Curry in their menu and it is $9.50 for the plate above. Like the chicken rice, you can get individual serving with rice too (also $9.50).
The good part is that they serve the chicken separate from the curry which is a great way to do it because you know that the curry will soggy-ize the chicken. They deep fried the chicken separately and the surprising thing to find is the deep fried toasts too.
That was the good part. That was the only good part.
Sigh … what is the bell peppers doing in there? Malaysian curry does not have bell peppers.
And the deep fried chicken has not much of a taste. It was dry like it had been sitting on the counter for hours. It was tough too. The only way to make this edible is to really dunk it into the curry as much as possible … so that you let the curry overwhelm the chicken. That sort of thing. Bah … they call this AUTHENTIC Malaysian Curry even.
Hey, a segway on the matter of Malaysian Curry if I may. One of the surprising thing that Suanne and I find is that quite a number of chowtimes materials made its way into wikipedia. We had detected 13 entries so far and it was populated by other people, not us. I once tried to do it on my own but those wikipedia editors are really fast in removing it. I guess they are really good in detecting people who tried to update wikipedia for link juice (we get steady stream of traffic from wikipedia from these entries). So, we don’t update wikipedia and we’re just glad that people takes our materials to wikipedia.
One of the wikipedia links is the entries for “Curry Chicken” and “Chicken Curry”. They used to be separate entries but it is now one and the same. It was funny how the Wikipedia folks debated the differences between “Curry Chicken” and “Chicken Curry” for the longest time. Anyway, if you are interested, someone chose a picture of curry chicken from chowtimes for this entry and it had been there for a long time already. The picture was taken from the post on Indian Curry Chicken which Suanne posted back in 2007.
The curry on the side is yellowish, lightly rich but not spicy. They describe their curry as follows:
Authentic Malaysian Curry
- Over 20 meticulously blended spice ingredients
- Directly imported Indonesian coconut milk
- Unique home-style cooking
We are all highly unimpressed, to tell the truth. Perhaps the only part that is enjoyable is dipping the deep fried toast in the curry.
Since there were two Malaysian dishes Mui Garden is known for, we thought we also try another of their Malaysian dish. The satay is $7.50 for six sticks. You can have beef, pork or chicken. We decided not to get beef because really, beef satay is tough. The best is still chicken (with SKIN preferably!).
You know, in Malaysia pork satay is extremely rare. The muslims in the country do not eat pork as most of you know. But since they have pork here, we tried it. It was a mix of pork and chicken that we got.
They served the satays on a hot plate (which was extremely hot BTW) which is definitely not Malaysian style. Other than the meat on skewers, the resemblance stopped there.
No skin for the chicken satay … no charring … simply not good … not that it’s unedible. Call it something else would be better and maybe I’ll enjoy it a bit more.
The peanut sauce is served on a plate and as it is everywhere else in Vancouver, the portion is stingy. The peanut sauce is not bad for Vancouver standards. I wish they make it spicy but then this is a HK rendition of it.
Having the pineapple along was kind of weird though. I think they served that in place of ketupat. Poor replacement.
The Sweet and Sour Pork was a dish we normally do not order. While it is a very Cantonese dish, we had until recently thought that this is a North American Chinese dish because of its popularity here. We erroneously considered this like chop suey and fortune cookies.
But sweet and sour pork is as Cantonese as it gets. Some people even swear that the real test of a great Cantonese chef is how they make this dish.
So we are taking a look at this dish in a different light and since this is a Cantonese restaurant, we order this. They list this dish as the Sweet and Sour Pork with Pineapple ($9.50) on their menu.
Was it good? No, not really. We find that it has too much sauce and overly ketchupy. The pork too was not crisp enough on the outside. Maybe the same thing with the curry chicken … they might have deep fried the pork way ahead of time.
Their prices are good and maybe that is one of the reasons why Mui is still going strong. I felt that they are sitting on their laurels and on cruise control. Better be careful because time can pass them by or else they might go down the path of great old time Chinese restaurant of the 70s and 80s.
This restaurant is cash only.
It seems like you can get party trays too from them. At $16, the prices are quite cheap and they have quite a variety to chose from too. This is worthwhile for us to consider getting party trays from them the next time we need it.
Business Hour: 8am to 9:30pm