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Wandering around the Huge Vancouver Chinatown, we found a lot of food stalls but not that many restaurants that caught our eye. Many of them looked more like greasy spoons and didn't look very promising. Floata was mentioned in our guidebook, and when we went there during the week it seemed pretty empty. We didn't bother that day and decided to return for dim sum. When we arrived for the second time on a Sunday lunchtime, an altogether different scene greeted us. A queue of Chinese diners waiting for a table convinced us that this was the time to eat here. And so we did.
Located in a building full of Chinese shops and cafes, Floata is a brisk walk up the stairs to the third floor (or trip up with a lift). From the front of the building you can see the sign for the restaurant along with the window of the shop below. Downstairs are some electronics and DVD shops, as well as a couple of food stall, for which there is a small seating area at the back. As you reach the top of the stairs to the right of the entrance, the restaurant entrance greets you and it's really hard to make anything sensible out from here, as you can't see the restaurant at all. To add to the confusion, there is a dim sum menu on the wall which is pretty short. There are also some flyers for the restaurants dotted around.
The main area of the restaurant is huge! I lost count of the number of tables there, but it could have been anything up to 80. There were lot of tables for anything between 2 and 10, in a vast dining area. The tables were all covered with white tablecloths and seating was provided by light wooden chairs. A read carpet with blue and yellow bits probably hid food stain pretty well. To the back of the restaurant was a small bar. There was even a projection screen in the corner.
As explained in a previous review, but repeated here for anyone who didn't read it, the concept of dim sum is a range of light dishes, served at about lunch time in UK Chinese restaurants. In Hong Kong and Guangdong province (South China) it can start at 5am. This can be meat, seafood, vegetables desserts and fruit. Dim sum is a Cantonese phrase and means "touch the heart" or "order to your heart's content".
Dim sum is a bit of a laugh; in some places you order off a menu as you usually would in a restaurant, but if you're lucky, the waiting staff walk around with trolley containing their wares. You have a piece of paper in Chinese
on your table, and each time you order something the trolley dolly marks this off on there. As far as I can make out, there is a list of dim sum and they make a mark for every item. Some items, usually dumplings and the like, are served in bamboo steaming baskets, with a plate inside holding the food. Bigger items such as ho fun noodles (those big think pieces of noodle with shrimps in them, for example) come on plates.
Depending on how big the place is, you can get a lot of different kinds of dishes or just a few. Add into the equation the time of day. If you arrive earlier there is more chance of the rarer or more popular dishes being available. My own recommendation for any kind of dim sum place would be to arrive at bang on midday. Usually it's served from 11ish to about 3pm.
Your seating position can be key, as the further away you are from the main path that the trolleys are being wheeled on, the more effort you have to make to hail any passing trolley. This might be advantageous though if you want to pick and choose rather than being asked all the time if you want this or that. When you row is full, there is more chance of the trolley deviating from the main path to where you are.
THE REGULAR MENU
For those of you wondering what they serve a la carte, these is an extensive menu on offer.
Appetisers include crispy wanton, shrimp spring rolls and spare ribs. You have several soups, including the perennial chicken and sweetcorn soup and hot & sour soup. This is called a seafood restaurant and their selection includes fish balls, shrimps in black bean sauce, Szechuan shrimps and sautéed vegetables with scallop and prawn. Meat dishes include shredded duck with vegetable, General Tso's chicken, Peking duck, sweet and sour pork, sautéed beef with broccoli and orange beef. Vegetable dishes include stir friend mixed vegetables in garlic sauce and bean curd with mushrooms and vegetables. There are some hot pot dishes, which I think are served in large earthenware bowls, and these include sliced beef and vermicelli with satay sauce and seafood hot pot. Rice and noodle dishes include fried rice with conpoy and seafood, mixed vegetable chow mein and seafood chow mein. There are also several set menus to choose from - one each for groups of two, four, six or ten.
As we watched the trolleys go past we ordered a fair few dishes. I name them by their appearance, as I'm sure I technically have some of the names wrong.
Chinese broccoli - this was our starting point, so we thought we'd at least begin with something healthy and green We got a pretty large plate of this. It was crunchy and very tasty. It had been cooked to perfection, not losing any of its colour or texture, with the leafs fairly wilted and the stems firm. This was complimented very well by the side dish of hoi sin sauce brought with it.
Beef balls - these were pretty tasty, three of them were served in a steamer basket, made from quite lean meat, and served with a dipping dish of Worcester sauce. This might seem an odd sauce but this is due to the British influence in the dim sum haven of Hong Kong, where they're appropriated some of the Colonial tastes to match their native cusine. Some spring onions mixed into the balls added some extra texture and a pleasant greenness to them.
Shrimp dumplings - pretty much the staple dim sum dish all over the world were made from minced and mashed up prawns, lightly seasoned, which gave a residual crunch but mostly pleasant mushiness when eaten, each one of the four wrapped inside some neatly tucked dim sum wrappers, served in a steamer basket.
Crab claws - one of the waiters was quite the salesman and offered us "our famous crab claws" which we took him up on. These were four huge chunks of minced crab meat shaped into a ball and deep fried with a breadcrumb coating, attached to a crab claw. This came in a plate with a little side compartments filled with sweet chilli dipping sauce. The claws were rather excellent.
Chicken buns - these were interesting items served in a steamer basket which I've seen in a few places in London Chinatown. We were served three of them, resembling a round, dented squadge of dough, they comprise of tiny slivers of dark chicken meat mixed up with spring onions and wrapped in a thick coating of pastry. Very tasty indeed, at first you think they've overdone it with the pastry as the proportions seem wrong but the chicken taste with garlic and onion is strong enough to hold up to this.
Shrimp with scallop - this was a new one on me. Two shrimps each with a whole scallop perched on top, with a bit of orange fish roe sitting on top of the scallop, served in a steamer basket. The shrimp sat on some wanton pastry. The scallop was lovely, with a firm texture at the edges and fresh taste, almost melt in the mouth. The shrimp was firm, a little crunchy and also very fresh tasting.
Tofu with rice vermicelli - this was also a new one on me.
Pictures of Floata Seafood Restaurant, Vacouver
View from outside
5 pieces of deep fried soft tofu with a bit of thin vermicelli on top, served in a steamer basket. The tofu was firm on the outside but really soft, almost custardy, on the inside, so once opened it would totally collapse. It tasted very silky and in fact quite plain, which is what you would expect as tofu has little taste of its own and takes that of whatever it's cooked in. The vermicelli was quite plain tasting but the sauce was a little sweet and glutinous, and it was this more than anything that flavoured both the vermicelli and tofu.
Other dishes which we spied but didn't get the chance to sample were spring rolls, squid, chicken wings, and various desserts, such as sesame rice balls and egg tart. There was also barbeque pork buns but not for me. I am quite gutted I didn't try the squid, though. There is a dim sum list on their homepage, but it isn't long and misses some of the dishes we had. In fact we nearly didn't go in because we saw that list and thought "is that it?"
Some of the waiters and waitresses were real characters, as described above when buying the crab claws. There was no problem with communication as everyone spoke at least understandable English, and always with good grace and humour. Due to our position just off the main trolley route, we had to sometimes hail the staff otherwise they'd dash past us but I quite liked this. When we did hail them they were always very swift in attending to us. One particularly outstanding piece of work was when we were offered some dumplings and we weren't sure as I don't eat pork and no-one was quite sure what they contained. When the trolley lady opened one of them up to see, she saw there was pork in it, took it back and didn't charge us. This doesn't always happen, so full marks to them for this. And I must say they all looked very smart in their black trousers or skirt, white shirt and red waistcoat.
$36 (about £18) was exceptional value for the dishes we had. Unlimited Chinese tea, at $1.60, helped the many dishes go down well. This is the real deal, and is definitely on par with my benchmark of London Chinatown in terms of quality. I would say that the variety of dishes is even better. The large Chinese contingent there and queue to get in shows its popularity. I would highly recommend this huge restaurant for the full trolley dim sum experience. Just make sure you turn up early and have an open mind ready to tuck into whatever is being carted around.