Is Le Cristal Chinois the new go-to dim sum joint in Chinatown?
Ever since Lotte Furama closed, I’ve been without a dim sum restaurant to call my dumpling home. So, upon hearing about Le Cristal Chinois at the relatively new Swatow Plaza, I mustered my resources (read: family and two friends) for a Sunday feed. The white-schemed hall is wedding-banquet friendly, down to the bridal-esque bows on the chair backs. We could see the Jacques-Cartier Bridge from the wall of windows, nicely set up for fireworks viewing too.
This isn’t the typical trolley-service dim sum with smiling women pushing carts around the room. Instead, you order from a menu, which has advantages. The dishes come fresh, you relax instead of always jumping up.
But I was dismayed to see shark fin dumplings. The prized ingredient is usually obtained through a cruel and wasteful practice called finning, in which the fins are removed from sharks that are then thrown back in the water to die. Many communities are banning shark’s fin dishes – what a disappointment to find it here. Fortunately, there’s much more.
Deep-fried squid legs are a favourite of one small boy (though he rarely wavers from chicken and rice otherwise). Here they’re not battered, but the munchkin ploughed through the plate. The other small boy prefers shrimp, and lots of it, so we indulged in plenty of rice noodle rolls stuffed with the crustacean. The small set were also game to try the barbecue pork (with a pleasant bite of ginger) in a half round of deliciously flaky golden pastry.
Chunks of beef tendon were more adult, with a genuinely spicy note. Mango-shrimp rolls were novel. Cristal’s got a touch with wrappers. Siu mai came in delicate pockets, were meaty and prettily topped with caviar. The rice coverings on plump seafood dumplings gleamed and were a good thinness. The deep-fried wrappers around pork or pungent turnip shattered beautifully and not greasily.
Egg tarts I usually avoid, but theirs are head-and-shoulders above the average, with a sweet soft centre. I loved the dried egg yolk in flaky pastry triangles too. A few things were bland. Corn and shrimp cakes didn’t cut it, even with the kids. My mate made an inadvertent pun when he declared the chicken feet didn’t stand out. A rice noodle dish was too greasy, although the beef within was spiced nicely (including cinnamon). Service was spotty. We were offered glasses of water eventually, but they never actually materialized. And prices are a notch high.
But I’d return very happily, particularly if shark’s fin were removed from the menu.
Le Cristal Chinois
998 St-Laurent, 6th floor (Swatow Plaza)
Dim sum: $20+ per person