Sun Sui Wah Seafood Restaurant – Vancouver, BC

Sun Sui Wah Seafood Restaurant
3888 Main Street
Vancouver, BC V5V 3P1
(604) 872-8822

Reputation is a funny thing. Through various means, usually newspaper reviews, internet forums, or word of mouth, a certain establishment develops a particular reputation – either positive, or negative. Those restaurants on the negative side have a tendency to disappear very quickly. Positive news, on the other hand, seems to launch through channels like wildfire – a restaurant becomes the choice du jour – the place everyone is going.

Fast forward some years. The restaurant is established. It has a steady clientele. And many of the impressions drawn from the first few months are still very much prevalent in most mediums. The issue of course is barring an amazing experience that requires consistent, repeat visits, most people will not go to the establishment more than once or twice, yet they still have a very firm opinion on it. Positive reviews, however, date back 5 or 6 years – you all know places like this. Sun Sui Wah Seafood Restaurant is one of them.

The original Sun Sui Wah on Main has an excellent reputation for Dim Sum, and with the positive reviews, rewards, and accolades, a fairly sterling reputation over all. “Best of the City”, “Best High End Chinese”, “Best Seafood”. High praise in a dining city as diverse, filled with excellent quality choices, as Vancouver.

It was a Saturday, and we woke up late. Previous evening’s activities kept us out a bit later than usual, which is really quite late! Not feeling like making the drive to Richmond to go to Sea Harbour, and not up to trying Red Star, the much respected fmed’s (from Chowhound) recommendation, we decided to hit the Sun Sui Wah on Main instead. Much closer, and in our condition, close was good. We were hungry – famished really – and needing a greasy breakfast. At 1:30pm of course.

Sun Sui Wah is a very well designed room. Great use of natural light, clean and simple lines, it is clearly well designed for banquet services. This transalted into fairly reasonable dim sum service as well, as wide, easy to navigate corridors are needed to help facilitate ease of transport. No funny angles, and odd table crammed into nooks and crannys trying to fit every last seat available.

By the time we had arrived, the restaurant was starting to wind down. It was maybe 25% full, and they were starting to set up for a banquet. We were told they carried Dim Sum service till 3pm, so we had plenty of time to get our food. We offered to leave if it was inconvenient, but they insisted we stay, though warning us that there could be slightly longer waits than usual, and if we didn’t see what we wanted, we’d have to order it and they’d make a fresh batch.

The first thing we had an interest in is the BBQ Pork “Crispy Bun” – Cha Sao Bing. Usually, the layers of the sao bing (which in Taiwan, a more traditional take on the dish, are eaten with fried doughnut and fresh soy milk, and not BBQ Pork) are flaky and multi-layered. Pastry rolled back against itself over and over and baked until a bit will shatter in your mouth with crispy, oil shards. These were a bit flaky, but fairly thin, and upsettingly, quite cool. The pork was decent, though on the sweet side, but i disliked the sao bing. The dish was unsuccessful in my mind for these reasons.

Shrimp and Chive dumpling, these were steamed and pan fried to perfection. Crispy on the top, a nice thin gelatinous skin, and a moist, flavourful filling. Other than wanting a touch of seasoning (preferably incorporating a bit of soy into the pan fry process), they were excellent.

Gelatinous rice roll with doughnut. As i mentioned in a previous article, i am not generally a fan of these. These were no exception. They were soggy, the rice roll was bland, this was a generally unpleasant dish.

As we saw fewer and fewer carts, most of them recycling the same dishes, we called a manager over to order some of the standards. These came a bit slowly, but understandably so. Nonetheless, waiting 20 minutes for your dim sum to show up, while you’re within acceptable dining hours, is a bit annoying.

Sha Jiao – definitely not worth the wait. Impossibly thin skins that were oversteamed, stuck to the wax paper, and came broken. While the filling was ok, they really are a dish that requires a careful orchestration between the two.

Siu Mai, shrimp and pork balls wrapped in cabbage and topped with Roe. A very reasonable rendition, but the pork was a bit rubbery – likely worked too much. Nonetheless, it was a reasonable way to end the meal.

All in all, Sun Sui Wah Seafood Restaurant was a reasonable, yet disappointing Dim Sum experience. There was nothing wrong with the food per se, but based on the recommendations, and the reviews, I was expecting a lot more. Sadly, all i got was another average Dim Sum experience. This leads me to question how often people really dine here – because while the quality of their reputation lives on, the food clearly fails to match. I wonder if in this case, the restaurant has lapsed into complacency – content to live on their reputation alone. That would be disappointing, because if they truly deserve the reputation they’ve carried for 20-some years, I would expect something better. Much better.

Sun Sui Wah Seafood on Urbanspoon

10 thoughts on “Sun Sui Wah Seafood Restaurant – Vancouver, BC

  1. Interesting post Foodosopher, and quite coincidental as well, because I had just written an article on Kirin. SSW and Kirin are often acknowledged to be the two heavy hitters in Cantonese fine dining in Vancouver; however, we have stopped patronizing SSW (both locations) for several years because we feel that their food quality has steadily declined since the late 90s.

    For dinners, we feel that the Kirins (on Alberni or @ Starlight Casino) are better bets. And the Kirins, in recent months, have been serving very well-made dim sum as well. I’m sure on a good day, SSW is capable of producing some really great food. But the Kirins are are able to serve consistently great dishes day in and day out, and we’d rather bet on that than visiting on a good day @ SSW.

  2. ET: Glad to hear that I wasnt too out there. It is always a difficult thing to acknowledge that a “heavy hitter” restaurant that is quite reknown isnt very good. I find we all have a tendency to try and like what other people like (some form of group mentality).

    The information on Kirin is quite welcome. I’ll give it a try in the next while. Thanks

  3. Thank goodness someone else said it. For years I’ve thought that Sun Sui Wah was overrated, but time and time again people push for it when recommending places.

    Personally, I too like Kirin for dim sum (the Cambie location is the one I usually frequent). The har gow is fantastic and they even have boon tong gow, which I hardly ever see anywhere anymore.

  4. SSW’s reputation rests entirely on marketing itself to the non-Chinese crowd. Have you seen the massive billboards at the airport and frequent full-page ads in local media? The fact is that, for those with a discerning palate, SSW has been mediocre for more than a decade. The proprietors have a cozy relationship with influential critics writing for Vancouver Magazine, The Vancouver Sun and The Georgia Straight. With that trifecta in their pocket, SSW has monopolized the non-Chinese mindshare in Vancouver: ask a white person where to go for dim sum, and I doubt they’ll be able to name any place besides SSW (besides Red Door, which is the worst example of “fusion” gone wrong…all style and no substance).

  5. >wei

    Funny you should mention that as I do recall seeing those airport adverts for their semi-annual Alaskan king crab promotions.

    Has anyone had that there, was wondering if it was any good…

  6. BB – two for Kirin. Definitely moving up to the top of the list. Thanks!

    Wei – you’re bang on that those with a discerning palate should realize that SSW is mediocre – however, I honestly believe that people with one are not only few and far between, but definitely not of any specific ethnicity. I know several “white people” who know more about food than I ever will, and, in this case, it was an Asian who suggested we go here.

    Interesting about the relationship between critics and the restaurant success though. I’ve long noticed in several cities the lack of a credible reviewer, yet their opinions drive a tremendous amount of traffic. Do you think the lack of discerning palate is why people will continue to flock to where a critic positively reviews, regardless if he is ever right or not?

  7. Not to pile on SSW here, but I was also very disappointed with the dim sum. The shrimp gow, an important test for any dim sum place, were horribly bland, overcooked, and with soft, falling-apart wrappers. The chicken feet had a strange, detergent-y aftertaste, and the black pepper beef ribs were tough and over-salted.

    The one standout was the tofu fa, which was excellent–best I’ve ever tasted, in fact. Smooth and flavourful but without that acrid taste sometimes found in this dessert, I thoroughly recommend SSW’s tofu fa.

  8. Wah! I’ve been to Sun Sui Wah before for dim-sum, but for some odd reason the food looks so much better in your pictures that on the table! 😛 I love the pictures and I love the reviews! Keep up the awesome work

  9. Thanks for the kind words Joanna. I think the photos show that you just can’t judge something based on how it looks 🙂

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