I have to say, at first I cringed at the thought of having Chinese food in Campbell River. My previous experiences with small town Chinese food had been terrible. Short of making a sweet and sour pork burger, many of these places have bastardized Chinese food to a point where you can’t even recognize them anymore.
With subtle signage and a name far from Golden Dragon Happy Panda Wok, Beijing House gave me a sliver of hope, that a Chinese restaurant in a small town may have redeeming qualities. Will my hopes and dreams be fulfilled? Or will my heart get broken once again? You’ll have to read on to find out.
Chapter 1 – Through the door
The décor was heavily accented with red. A few pieces of Chinese art dotted the walls, along with pictures of their dishes. It’s clean, it’s relatively simple, and it’s pleasing to the eye. First impression wise, Beijing House did well.
It didn’t take long for the owner to come by our table and greet us. After finding out we spoke Mandarin, we had a nice chat about how they ended up in Campbell River. After working in restaurants in Richmond for a few years, the owners wanted to open their own mom-and-pop shop that features the authentic taste of Beijing. The Lower Mainland was expensive and very competitive, so after checking out many towns and cities all over BC, they settled in Campbell River.
They took a hell of a chance going into such a sparsely populated part of BC, and sadly, it hasn’t paid off too well. A town that was supposed to blossom with forestry and tourism, Campbell River has shrunk a bit in recent years. With the closing of a major mill, and the slowing economy, the already small town got even smaller.
Chapter 2 – Through the mouth
Their hardship has forced them to make certain sacrifices, including the authenticity of the food, so the locals would more easily accept their food. I can’t say I was ecstatic at seeing items like Beef and Broccoli showing up on the menu. But they did have more authentic options mixed in there as well.
We ordered the Cumin Beef and Fish with Pickled Cabbage. Traditionally made with fatty lamb, beef was used as a substitute after the owners found that the locals didn’t have much of a taste for lamb. Cumin is one of my favourite, if not the favourite seasoning. Although beef doesn’t have the same richness and gaminess that lamb does, this dish still came together quite well. The meat was well-seasoned (maybe a tad salty), and pretty tender. I did find it a bit strange that the menu described the dish to come with red and green peppers, when it came with celery and carrots. It tasted fine and the colours were right, so no biggy.
The pot of fish was flounder (similar to sole), and it was cooked with pickled cabbage in a spicy soup. You can think of it as a hot and sour fish stew. It was pretty similar to what I had in China a couple years ago, but with a different type of fish. If you aren’t too familiar with flounder, it’s more tender than sole, and less meaty. It has the perfect texture for stew: it’s soft yet does not break into tiny pieces. The seasoning was just right for the soup and fish, and the hot and sour taste hit just the right spot for me. Authenticity wise this dish bested the beef.
Chapter 3 – Through the pocket and the smiles
The prices were set appropriately. I also appreciated their realistic portion sizes. Two dishes perfectly filled the stomach of two hungry people.
You are served personally by the owner, and she’ll come by to chat with you about what you like and what you don’t. This is definitely a family owned restaurant. Of course I’m sure she spent a bit more time with us because they don’t get a lot of Chinese customers. However she was just as nice with the other patrons.
Let’s be honest here, if you are craving for real Chinese food in Campbell River, you have nowhere else to go. This isn’t just the best choice for Chinese food, it’s the only choice. The enjoyable experience was just a cherry on top.
If you ever find yourself in Campbell River, be sure to find this place and give them a try. Ask for something authentic, and you won’t regret it.
(Max Score: 10; Base Score: 5)
What went in (+/-2, 0) = 1
What came out (+/-1, 0) = 0
Service (+/-1, 0) = 1
Mr.’s Bonus (+/-1) = 1
Total Score – 8/10
1850 Island Highway
Campbell River, BC