In Richmond, you will never run out of ideas for Chinese food: seafood restaurant, Hong Kong cafe, noodle house, Shanghainese, etc. There are many long-standing restaurants, but new ones also pop up all over the city. Recently, a soup house was opened on Alexandra Road, specialized in hearty soups without the use of MSG. I took the soup expert, aka Mama Lam, along with Papa Lam and Mr., to give them a try.
Of course we had to try their soups. The small size, which serves up 3 bowls of soup, costs $12 each; some soup items are available in a bigger size for $48. To allow us to try more, we ordered two small soups. The Dried Vegetable, Almonds & Lung Soup brought nostalgic feelings to us as my grandparents used to make it for us when we were living in HK. You can taste a hint of sweetness from the dried bok choy and meaty flavours from the pig’s lung. The lung is soft and mushy yet spongy, not at all an unpleasant texture (for me anyway, non-Chinese may think otherwise). I quite liked eating it.
The elegant clay soup pot was piping hot when it arrived at the table and we must leave it to the trained server to pour out the soup, to avoid burning our hands. And as advertised, it’s not heavily salted (borderline under-seasoned) nor do you feel thirsty afterwards (the common side effect of eating a lot of MSG). I was convinced that they didn’t use MSG in their soups.
The second one was the Zhao’s Free-Range Chicken Soup. It’s named after the restaurant so I would assume it’s their signature soup. The broth was light, with some flavours from Chinese herbs and aromatics. It’s not bad, but I actually preferred the pig’s lung soup. This could probably use an extra pinch of salt.
Then we ordered a number of dishes to share. First, the Steamed Chicken with Chili Sauce. It was around half of a chicken, tender, lightly seasoned – the flavours mostly relied on the aromatic, spicy chili sauce. It was served at around room temperature, similar to Hainan Chicken. The sauce was a bit too spicy for my liking but I thought the heat helps whet your appetite.
Next, in the Roasted Pig Intestines, the intestines were stuffed with green onions, which turned out to be fragrant and a bit sweet. The intestines didn’t seem to have been roasted; instead, it tasted like it was cooked in a pot of marinate, which wasn’t a bad thing because it took in all the seasoning in the marinate and it was super flavourful. I liked that they were in perfect bite size.
The Scallop, Tofu and Eggplant Pot, surprisingly, was our favourite. Scallops were cooked well, tofu was crispy on outside and soft and silky inside, the eggplants absorbed all the flavours from the sweet and spicy sauce — all served in a sizzling pot. By the way, if you can’t read Chinese, you are actually looking for “Tape Figs Eggplant Pot” on the menu – Google Translate did us proud again lol!
Then we had the Steamed Fish Head with Diced Hot Red Peppers. The fish head tasted fresh, the minced garlic and hot pepper sauce, which was similar to what you use to steam prawns or crabs, helped accentuate the seafood flavours and its natural sweetness. It’s light but it was very enjoyable. There are a lot of bones in a fish head so you have to be careful while eating this. If you don’t mind digging through a lot of fish bones to find the good stuff, this is a dish for you.
Lastly, for carbs we chose the Shanghai Chow Mein. Because of the kind of noodles you use for this dish, for it to taste good you have to use quite a bit of oil to stir-fry. So if it tastes a bit oily, it’s probably unavoidable. This was stir-fried very well, a bit oily but not mushy wet; noodles still had a bite. The dish had a good balance of noodles, shredded pork and veggies.
To wrap up the dinner, every table was served with free Goji Berry Osmanthus Jelly. It was fragrant and refreshing. It’s not overly sweet nor was it too gelatinous – just the right amount of jiggling!
The service here was very good, polite and attentive. The clay pots did arrive piping hot, so I especially appreciated the warning they gave us, as well as their persistence on pouring the soup for us.
Speaking of the soup, they have these two giant clay pots on display, which I believe are used for keeping the soup piping hot.
The flavours of Zhao’s soups remind you of home, much lighter than what you get at other local Chinese restaurants. In addition, they have a few special items on the menu and they all tasted quite good. Overall, the menu is pricey reasonably and I would definitely keep them on my go-to list of Richmond restaurants.
Zhao’s Soup House 趙記湯館
8511 Alexandra Road, Richmond