We were looking for a quiet after dinner spot to unwind and chat without interruption. Immediately a bubble tea shop stood out as an ideal location. Most are known for being opening later, and few allow guests to linger well after last call; so long as a beverage continues to be nursed. Today, this was my guest’s choice. A restaurant with an accurately descriptive name. Located on the corner of Cambie and 23rd. This late night bubble tea place was bustling with large groups and steady with single diners in for a later meal. Laughter and chatter could be heard over the faint sounds of Chinese and North American pop playing overhead.
The space was light hearted with soft bulbs and heavy with floral elements. It all looked very pretty if you can get past the clutter of it all. Paper lanterns patterned with flowers in bloom, hung down from the indented ceiling. Pale white cherry blossoms with pink centres and lush green leaves lived as a pattern on the frosted glass, separating dining sections from left and right. And more pink petaled flowers continue on a backdrop of red wallpaper that accented a strip along the right wall. Though it was the live orchids, potted plants and watered spiralling bamboo, that gave the place a breath of real freshness.
The hard wood floors, dark tables with black and white chairs kept the place neat and uniform. Towards the back, landed their drink bar. A set up done more practically than for aesthetics. The counter was home to a rainbow of spirally straws and others wrapped in plastic, a dish of fresh fruits that would become juice, and jugs of water and hot tea used for refills. A clutter that sat before their back lit “Corner 23” sign in blue and white.
There was the constant mummer of noise. The dinging of bells to symbolize food was up, the ratting of ice cubes in bubble teas being mixed in the electronic shaker, the crushing of ice, the clanging of change, the click clacking of chopsticks, and the conversations of over 20 tables trying to talk over one another. This was not the quite place for conversation as we had hoped. And no one else seemed to mind.
They accept cash only, as reminded at the front door, printed on the menu’s cover, and stuck up in paper around the restaurant.
The five employees working tonight were certainly necessary. They dressed all in black and wore collared shirts with their name and logo on the front breast pocket and across their upper backs. They kept busy taking orders, mixing drinks, serving plates, busing tables, and making change. Not one stood idle, with always something to prep, clean or tidy. They worked with furious determination and furrowed brows. Effective, efficient, fast, if not friendly.
The menu was a tad condensed compared to other Taiwanese style bubble tea places or Hong Kong style cafés. Arranged by the usual listing of snacks, noodles, fried rice, and set meals; it was still an overwhelming array to go through. I allowed my guest to choose what we’d share. It gave me a chance to venture from my usual order of fried popcorn chicken and beef noodle soup. Though in hind sight I had was good, but no where near the caliber of my favourites.
“Mango coconut milk tea” with half pearls and half coconut jelly. Made with actual coconut milk, each sip was a drink of cream. Thick and rich it had the texture of a milkshake with the lightness of blended juice. Tropical sweetness with mango and fresh coconut-y chewiness with the addition of coconut jelly. Although a little on the sweeter side, I will be getting this again. “Vanilla coffee milk tea” with grass jelly. A more simple beverage, this one came with a strong coffee taste and a missing vanilla accent. As a non coffee drinker I could have used more syrup for an added dessert like sweetness. The grass jelly was definitely for texture rather than taste.
We wondered what factors were considered when bubble tea places decided to serve their drinks in either reusable to-stay glasses, or in sealed plastic to-go cups. Despite our intention to sit and enjoy dinner we still had our beverages prepared for travel. Though our visit was during peak dinner time and bubble tea preparation became a seamless procession. Though towards 10pm we did see tall glasses filled to the brim come up to the counter, then served at tables.
“Deep fried oyster”. I don’t know why I expected this to be fried in shell. Given the amount of oyster nuggets heaped on the plate, and the price we were asked to pay, I assume these were purchased frozen. Heavily battered they had a nice crunchy texture that hid the tough chew of the shellfish and the grittiness from the embedded bits of sand well. The sweet and spicy chilli dipping sauce on the side was what really gave it its pop of flavour.
Each set meal came with rice and three sides: cream corn, steamed garlic broccoli, and chilled seaweed. It was nice to have the variety. They weren’t anything special and tasted as they look, but they offered a change when needed. “Deep fried chicken thigh”. Similar in spice and heavy peppering as the common Taiwanese popcorn chicken, I felt familiar with its flavour profile. The chicken was cooked to a juicy clear with a lightly battered, evenly crisped skin. Though as an entree to have with rice it lacked flavour.
“Eggplant and pork in a hot garlic sauce”. Firm pieces of eggplant that held its shape, and didn’t break down into a pile of mush; something common that usually has me deterring from it in the first place. Heavily seasoned with generous portions of ground pork I surprisingly found this my favourite dish of the two.
On another night, with the same guest, we came in just for bubble tea. Like my guest, many patrons come for the mixed teas and blended juice, and do not feel the need add in any tapioca bubbles. He ordered the “kiwi green tea”. Given its clear colour and smooth drink this was a pre-flavoured tea. A little tart. Other than its colour I tasted no connection to the kiwi fruit. Originally I requested a half portion of pearls and half of coconut jelly, only to be informed that they have had a busy night and no longer had any more tapioca pearls on site. So I got my “Papaya milk tea” with all coconut jelly. This over my only other option of pudding or grass jelly.
Interestingly, one of the two women’s washroom stall has a full length mirror on its wall, in the actual stall. An interesting design I thought, as I avoided eye contact with myself, whilst doing my business.
Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – No.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – No.
As far as bubble tea places go, this one was pretty generic. The drinks were average. They tasted as expected and were like any that would could get else were. Though bonus points given for their own branded cup seals. The food was average at best. Satisfying, but nothing you needed to have again or would ever crave for in the future. The menu listed common Taiwanese fare and read only familiar beverages. Nothing jumped out as being any different or location specific. Another one of those cases where you appreciate it for being the only one in the area, as it simply fills a need. For that reason, its easy free parking nearby, and it’s lovely decor I will visit again. Don’t deny your cravings.