When you are craving dim sum in the lower mainland, like most: you probably contemplate whether the drive to Richmond is worth it, if there is anything good in East Van or maybe along Victoria Drive? But now you might have to consider Kitsilano, where “Little Bird” is serving up all day dim sum and craft beer. But not just your cut and paste pastries and dumplings. Here, they are taking traditional dim sum and making it vegan and gluten-free.
The restaurant space has had its fair share of make overs from “Living Bistro”, to “Yak and Yeti”, then “Trying Tiger”. So this isn’t your typical Chinese restaurant footprint. With a minimalistic approach and plenty of lights, the space felt more suited to brunch at a coffee shop. Simple and sterile with the white bulbs; it sort of felt like day within, instead of the early evening that it was. But I am not complaining, even though they did take away from a more romantic or laid back ambiance; these were great conditions for taking the following photos.
The textured wooden table we were seated at matched the wood counter tops, and decorative wood elements that lined the bar. The restaurant name found its way on to the latter, as well as painted on to a wall that directed you to either of their single stall washrooms. Other than that, only a few framed black and white stencil art offered up visual interest in terms of decor. A graffiti-like style with either bird or dumpling references added to it, after the fact. It spoke to the modern interpretation of the food and the restaurant.
We were seated with our table lining the wall. Here, each place is set with chopsticks and a laminated single sheet menu. The owner came around to highlight best sellers and pride points, making suggestions on what to order and what was worth trying. @goodlifevan, who assembled us all here to day suggested that the restaurant use a check off sheet to order, thus making the process easier. But our host declined the suggestion. One of his goals is to focus on service and the communication you don’t get at other traditional Chinese restaurants. With them it is how fast and efficient you can do something, even if it is at the cost of the client. Here, he wants his staff to connect. His team is multicultural and able to hold a conversation, that includes eye contact. And each server is well trained on the menu and how it tastes, to be able to suggest and curate a perfect meal for their table.
The restaurant owner comes from a long line of Chefs and restauranteurs, working in the business for over 40 years combined. His father owned and operate the two long standing “Flamingo Chinese Restaurant” since 1974. So you can say dim sum runs in his family. And today, I was excited to have dim sum for dinner here, along side three other notable food fans. This is our meal, as these are our notes.
I wanted a drink to start, I liked the idea of pairing dim sum with an alcoholic beverage. Typically I have dim sum in the morning for breakfast or brunch, so a glass of wine or a pint of beer is frown upon at 11am. But at “Little Bird” it is encouraged. Their drink options are limited 4 types of wine or 4 types of beer, both from four different labels; with no mention of cocktails. I went with the “Four Winds saison”, since “craft beer” came after “dim sum” on the menu, as their title. I found that the saison’s easy drinking nature paired well with the richer small bites. Much like how greasy and salty bar foods do.
For something less alcoholic and more caffeinated, you can also order one of their loose leaf teas, served in a miniature tea pot for one. You don’t get a lot of tea, but water refills are welcomed.
The menu is user friendly. Written completely in English with descriptions and a legend. Menu items with a heart symbol, means they have been highlighted as a must try. But be warned, you can and should have the kitchen add on an additional pieces for anything coming you way, so that everyone gets one in full. For example most of the items below come with 2-3 pieces per servings, so with four diners we had an additional dumpling added on here and there, so that everyone could have one. Something I wish our server could have suggested as an easy add-on.
As I mentioned earlier, for those who like dim sum, but cannot have it because they are vegan and the kitchen cannot ensure a meat-free preparation, here is your solution. “Little Bird” works hard to ensure that equipment and utensils are are sanitized and there is not cross contamination. As none of my dinner mates where vegetarian or vegan we didn’t try the full extent of their 7 “garden” dishes. But I did make a note that they weren’t just tofu or mushroom everything. And if you were to order all 7, you would get a variety of tastes and flavours to pick through. This variety included the likes of different mushrooms types, water chestnuts, bamboo, and the new trendy beyond meat alternative.
The “Baked bbq tofu bun” had me going, I can’t believe it’s not pork! Pressed tofu in their sweet and salty bbq sauce, stuffed into a soft dough bun; then topped with a vegan butter and sugar mix, for a little crunch and a lot of sweetness. I liked the taster, but don’t know if I could commit to one whole, regular-sized bun myself. Best cut in half and shared, or bundled into smaller sized bites.
And what is dim sum with out “siu mai”? But there is no pork or shrimp in these meaty looking dumplings. Beyond meat, water chestnut, shiitake mushroom, and black truffle. A rendition made in honour of the owner’s sister-in-law, and her search for delicious meat alternatives. From this, you got the flavour of truffle from the mash of purée that topped it. The “beyond meat” gives you the texture of meat, but it was a little over salted. And I found myself reaching for more flavour from within one of our dishes of side sauces. Chilli oil, chilli sauce, soy sauce, and mustard. This is a great solution for those who lead a vegan lifestyle, but I much prefer the regular version below at $3 less, for a dish of 3.
The regular “Siu mai” had pork, shrimp, shiitake mushroom, and goji berries. It was more tender and juicy than its vegetable counter part. And the wrapper gave you a great chew. A wonderful staple that spoke to the quality of the ingredients used and the skill of the kitchen.
The “Spring roll” was filled full of pork, shiitake and black mushrooms, dried shrimp, and bamboo. Crispy skin, chewy julienne vegetables, and a complexity of flavours with an earthiness from the mushroom and bamboo. I didn’t taste any pork and could have easily done without it. The only thing I wanted was a nice sweet and sour sauce for dipping, something to help brighten this up.
The “Stuffed eggplant” was a softened slice of eggplant topped with a shrimp pate. The latter tasted like the filling of a “ha gao” in both taste and lumpy texture. The sweet and spicy sauce that paired with it would have also went well with our spring rolls above.
I didn’t recognize the “Sweet rice puff” from name alone. A deep fried egg shaped dumpling filled with pork, shiitake mushroom, and dried shrimp. This had a crispy coating with thick gummy walls that stuck to your teeth. Its sweetness paired well with the nice meaty taste and it’s ground texture.
The “Chive and shrimp dumpling” delivered with a similar shrimp filling than the eggplant dish above, and elevated with plenty of fresh and fragrant chives. This too offered a great chew with its wrapper.
The “Scallop taro puff” looked like a cupcake topped with half of a scallop round. Inside, it is hiding a core of shiitake mushroom and minced pork filling, coated in a sweet and mild curry sauce. This rendition offered crispiness from the fry, a nice smooth taro paste in contrast, and a surprise of curry to give it depth. I typically stray away from this one on any dim sum menu, but would be drawn to this version again.
But my favourite of all the dishes we had, had to be the “Curry squid”. Perfectly tender chunks of squid that was enjoyable to gnaw through. The curry was similar to the one use above, mild and sweet, with a slow burn. It did not over power the flavour of the squid.
And unlike other seafood dim sum restaurants, you can order the sweeter plates and have them come towards the end of your meal, as dessert. We finished off with their deep fried “Green tea sesame balls”. An order of two made green with matcha and flavoured with double black sesame. Black sesame seeds speckled the exterior and a pool of melted soup sat at its centre. Be warned, it is messy, and the filling is hot, flowing out like a lava cake. But delicious to end on if you allow them too cool down first, and have the server cut each ball in half.
Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
An approachable dim sum and restaurant created for all, and not just Chinese speakers. But unless you are a vegan, you wouldn’t think to drive all the way down to Kits for dim sum. Though in terms of the neighbourhood, they serve it well as the only option of its kind. A great choice for a fancier night out; made unique with the option for beer and wine. Deliciously done, classic dim sum dressed up and refined. Don’t deny your cravings.
2958 W 4th Ave, Vancouver, BC V6K 1R4