Inside Splendid China Tower
If you squint real hard across the vast parking lot at Pacific Mall, you'll see a wonderfully blocky and magnificently tacky structure across Steeles Avenue that replaced the old Canadian Tire building that was very prominent up until the late 1990's. That rather large behemoth is the location of the marvellously named Splendid China Tower (also called Splendid China Mall).
Built in 2007, presumably to compete directly with Pacific Mall, the mall is home to more than 150 stores over two stories. While two floors clearly does not a tower make, the mall's Wikipedia page interestingly states that a second development phase is currently planned for a three-storey addition., though as of today no visible construction has begun on this expansion.
The mall is rather cavernous and is undoubtedly a weaker counterpart to its giant cousin to the north. On the positive side, however, the shopping experience at Splendid China has always struck me as being less haphazard and more tranquil than Pacific Mall (most probably because Splendid China contains less than one-third of the total number of tenants as in Pacific Mall) Overall, the shopping centre has a rather odd charm. Yes, it feels quite vacant. Yes, the exterior architecture seems like a half-recycled Chinese theme park building. And yes, relatively few people seem to really care about it, but there are still several notable places inside that are worth a visit.
Deviating from my usual highlight-all-the-positives article, this mall is worth visiting for two reasons: to check out the actual interesting spots as well as the morbid pleasure of seeing some really awfully designed shopping spaces. It's definitely an interesting experience. In addition, being that it's on the south side of Steeles, it officially makes it the only Chinese mall around that street's corridor to be formally located in the city of Toronto.
Here are some places to check out inside Splendid China Mall:
Ever wanted more peace and prosperity? Meeting the right people for business purposes? Finding Mr./Mrs. Right? Unless your name is Chuck Norris, you probably could use some additional help in your life. If that's the case, bring your curiosity (and a little faith) to this store, which sells hundreds of amulets blessed by Thailand monks. These charms are taken seriously by devout Buddhists, but the store is open for everyone and the proprietors are only too happy to guide you around the various artifacts that they have on sale.
X2 Game Store
If you've ever browsed through import video game magazines and wondered how to get your hands on those ultra-rare-Japanese only-limited edition versions of your beloved consoles and games, then head over here. Featuring hard-to-find goods like a Kingdom Hearts limited edition 3DS or FFXIII PS3, this store is where your otaku dreams come true. Heck, if you actually understood my previous sentence, you're probably already halfway to this store by now. Service is not the greatest, but the available collection more than makes up for it.
Lai Doh Restaurant
Every Chinese mall needs a noteworthy Hong Kong-style coffee house/small restaurant, otherwise known as cha chaan teng, and Lai Doh occupies that niche in Splendid China. More than just a HK café, this restaurant provides a rather notable selection of Cantonese favourites such as congee, noodles, and vermicelli.
The highlights here are their Canto-Western offerings served with baked rice/spaghetti such as the Portuguese chicken as well as the rather interesting perch and cheese with cream sauce, all for under $7. The warmth and smooth creaminess of the dishes is perfect to satisfy your pseudo-Chinese food cravings. The fact that the restaurant frequently plays old Cantonese pop songs only adds to its odd charm.
If Splendid China had an anchor tenant, then this would probably be the closest thing to it. A rather large traditional Chinese restaurant, this restaurant rolls back the years and evokes old-school Chinese dining memories, with minimal décor, no fancy fusion-like interior accoutrements, and just straight up white tablecloths with lazy susans that you eat from.
While the debate regarding how authentically Shanghainese this place is can probably go on for days, what everyone can generally agree on is that the place serves good quality food with a rather awesome array of lunch specials for under $8. To complement this, they also serve dim sum in the mornings. One word of caution is that their spicy dishes (such as the kung pao chicken) aren't really hot at all. This may or may not be a good thing, but for someone like me, it unfortunately takes the grade down a notch. With clean environment and good service though, it's still a solid restaurant to visit.
Serving up a combination of modern Asian fusion cuisine with more traditional Chinese dishes, this interestingly designed restaurant is always worth a visit. This is actually one of two locations (the other one being in Market Village), and both places are designed to look somewhat like a train station.
I don't know how to better describe it, but it somehow works, creating a little restaurant that has its own distinctive style. Their special offers rotate quite frequently, and the current offering that strikes a chord with me is the spicy crab with rice (entertainingly written as spicy crabs) which is juicy and a little bit hot with just the right amount of sauce coated on it. For under $10 and including rice, soup, and drink, you should give it a shot.
The mall's second floor
No, I'm not being facetious...yet. Practically half of the mall's second floor is dedicated to various little businesses offering a wide array of Chinese alternative therapies. Ranging from tui na massage (a centuries-old Chinese massaging technique aligned with Taoism principles meant to alleviate musculoskeletal problems), cupping (a Chinese therapy meant to promote blood flow through the placement of heated cups), and foot reflexology services.
You can saunter through the hallways and pick the store that you want, then try out one of the various healing techniques offered there. Some even accept company insurance! There is little to distinguish one store from another other than the range of services offered, so some trial and error until you find a practitioner that you're comfortable with is to be expected. Live a little and give it a shot.
The food court
OK, for this one I am actually being a little sarcastic. The food court is a fascinating spectacle as it provides a lesson to people on how to NOT build a communal eating space. There are 5-6 stalls that are empty most times and about two dozen or so seats awkwardly shoehorned into a corner. The food court is not even open on a Sunday afternoon, imagine that!
The lone bright spot is the always super-enthusiastic Fruit Jungle bubble tea place (last seen in my post on First Markham Place) with its genuine fruit ingredients and its cacophony of colourful signs everywhere. Oh, and they're actually open on Sundays, so be sure to reward their efforts by paying a visit. It's the right thing to do.
Photos by Sandra Chow