Gold Diamond Chinese Restaurant
Gold Diamond Chinese Restaurant, at the corner of St. Andrew St. and Spadina in the heart of Chinatown, is the re-named and slightly re-imagined Bright Pearl that was a long time fixture in the neighbourhood before closing last year. Located up a flight of stairs, the cavernous space retains its gold and red décor, bright lights and high ceilings. In case there's any doubt, the restaurant can accommodate large groups (or small armies, take your pick) and wedding planners will want to take note of the raised stage complete with golden dragon and phoenix backdrop.
Gold Diamond flirts with the grandeur I associate with classic Chinese restaurants found in Hong Kong or in the Agincourt area of Scarborough circa the 1990s (the long gone Pacific Restaurant, Ruby Restaurant, and the Dragon Centre). These days, to find the same charm and quality of cuisine, you often have to go past Steeles Ave towards Hwy 7. So to have the Gold Diamond space largely intact is a real treat. Still, the new flatscreen TV wall installations locked on CP24, on top of Mariah Carey's "Hero" playing on loop throughout the meal, deflates some of its dynastic aura.
Former patrons of Bright Pearl will be disappointed by the lack of cart service--a practice increasingly rare for newer dim sum ventures. A checklist format can be timelier and ensures you never miss out on signature yum cha picks, true, but I find it snips away the spontaneity of the course. Most frustrating of all, you have no control over when what food arrives. Especially for the deep-fried options, dim sum's best piping hot.
Order forms can end in a mix and match muddle. Case in point: the first dish that arrives is the egg custard tarts ($2.99), customarily a dim sum nightcap. Plus the egg tarts themselves were a bit shrivelled, rubbery to the bite, and could've been flakier. Not a good start.
One discrepancy I notice, too, is easily avoidable. Whereas the pork and shrimp siu mai ($2.99), topped with a generous amount of roe, easily peels away from its paper-lined bamboo basket, the har gow ($3.50) has created a four-diagram impenetrable seal with its foil sleeve during the steaming process. We're unable to eat a single of these shrimp dumplings whole; worse yet, studs of foil come off lodged in the shredded rice flour shell. It's a shame because the fair-sized shrimp filling is pretty tasty.
Basic oversights such as this plague the rest of the meal. While the taro has the proper starchiness in deep-fried dumpling form ($2.99), it isn't mashed enough, and overwhelms the juicy pork and chive core.
Similarly, the fried daikon cakes, didn't receive the grated pork love they deserved, which explains why they aren't as crispy as they should have been. All the chilli sauce and Keen's mustard in the room couldn't have revived these flavourless glutinous tablets.
The one exception to the series of disappointments is their steamed fried dough rice roll ($3.50). An all-time favourite of mine, this dim sum menu staple is often overlooked. Cut into bite-sized pieces ideal for sharing, it's best when you allow the crispy donut stick centre to soak up a healthy dose of soy sauce before dipping into your choice of peanut or hoisin pastes.
Many will remember Bright Pearl as one of the more vegetarian-friendly dim sum places around town. But make no mistake; any dim sum boasting of veggie options usually means ten at most on an otherwise meat-centric menu. Gold Diamond wisely tries to keep up this precedent. Their steamed king mushrooms and veggie rice roll, fried vegetarian dumplings, baby bok choy, and stir fried snow pea leaves satisfy, yet even here there are missteps.
Their take on a meatless steamed sticky rice bundled in a lotus leaf pouch ($3.50), for example, leaves more to be desired. The only thing interrupting the dry and flavourless texture of the sticky rice is a thin cleft of fungi and mushrooms, which seemed more an afterthought than used as complementary ingredients.
Given the middling experience, I won't say I'll never come again. Overall, we find the staff to be quite friendly and helpful, and their numbered pictorial menu will certainly be an asset to the novice dim sum goer. But their big selling point, and why people may choose here over the superior Rol San , Sky Dragon , or New Sky , will be for their aggressive happy hour promo. From Monday to Fridays, between 9:00-11:30 a.m. and 1:30-3:00 p.m., you pay $1.88 for any size dish instead of in the regular $2.20-$4.50 range.
Writing and photos by Joshua Chong