Toronto Day 6 : Friends with a Side of Kimchi

Every time I go back to Toronto, I say to myself that I would cut down on the amount I eat. Every time I get back from Toronto I end up telling myself “Next Time – Less Food”. It just never, ever works.

So here we are on Day 6 and we must be on our 12 millionth meal since we arrived. We started the day off innocently enough with a meal at Congee Royal; our new go-to comfort Congee joint. I used to have hankerings for Fantasy Eatery’s yummy congee, but the starch overload of Congee + Chow Foon for the ridiculously low price of $6 is a bit much for me as I get closer to my Golden Years. Yes I could potentially order / eat less, but that’s like saying you can reign yourself back at a buffet. You just don’t do that. If you’re a tourist in the area, or not familiar with the Gourmet Budget Feasts available at Fantasy – I definitely recommend checking them out.

Congee Royal is just a bit more refined and the dishes have a bit more pop in terms of colour, variation and tastes (IMO, of course). The prices are bit more, but you can easily get out of there for under $10 per person.  Ahh, one of the great selling points of living in Toronto is the Cheap Chinese Food (and it’s actually good).

So my family has this problem with ordering (read: they always order too much). Our meal could have easily fed a hungry family of 8, but there were just 4 of us this time around. We ordered the classic Fried Fish with Creamy Corn Sauce, & a Singapore Fried Meifun. Each of those meals came with Hot Drinks (1 classic Ovaltine and 1 Horlicks, please!). I got a big bowl of Tendon (because I’m still having those cravings) and noodles in soup for $4.50. For some reason, I forgot to take a picture of my own dish (why do I keep doing that?). I have instead included a photo from a previous trip.

OK, on top of all that food (which should be enough for 4 normal adults), we add a family-sized congee with Yul-Tiew (fried dough stick). Granted, the order-er said that it didn’t come in a smaller size and that it was the signature Congee, but still! I could only imagine how full I’d be once dinner came around.

Everything was warm and nourishing. The Singapore Chow Meifun was a standout version, because it was well fried (read: dry-fried) without too much oil. The curry was fragrant and heightened with the skilled frying technique. The noodles were not at all clumpy, which is so often the case with poorly-made fried noodles (too wet to begin with, not hot enough a wok, too much volume in one fry-batch, etc.).  My tendon was a winner as well. The value is unsurpassed, especially when I compare it to similar dishes in Boston. $4.50 gets you a big ol’ bowl of tendon and enough starch for two people. The broth itself was full-bodied and not overly salty with big, bold beefy flavour.


The congee was good, but I’ve had sweeter congee at Fantasy. The quality of seafood was high, though, and it rescued the otherwise muted flavours of the congee. The yul-tiew was nice and dry. I am very impressed with their frying technique. On a previous occasion, we got a tasty pigeon which was excellently handled and a great value priced at $10.

After E finished up working from home, we headed downtown to meet up with some friends. Keep in mind we were still filled to the brim with Congee goodness. And now it was dinner time. Oi.  After meeting with my friend O at the Biomedical Building of the University of Toronto, we headed down to Swish.

I’m not sure why, but I usually expect Korean food to be a value-focused type of food. It could just be that I was brought up in Toronto, and we only really have cheap Jap-Chae around these parts. If I see high-end prices and a chic venue, I adjust my expectations accordingly. The same can be said about higher-end Chinese Cuisine (such as Lai Wah Heen, which fails to impress me so many times. It’s unforgivable considering I pay about 3x as much going there as any another Dim Sum joint.). I had read about Swish in an article published by my friend R many moons ago, but hadn’t had the opportunity to try it. My friends J & A (strangely, not of EatADuckIMust) suggested Swish, after our original reservations at Embrujo Flamenco had to be canceled because of a fire at a neighbouring store the night before.  Craziness.

Once again, we ordered a massive feast. But this time, we had more stomachs to satisfy at least. Our party 8 deferred the ordering to the experts J & A and just sat back & relaxed as the food came a flowin’. It’s such a nice and liberating feeling not having to make any decisions. I should do this more often!


I think we must have ordered one of everything on the menu, plus more that I don’t even think I ever found on the menu. Fried shrimps came out first. They were tasty and immediately evoked memories of a superior version I had previously in the week at SukhoThai. It was still very tasty though.  That was followed up with some spicy pork buns, which were basically a Korean take on pulled-pork sandwiches. These were fire-y hot and E gobbled them up. E absolutely loved this dish. Me? Not so much. But E has a higher tolerance for heat. The heat sort of drowned the other flavours for me a bit. I kept chasing each mouthful with big gulps of the tasty barley tea.

Chap Chae is definitely one of my favourite food items in the world right now. It just has such a great bouncy texture and the noodles allow for savoury sauces to be absorbed into every bite. It’s like eating soup noodles without the sloppy, slurpy mess.  Their version was tasty and salty-sweet. I don’t remember being blown away, and unfortunately, the meal didn’t leave much of an impression with me.

Part of the fun of eating at a Korean restaurant is spoiling yourself with Korean BBQ or Tasty Hot Pots. We got the best of both worlds this time around. We were inadvertently delivered beef x 2 for both dishes, even though we had ordered seafood for the hot pot for variation. We let it slide and just dug in. The Short Ribs on the grill were tasty and pre-trimmed of the bone (I’m more used to the classic Korean BBQ delivery of having a giant slab of beef attached to a bone on one end. I personally like eating the sinewy parts attached to the bone after grilling it up at the end). It tasted like your standard Kalbi. Nothing too special.

The Hot Pot & Soon Dubu Tofu Soup left similar impressions. The kimchi banchan, which is usually complimentary at every other Korean Restaurant in the World, was $5 at this restaurant. This was the umpteenth strike against this place.  One thing that stood out was at the end of our Hot Pot dish, our leftover broth was used to concoct this special slurry made of egg and the tasty bits leftover in our pot. It was sold as an Asian Risotto and it tasted just like you would imagine an Asian-flavoured Risotto would. The rice strangely turned into a Congee consistency when added to the broth. The egg helped bind it all together. It was quite a little magic show to behold; one minute it was a tri-layered dish, the next minute it became a velvety smooth porridge. I really enjoyed this little dish and it added a little something a traditional meal of Hot Pot wouldn’t have (or maybe I’m just not that familiar with Korean Cuisine. This was definitely a first for me).

We also had an order of Asian Tacos, because what Korean meal wouldn’t be complete without Tacos? They were fun little pouches of tastiness. The corn flavour was quite pronounced and I enjoyed it. Tofu was already partially eaten by the time I got around to taking a photo of it, but I definitely enjoyed this dish. It was lightly breaded, fried and topped with salty black beans and spicy kimchi. But at $12 for a few pieces, it reinforced my sentiments about the place: good food, but prices were steep for what you got.

Our last dish was a savoury platter of Blood Sausage and Rice Cakes. I love rice cakes. I’d have to add that to my list of favourite foods in the world alongside Jap Chae. The texture is once again the highlight of this type of ‘noodle’. The version marketed by Swish was a bit disappointing though. The bounce was a bit lost, probably due to improper handling / over-cooking / over-soaking. It was still tasty though and the rich, umami flavour imparted by the sausage helped elevate this dish from a standard run-of-the-mill rice noodle. The sogginess detracted from my enjoyment of the dish though.

Overall, I had a great time. The food never stopped flowing until E & I were bursting at the seams (I think O was a bit hungry still at the end though).  The meal cost around $35  per person including tax/tip.  In terms of value, Swish just didn’t do it for me. The food was good, but lacked polish for the price point they were charging. I see what they were trying to achieve here, but the skill-level just wasn’t where it needed to be. A few of their dishes needed tweaking for flavours and textures. If you’re in the area and have a desire to have expensive Korean food, Swish would definitely fit the bill. However, I don’t find myself probably heading back there for a second round.  Nothing was very memorable, or noteworthy. I just remember coming out with a feeling of being overcharged for ‘haute’ Korean Cuisine that was being handled by inexperienced chefs. But that’s generally my sentiments when dining out at higher-end places in Toronto. In mid-end/high-end dining in Toronto, the prices are just incongruent with  food quality. I think I’ll just stick with low-end food when in Toronto. Too bad I decided to ignore my own advice and go to Sushi Couture the next day. It was definitely one of the most disappointing meals of my life, not just because of the food, but because of the attitude of the owner. Stay tuned for that review later this week.

 

Congee Royal

3160 Steeles Ave East
markham, ON L3R4G9, Canada
(905) 474-1833

Fantasy Eatery

(416) 332-0288
3320 Midland Avenue Scarborough, ON M1V 5E6

Swish

38 Wellington St E
Toronto, ON M5E 1C7, Canada
(647) 343-0268

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Comments
2 Responses to “Toronto Day 6 : Friends with a Side of Kimchi”
  1. elenasc says:

    Toronto is great because offers so many different cultures and food! There is always something new to try and to learn, even for the people who live here!!! Love it!

    • Thanks for stopping by elenasc! I totally agree with your sentiments. Toronto is such a chameleon. It’s constantly evolving and the food cannot be beat for ethnic cuisine! Do you have any favourites that I should check out? Thanks in advance!

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