1590 Commercial Drive, Vancouver BC V5L 3Y2
At the beginning of January this year I hopped on a 14-hour flight to Hong Kong and the first thing I ate when I arrived were dumplings, street dumplings at that. The next meal was dim sum, which unsurprisingly also included dumplings. And this continued for the entirety of my stay in Hong Kong – dumplings every day, sometimes twice.
So, when I learned there was a place on Commercial Drive called Ugly Dumpling, I put it on my list of “To-Eat” and waited. Fast forward 55 days and I’m back in Vancouver, seated in this dimly lit, super cozy restaurant among other trendy, youthful, open-minded folks to get a taste of these made-in-house dumplings. This meal was going to take a little over 2 hours.
But first, two things: Ugly Dumpling has a menu posted daily on their blackboard and Instagram page which features the “staff meal” and the dumpling (and cocktails). They also have a board listing many of their food sources which include local farms and farmers. This is not a place to grab a bite, this is a place to sit down and savour each morsel. You’ve been warned.
It went without saying that I had to try their two daily features – the staff meal of dashi rice soup and their pork and bamboo shoot dumplings. The dumplings were freshly made and had subtle flavours, the bamboo shoots almost understated. The dashi rice on the other hand had a fish-forward broth which was highlighted even further with the crispy anchovies. The matsutake omelette was a nice contrast in texture to the almost congee-like soup. It brought me right back to the simple dishes my mom would cook for my dad – rice, broth, protein. Except that my mom isn’t Japanese, and this was heavily Japanese inspired.
We also ordered the beef broth which was rich and very tasty, though not too salty considering it was miso. I have a personal issue with salty broth – it makes my fingers swollen and gives me a thirst that 6 litres of water couldn’t quench. This was not the case with Ugly Dumpling’s broth. It tasted and looked entirely homemade, once again simple and no fuss.
Finally adding some meat to the mix, we ordered the beef tongue katsu and this was the highlight dish for me – the tongue was extremely tender, which I thought was counter-intuitive considering the tongue is a very strong muscle. It was reminiscent of beef brisket but even. More. Tender. The panko was light and held its crispiness. The sauce was tangy but not overbearing as to take away from the beef flavor of the tongue. The portion size was generous and definitely a dish worth sharing.
We completed our meal with some black sesame and shiso mochi. I’m a big fan of glutinous rice and also love sesame so this was a beautiful way to end the evening. The balls were not very sweet and had a very distinct sesame flavor. The surprising part was the shiso (which you could definitely taste) reminding me of a combination of mint and Thai basil. It was an interesting herbaceous twist to an otherwise standard Asian dessert.
- Daily Dumpling: Pork and Bamboo Shoots $9/5pc
- Staff Meal: Dashi Rice with Crispy Anchovies, Matsutake Omelette, Mizuna $16
- Beef Bone Broth Miso Soup $4
- Panko Crusted Beef Tongue Katsu, Mustard, Celeriac Slaw $25
- Roasted Black Sesame & Shiso Mochi $7
Beats: Japanese Denim – Daniel Caesar