This morning, I received a weird email:
“Miso happy James’ back!
Quick Response is ‘wonton’ to welcome back our ‘kamikaze’ comrade James from his tempura paternity leave (aka baby vacation).
We are going to all-you-can-eat sushi in his honour. How better to ‘maki’ the occasion? Udon are all welcome to come join in on the spider roll-licking good times!
So at 12:30 we will all sashimi to Albert St to edamame a spare rib or two…
Don’t be shrimps, be dynamite!
Yeah, I know.
Despite the bad puns, one must salute the effort of the writer, who inflicted embarrassment upon herself in order to create hilarity amongst her co-workers. Way to go, Bei-seaweed.
Still, we made our way to the new Kirin Express, an Asian-fusion restaurant which replaced the venerable Cathay House as reported by The Waffle last year.
And by Fusion, I mean they have a Chinese Buffet downstairs and All-You-Can-Eat Sushi upstairs. And upstairs we were headed.
First, one must admit that the much needed renos of the top floor are making the space a much more welcoming place.
The warm woods, the soft lighting, the sober accessories are a long overdue improvement over what the previous administration offered towards the end.
We picked up our order tablets, and started scribbling down orders. The AYCE menu is divided in 13 categories: Soup & Salad, Deep Fry, Tempura, Terriyaki, Udon, Noodle, Donburri, Sushi Pizza, Sushi, Sashimi, Roll, Spicy & Crispy Roll, Hand Roll. 153 items on the menu. But there is a catch – about 30 items are available at dinner time only, including all Sashimi, which was a major disappointment for me.
The orders started to come in.
Tempura was a big attraction early on. Shrimp, Mushrooms, Sweet Potatoes, Zucchini, Eggplant (beurk!) and even Broccoli, which is not a common Tempura offering. The Shrimp went really fast, and folks ordered more Sweet Potatoes.
On the table, your choice of Yamasa regular or low-sodium soy sauces. Good for Kirin.
For some reason, someone ordered Seaweed salad. Why would anyone do that? I can’t say. Chewy wet rubbery grass in a slimy sauce. And they kept ordering more! Unreal. It almost got out of hand with the seaweed lovers, I had to threaten to order Cold Tofu. I did let them get away with the Miso Soup, though, and with the Edamame, which was served cold, unsalted.
The Gyoza, called Pork Dumplings on the menu, were going fast once set on the table.
I didn’t think they were particularly good, a bit doughy in fact, and very greasy despite the absorbing paper they were lying on. They were served pipping hot and were obviously kind of addictive. MSG, anyone?
Other Deep Fried items that were ordered included the tiny Spring Rolls (mostly pastry, almost no filling) and the Japanese Hash Brown (which either never came or were too quickly engulfed by James.)
Another very popular item (and by popular I mean we must have killed at least half a dozen baby cows) were the Veal Spare Ribs. Yes, believe me, Veal can spare their ribs.
The meat wasn’t of the greatest quality, some ribs had quite a lot of fat on them, but they were quite tender and delicious, having been marinated and cooked in a typical oriental dark marinade.
From the grill, we also ordered some Chicken Teriyaki – not as successful. The chicken was cut in very thin pieces, was rubbery and the Teriyaki sauce made the whole thing a little slimy. We did not repeat.
But of course, the main reason we were there was to eat sushi, and a lot of it.
Of course, one cannot escape the Maki-Sushi rolls, easy to manipulate and lower in raw fish content.
The selection of rolls has all the classics, like the California, the Dynamite, and a few Salmon options. You can also get the crispy Kirin Roll, the Spider, the Rainbow and the Big roll. A few vegetarian options are also available, but the most exotic ones, such as the Dragon Rolls, are not available for lunch. The rolls, without being delectable, were honest renditions. High volume guarantees a good level of freshness, but it also means that speed prevails on presentation and some of the rolls weren’t keeping together very well. But this is AYCE, not the Sushi Snobby.
The Nigri selection is a tad limited. Salmon, Snapper, Crab Meat, Cooked Egg, and Mackerel. For dinner, you can find Flying Fish Egg, Eel and Shrimp. No Tuna here, in fact, nowhere on the menu is Tuna offered, but you can find Butter Fish as a replacement. I like Tuna better.
Hand Rolls are also available, but they weren’t as popular as the other items. The order of Salmon-Avocado Hand Roll didn’t disappear as quickly – they were kind of big, thankfully not over-packed. A real popular item was the Sushi Pizza, especially the Spicy Salmon, crispy with a spicy sauce. Interesting, but not what I came here for. I would be happier if they were offering Sashimi – but again, those are only available at dinner.
What about Desserts, you ask? Well, there is Banana in the Deep Fry section, but you had to pay extra for real dessert: Ice Cream, Green Tea Cheesecake or Mango Mousse Cake. No thanks.
Overall, we had friendly and efficient service, the orders were coming in at a good rhythm and our drinks were refilled quickly. Kirin Express won’t blow your mind away, but it’s fun to go as a group, try different things, share good food at good value.
I stand behind every pun in my email. It was literary genius.
Now, tempura that frown upside down!