Review: John's Noodle Village | 823 Bay Street | Victoria
08 May 2010 · by Brennan Storr · Be the first to comment!
Update, June 2015: Five years later, John's Noodle Village is still our favorite Chinese place in town.
In a line-up of the world’s major nations China tends to stand out. Sure, Canada is bigger, meaning we get to swagger around the U.N. locker room proudly drawing attention to our Maritimes but would it topple the American economy if we sold our government bonds as revenge for allowing Kate Gosselin back on television? I think not. Russia is larger still and has an impressive stockpile of enormously powerful weapons that are in no way compensating for anything, but has their cuisine taken the western world by storm? Not unless I missed an episode of The F Word where Gordon Ramsay shows you eighteen different ways to prepare potatoes, vodka and sadness. So that makes China the world’s fourth largest country that has the third by the short hairs with a million-man army to make sure they don’t squirm too much and a government that has managed to keep out Richard Gere since the late nineties. Sounds like a major player on the world stage to me.
All those things considered it’s almost unnecessary to mention their delicious culinary tradition that has become a staple of the North American diet; a good thing too, because Chinese food as we know it isn’t particularly Chinese. Not that it makes a damn bit of difference to me but try talking about chicken chow mein at your next book club meeting and wait for the knowing looks. Intellectuals everywhere delight in explaining that the Chinese food we eat here is completely different than what’s eaten in China, just like the Indian food served in Britain...but usually by this time their victim has nodded off to dreamland where they’re eating Kung Pao Chicken with Christine Hendricks on a sampan in the land of the rising sun.
Unless you’re looking to spend a jolly evening being beat about the head with a pipe you’re unlikely to stumble across John’s Noodle Village on foot, tucked away as it is in the dusky hinterland of Bay Street.
Those among you with a taste for the finer things in life will recognize the address as being part of the same Epicurean edifice that houses the legendary Alzu’s. John’s Noodle Village isn’t much to look at on the outside, or even on the inside for that matter. It’s a very open, very white restaurant decorated in a style that will be familiar to anyone who’s ever been in a Chinese restaurant before. It seems clean enough although the partition next to our table could have done with a wipe-down. Nicky, Max, Dan & I arrived just after five to find the place empty and unnaturally quiet save for a party of three in one corner. We were instructed by the waitress to sit wherever we liked and we ended up on the same side of the restaurant as the other diners, close to the window.
Our host brought us menus and a pot of tea, and then left before we could order anything else to drink. Either she had more important things to do or we all looked like we didn’t need any more processed sugar. Denied our fix, we poured some tea and had a look at the menu. The selection at John’s is large and, for a change, includes vegetarian options that actually sound worth trying. We didn’t order any of them of course, we all firmly believe that food tastes better if it once had a face, but it’s nice to know the option is there. In the end everyone chose a dish and we ended up with spicy ginger beef ($14.50), satay chicken chow mein ($12.95), sizzling hot pan prawns with satay sauce ($15.95) & stir-fry beef with broccoli & fresh mushrooms ($13.95). We tried for drinks again after placing our order but didn’t quite manage before our waitress disappeared.
The food arrived quickly, almost too quickly, I thought, but everything was piping hot and the prawns were sizzling as advertised, so any concerns were unfounded. The ginger beef came as flat, square bits that were lightly breaded rather than thin, over-coated strips and the ginger sauce was light and flavourful with a tiny bit of spice, a nice change from other sludgy ginger beef offerings around town. The satay sauce in the chow mein and prawns was delicious and light as well although completely lacking in spice. The vegetables were surprisingly fresh and crunchy, from the bell peppers in the chow mein to the broccoli in the stir-fry and true to their word, fresh mushrooms were used. Portions were smaller than I’ve become accustomed to in places like Ming’s or Don Mee’s which, given the relative quality of the food would be acceptable if not for high pricing.
Overall we were very impressed with John’s Noodle Village. Take-out options are available but there’s no option for delivery, which means that we’ll still be eating Don Mee’s when we get the craving on lazy days. We did eventually get a round of drinks and our waitress was professional and efficient, if reserved. Really the only thing that I get hung up on is the price; sixty dollars for four people with only one soda on the bill feels high, particularly given the portioning. Of course the portioning would be just the thing for those who feel overfed at some of Chinatown’s more popular restaurants.
I’ve been looking for a regular place to get my Chinese food fix ever since canned mushrooms and soggy vegetables drove me away from the last place I used to frequent. Pricing aside I think John’s Noodle Village fits the bill; their ingredients are fresh, their sauces light and everything is a colour you wouldn’t be disturbed if you came across in nature. This kind of food may be as Chinese as a cowboy hat but as long as it’s done this well I don’t care whether it comes from Beijing or Bowling Green. Tell your book club I said that.
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