Friday, January 13, 2012


Its reputation is legendary; its food for the most ambitious of palettes (and wallets). It’s had reinventions, came from humble beginnings, and now boasts a wait time of at least half an hour on a Sunday morning, having cornered the market on dim sum in Kitchener-Waterloo after years of, I can only assume, hard work and culinary dedication. It’s been showboated as ‘fine’ Chinese food, but that may be a title that’s too beguiling; an absurdity in the genre of Chinese cuisine as far as this gastronomer is concerned, especially in a place that builds its identity and success on a dining spirit of loud, happy eating. Yes, there are eons of calm respite associated with the teashops that birthed the later tradition of dim sum, and maybe some days you can pretend you’re on a journey to seek out a gold-branded staff or compliant rod or whatever and come to this place for some reprieve, but the huzzah of voices and cosmopolitan space will make you realize that Cameron Chinese Seafood Restaurant isn’t that place. It is undeniably better. So, if and when you’re feeling a little regal, or a poor student willing to give all of your pennies for the pleasure of food that touches that culinary point of your heart, seek out Cameron Chinese Seafood Restaurant. It may not wish to remind you of its humble past, especially for new visitors, but I happily will, because when I was young and discovering food, Cameron Seafood, which I’ve visited only once in the last five years, was a tottering little restaurant with white thin metal siding and an exterior like a plywood lodge with plastic plants, a large mounted fish on the wall, and throwaway table cloths. Of course, I’m not the only one to remember this. Cameron seafood has a sea of devote followers that know the ropes: what to get, when to ask for tea, and how to order from a slip that has no prices displayed, only dishes. A practice that takes many Sunday mornings to master, unless you have the courage to ask what each item costs, of course. Whether you choose to lose face or not is up to you. After a long dim sum hiatus, I certainly didn’t.

The space made my own penurious person feel undeserving, what with its rich brown walls of alternating wood and mirror paneling, white tableware, emblazoned chopsticks, glass tablecloths, and crystal chandeliers hanging above. That’s right, like some fancy phoenix rising out of the ashes. No old creaky floors here. Not anymore. Alas.

Though I could appreciate the candor of a dining room that mimicked the fancy ones of big cities, at times I felt it was a little much, and that no matter what, the food’s messy attitude reminded me that no one can tame dim sum. Tea will over-pour, dumplings will slip through plastic chopsticks, soup will slurp, sauces will spill. I saw it happen all around me, and I started to miss those throwaway table clothes. Posh was done out by my pangs for a more humble past. But, at least the food didn’t change, and if it did, it was for the better.

On average, four items off the dim sum menu will cost you a good twenty dollars, and there’s a spending limit of at least ten dollars per person. Thus, if you have a big appetite, bring a big wallet; otherwise, drink a shake or something before hand, and get ready for some of the best Cantonese in the city.

My company and I, two humble cooks, bombarded our table with Chinese broccoli, steamed buns, deep fried shrimp dumplings and sesame balls.

Obviously, I will do the courtesy of describing each dish, but in this case, my words do little justice. The food should certainly be tasted beyond the page. I say this with earnest, because for the food to have been so satisfying in such a busy place is spectacular. The broccoli, a plate of soothing greens steamed to a crisp and drizzled with an oyster sauce that was mildly sweet reminded me of the culinary panic of cooking vegetables to submissive edibles of formless mush. It was at Cameron where they were saved, albeit a little salty at times because of the sauce.

The deep fried shrimp dumplings came hot. Impatient, I absentmindedly burned the roof of my mouth biting into a crunchy wonton cloud that came on presumably burnt, only to subside as something nutty and roasted due to the sesame oil dressed pieces of buoyant, juicy shrimp. Accompanying the dish was a redolent dipping sauce that I likened to a sweet red wine vinegar.

To balance our salty and savoury spread we chose two sweet dishes. Guilty pleasures if anything. Our smooth and airy steamed buns were filled with a lucent caramel coloured lotus paste, thick and clabbered with a flavour that brings the simplest comparison to mind: it was like biting into some kind of curiously steamed peanut butter sandwich.

We were most impressed with our fried sesame balls. Coated with sesame and laden with egg curd, each ball was a rich combination of crispy exterior and chewy interior, with a honeyed sweetness that permeated throughout. These treats could have easily stood without the curd, because it was the gluttonous shell that made eating each ball so entertaining, each one playfully sticking to our teeth. You read about things like these, but you only fully understand them when you try them out for yourself.

If I have one ache, it may only be the fact that customers are charged for a pot of tea so bland and generic that they’d be better off asking for a pot of hot water, or ‘white tea,’ so called by the poor, rural equivocating neighbours of China’s north. Otherwise, Cameron Seafood may be a place too ambitious to review, the food is that good. Either that, or I’ve been intimidated by everyone beguiling me to review it.

Cameron Seafood Restaurant
19 Cameron St. S., Kitchener
Open 7 Days a Week 11:00am – 10:30pm.

Cameron Chinese Seafood Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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