The draw was the food—modern dim sum served tapas-style for dinner—but Bambudda had us at the first sip. That’s not to say the fare at this new resto on the eastern edge of Gastown isn’t beyond fine. It’s just that we weren’t expecting the cocktails to seduce.
Picture the teeniest, most perfectly shaped, darkest-red rosebud floating atop a frothy sea of pink in an old-fashioned crystal glass. A concoction called the Fitzgerald, this drink is a dangerously delicious blend of gin, maraschino liqueur, cava, and rose-tea syrup—and it’s not nearly as sickly sweet as that may sound. The menu includes this line under the tipple’s title: “Because Fitzgerald got the girls when Hemingway couldn’t.” If the Great Gatsby author had served up this little number, he’d have been a leading lady’s man indeed.
Bambudda barman Buck Friend came up with the Fitzgerald, one of five house originals at this unique spot that has pieces of traditional Chinese blue-and-white pottery standing out amid the otherwise contemporary, dark-hued décor. For the Smoking Budda, Friend, who formerly worked at Maenam, mixes Los Siete mescal, Drambuie, Noilly Prat, and ginseng tincture for a drink that looks pretty with a garnish of orange peel cut up to resemble an origami bird. The beverage requires a constitution of steel, however, and that’s a compliment—it’s palatable but potent. Loved the Zen Cha too, with yellow Chartreuse, house-made green-tea liqueur, and pineapple and lime juices.
The restaurant is a dream come true for owner Ray Loy, who moved to Vancouver from Hong Kong when he was one and has spent more than a decade working as a server in several local eateries, including Five Sails, Joe Fortes, C, and MARKET by Jean-Georges, to name a few. “I’ve always wanted to own a restaurant,” he told the Georgia Straight in a follow-up phone call, noting that Gastown is an area he’s especially fond of. “I grew up in Strathcona and still live there, so Gastown and Chinatown have always been a big part of my life. Walking through those neighbourhoods was a weekly ritual; my mom and grandma would take me to Woodward’s department store. The area is very near and dear to my heart.”
He described Bambudda’s food as an updated take on the kind of home-style Chinese cooking he remembers so fondly from his childhood, with the menu’s other influences coming from chefs Keev Mah and Douglas Chang. “Keev is Malaysian-born and grew up eating a lot of Cantonese cuisine, and he’s also French-trained,” Loy said. “Douglas worked at Eleven Madison Park in Manhattan, and they were always bringing in this amazing fish and seafood from B.C. He decided he had to come out here to see it for himself.”
Also in the mix are local ingredients that will change with the seasons. A memorable example of this inventive fusion is the law bak go. The chefs rejig traditional dim sum radish cakes—all smooth and savoury—by topping them with smoked brisket, watercress, and chili oil. For the “barbecue pork buns”, the meat is marinated in Chinese barbecue sauce and served on soft, house-made rolls alongside plump B.C. cherries. Then there’s oven-roasted chicken crackling, which is essentially chicken skin in potato-chip form. You can squirt these crisps with accompanying lime wedges that are smothered in coarse salt and pepper.
Those dishes are small plates that are intended to be shared; a delectable larger one is the melt-in-the-mouth hanger steak with chili oil and a black peppercorn demi-glace. One of the most popular items is the crispy pork belly with maple hoisin sauce, Loy noted; ubiquitous bone marrow is on offer too, here with bison tartare and crispy rice. The menu will gradually be expanded, Loy added, with items such as a scallop dish and clams with cilantro, garlic, and rice wine coming soon.
If only for the stunning presentation, order the Yin and Yang to finish: milk tea, litchi, and white chocolate are the ingredients in a firm jelly that’s moulded into two little fish shapes. The sweet minnows come in a pool of curaçao dotted with chili peppercorns.
Dinner for two with four cocktails, six shared plates, and two desserts came to $116 before tax and tip.