It’s not a secret that Metro Vancouver is home to some of North America’s best Chinese food.
Naturally, there’s a lot of competition, and it’s not an easy culinary market to break into. But Sophia Lin believes that her new Chinese restaurant, Old Bird (3950 Main Street), stands out from the crowd.
Originally from Shanghai, with a fine-arts and business background, Lin doesn’t have much experience in the food-and-drink world. The driving force that led her to open a dining establishment was her passion for gastronomy.
“I’ve always loved food; I’ve cooked my family’s meals since I was, like, 16,” Lin told the Straight in an interview at the new Mount Pleasant eatery. “I’ve just always loved eating, and I travel to many places and went to different restaurants all around the world.”
The concept of Old Bird revolves around Chinese street food that’s fun and approachable for city dwellers. Its name translates from a Chinese noun describing someone as sassy with a few grey hairs, and the motto “Chinese food with attitude” is plastered on its website.
The 1,500-square-foot space feels different as soon as you step through its doors: Chinese lucky cats line the top of the bar in the centre of the room; casual seating with reupholstered benches are a far cry from the round tables you’d normally see in a traditional Asian eatery; and enormous red lanterns hanging from the high ceiling help create the atmosphere of a Taiwanese night market.
“I wanted to make my restaurant accessible to people who may come here all the time in the neighbourhood, so we don’t take any reservations,” explained Lin.
She has teamed up with chef Deseree Lo, who held positions at kitchens in the U.S. before moving here to work at CinCin. Despite her western culinary training, Lo’s Taiwanese heritage inspires a lot of the dishes she’s created.
“I said [to Lin], ‘I’m not really a Chinese chef, but from what I grew up eating, if I can just show you what I love to eat and if I can convince you with that, then we can grow from there,’” Lo told the Straight at Old Bird just before a soft launch.
Guests will find a collection of different-sized share plates on Old Bird’s menu, which includes housemade Taiwanese-style pork sausage, “three cup” Manila clams, steamed black cod, salt-and-pepper wings, Hong Kong–style fish balls, and Taiwanese-style beef noodle soup with pickled veggies.
Desserts like vegan hakka mochi and ginger-milk custard are also on offer.
“I know what Cantonese and Taiwanese food is like, and then she [Lin] will give me pointers from her childhood. That’s how we just slowly get together and kind of marry both cultures together,” Lo explained. “It’s my idea of how I want to eat my Chinese food, not how other people tell me how it should be.”
The emphasis is on creating with authentic Chinese flavours while using ingredients from local farms and fisheries and serving Ocean Wise–certified seafood whenever possible.
As for the bar program, expect to find everything from B.C. craft beer to B.C. wines, as well as cocktails that are made with ingredients inspired by Chinese elements like roots, tea, and florals.
“It’s exciting for me as a Vancouverite born and raised that I’m getting to try a different type of Chinese cuisine that hasn’t been available to me in the city before,” Old Bird’s general manager, Shawn Jones, told the Straight. “The atmosphere is really fun, and at night it glows really warm from the lanterns.”
Old Bird has opened on the heels of Lunar New Year and will be ringing in the Year of the Rat with a special pan-seared dumpling feature ($8.88) made with three treasures (chicken, duck, and pork) paired with mushrooms and cabbages.
Eating dumplings during the New Year celebration has auspicious meanings: its shape resembles ancient Chinese money, which represents prosperity for the coming year.