Vancouver’s Chinatown is becoming home to a variety of newly opened good eats, but none of them are truly Chinese restaurants in a historically Chinese business-driven neighbourhood.
29-year-old David Wu hopes to change that by opening up Rhinofish (550 Main Street) in the heart of Canada’s largest Chinatown.
Wu is the chef and owner of the newly opened and highly anticipated Taiwanese beef-noodle bar. He’s been trained at Granville Island’s Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts and has worked in a professional kitchen for three years, but Rhinofish is his first business.
The eatery’s specialty is niu rou mian (Taiwanese beef noodles), which brings another noodle-soup option to the surrounding area (Fat Mao serves Thai noodles; The Ramen Butcher serves Japanese ramen).
“When you talk about ramen and pho, everyone knows what it is,” Wu told the Georgia Straight in an interview at his new restaurant. “But when people talk about Taiwanese food, the first thing that comes to their mind would be bubble tea or xiao long bao [steamed soup dumpling]. I think it’s a shame that not a lot of people know [what] niu rou mian is.”
For those who are unfamiliar with Taiwanese beef-noodle soup, it is one of the most popular foods in Taiwan. This go-to dish for locals is usually made of braised beef, beef broth, vegetables, and Chinese noodles.
In a bid to keep things simple, Wu won’t be cluttering his menu with too many items. Guests will find a limited selection of starters, small plates, noodle soups, desserts, and beverages.
Most of his culinary creations will be traditional Taiwanese foods, such as gua bao (Taiwanese steamed buns), yan su ji (crispy chicken nugget), and, of course, niu rou mian.
However, Wu adds a touch of flair to some of his dishes. For instance, his niu rou mian features red cooking wine instead of rice wine; Parmesan and truffle can be added to the crispy chicken nugget; and one of the noodle soups showcases sous vide chicken breast.
“I know a lot of people may get intimidated to go into a Chinese restaurant,” Wu said. “Caucasian people don’t really go to Richmond or a fully Taiwanese restaurant. [I will] keep my food as traditional as possible but with a little twist.”
Shareable menu items include tian bu la (deep-fried fish cake), mu er (wood ear mushroom), Taiwanese sausage, slow-briased pork belly rice bowl, and pickled Japanese cucumber with garlic and chili.
Taiwanese ice-cream flavours such as oolong tea and pineapple will be available. Taiwanese beer and a few different local craft beers will be featured on the menu in the near future.
The 1,300-square-foot space comfortably seats 44 guests, and its interior—designed by Vancouver’s acclaimed Scott and Scott Architects (Mak N Ming, Torafuku, Mister Ice Cream)—features wood, tile, leather, and brick elements.
A long communal table runs through the middle of the restaurant—a seating arrangement intended to get customers to interact with one another.
“With [food] street vendors in Taiwan, you always share a table with people you don’t know,” Wu explained. “I think it’s a really good idea because you can chat with them and meet new people.”
Guests will also notice two pieces of distinct artwork on the walls, which feature a vibrant combination of sea creatures, monkeys, waves, and even Wu’s infant daughter.
“My high-school friend did them. She actually flew from Taiwan just to paint this,” Wu said.
And what does Rhinofish mean?
“There is no such fish as rhinofish; I made it up,” Wu said. “Rhino symbolizes courage, and water brings wealth. I need both to open up a business. Rhino and fish are very different animals, and the contrast symbolizes my western interior and the traditional Taiwanese food [that I serve].”
Scroll through the photos below for a first look inside the Taiwanese beef noodle bar.