The Cultural Centre Restaurant opened four months ago in the lower level of the blue-pagoda building in Chinatown. It’s run by the same people who own U & Me Restaurant and the MBA BBQ Noodle House.
I’ve been there for lunch which left me less than impressed, and then I went back for a hot pot dinner which was great.
The lunch buffet ($10.95) is advertised as between 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. on weekdays, but when we arrived at about 11:15, we were told the buffet would not be ready for another 45 minutes. Not wanting to heave two babies plus car seats back up the stairs (we found out later there’s an elevator), we sat down and ordered a few dim sum dishes.
We checked off what we wanted off a paper menu so that they’re made fresh to order. This was both good and bad.
The piping hot shrimp dumplings ($4.08) and rice roll with BBQ pork ($4.78) were extremely fresh but they took a long time. Another dish never arrived, despite me asking three different servers over a span of 90 minutes.
By the time the buffet finally opened, it was swarmed by several Chinese seniors making it a new Olympic sport to heave as much food as possible into Styrofoam takeout containers. If Chinese seniors are afoot, you know there’s a bargain to be had.
The buffet featured more than a dozen frequently replenished dishes which is always a good sign. I loved the crispy salt and pepper squid. The rest of it was pretty standard sweet and sour pork/Singapore noodles type fare.
A few days later, I returned for the all-you-can-eat hot pot ($18.95). Chinese hot pot is basically a broth that simmers at your table on a gas burner. Everyone cooks meat, seafood, and vegetables together in that pot. It’s a particularly enjoyable meal in large groups, which is why there were so many families with kids around us.
We could pick two broth flavours out of half a dozen. None of us could read Chinese so we got the waiter to recite the options. We picked a satay soup and a parsley/thousand year duck egg soup. To be honest, I never think it makes a difference because by the end of the night, both soups taste similar.
The hot pot buffet was quite impressive in both quality and quantity. The raw ingredients were clearly labelled in Chinese and English. There was thinly sliced beef, lamb, chicken and pork, as well as a lot of seafood such as oysters, mussels, shrimp, squid and fish balls. Three different kinds of mushrooms, various Chinese greens and noodles were also available.
Everything was very, very fresh. Some hot pot buffets are terrible because the meat is dried out and has been sitting out for who knows how long.
There’s also a table of condiments for you to make up your dipping sauce. This is based on your personal preference. I like to make a bowl of soy sauce, satay sauce, green onions, and XO hot sauce.
The hot pot buffet comes with your drink choice of pop, sugar cane juice or sour plum juice (酸梅汤).
Sour plum juice is a popular accompaniment to hot pot. I’m not sure why. The juice is smoky, sour and sweet. Jason hated it. I don’t normally like it on its own but I drained my glass while eating hot pot.
The Cultural Centre Restaurant also offers a regular dinner menu. A table close to us ordered regular dishes and those looked very good.
Cultural Centre Restaurant, 197 First St. S.W., Calgary, (403) 457-0072. Open weekdays 10 a.m.-11 p.m., Saturday 9 a.m.-11 p.m., Sunday 9 a.m.-10 p.m.
Room for strollers: Yes
High chairs: Plastic white ones available.
Kids menu: No
Ambiance: Lots of noise, lights, TVs and fish tanks to distract kids. We had two babies melt down at our table and no one blinked.
Access: Elevator access through cultural centre entrance, otherwise you’re carrying everything up/down the stairs from the restaurant entrance.