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The International Writers Magazine
: Restaurant Reviews: Vancouver BC

Mao Mao
Jenny Brown

Gastown, Vancouver, has long been a vibrant cross section of antiques shops, tacky tourist lofts and hip nightclubs. Cobblestones roads lead to winding alleys filled with eateries of all ethnicities. Mao Mao is the latest Asian/fusion cafe on the block, fitting right into this trendy area.

Set in a heritage building and sandwiched in a row of made-to-measure dress shops, it is a welcome stopping point after a long days meandering.

Walking into Mao Mao instantly took me back to a café I used to visit in Portobello Road, London, (think Hugh Grant in Notting Hill, think Jamie Oliver). It’s a place where you’d expect to bump into the next up and coming writer, clacketing away on his laptop, or a photographer snapping pictures of a model on a location shoot. With its high ceilings, large windows and warm orange walls, this cozy hideaway has the potential to become the next hippest hangout in town.

Owner Regis Chung, has exactly this on his mind. With a petition already started for a large screen TV, he is attracting the same VFS students who frequent his other restaurant, Tribecca on Seymour and Pender. The loyal following of Vancouver’s fast rising DJs are following suit, as are the colorful art crowd who have monthly shows at Tribecca.

But the décor and vibe aren’t the only things that are bringing in repeat customers. The menu is an adventure of flavors that could be described as New York deli meets Asian grill. It’s eclectic array of dishes run the gamut from Thai Chicken Curry to Grilled Cheese Sandwiches. Regis describes it as East meets West. Working in his father’s restaurant in Mauritius as a child, has clearly influenced the flavors he uses in his dishes.

I started with the vegetable spring rolls with Szechwan pepper mayo. These little crispy rolls were far superior to any greasy take out. Perfectly crunchy with a spicy-smooth filling and fiery mayonnaise sauce they were tantalizing enough to want more but I held back for the main course. I ordered the most popular item on the menu – Thai Chicken Curry. Creamy, sweet and delicately spiced with chilies, and surrounded by fresh grilled vegetables, it is mouth wateringly addictive and plain to see why it’s so popular. Soups are extravagant bowls of thick creamy stews. My partner had the soup of the day, lentil, chicken and leek with a slab of marble bread - a complete meal in itself.

Each item was presented with the attention to detail and artistic flair of a five star chef. Regis’s days at the Cannery, Fish House and The Four Seasons have clearly left their mark. You may be dining in a casual atmosphere, but quality of product and service is clearly paramount.
The ingredients are top notch. Fresh turkey breast, classic smoked meat from Montreal and wild salmon – all at reasonable prices ($4.25 - $7.40). Chinese, Creole and East Indian flavors make an appearance on the menu, with other items such as chicken satays, smoked salmon wonton crisps, vegetarian curry and five spiced beef stew.

Our server was a trendily dressed fashion designer-in-the-making, who offered friendly chit chat, gladly pointing out the finer details of the menu items.In the evening Mao Mao becomes a lively lounge when club DJs spin the night away against the back drop of the red-brick wall in the back and surrounded by cubby holes filled with tables and large chairs and a mysterious staircase leading halfway up the wall.

Regis describes it as "A one stop shop. A place where you can have a meal, be entertained, enjoy great crowds and hang out 3-4 times a week, and its not going to cost you an arm and a leg. You have to have a little bit of humor for whatever you do. You can’t take things too seriously these days. The décor and atmosphere of Mao Mao reflects this. Other people have said it’s a beautiful little place, quaint and comfortable. It reminds me of New York, where warehouses have been turned into offices and apartments. That’s what Gastown is becoming - a very exclusive area."

Private parties of any kind are welcome - where buffet or sit down menus or a la carte options are offered.
So whether it’s a foaming cappuccino in a New York minute, or a languid martini and meal in a lively party atmosphere, check out this chameleon-like café – it offers a taste for all.

Mao Mao is at 307 West Cordova, at the corner of Cambie across from the Cambie Hotel. Hours are Monday-Friday 11-3 for lunch and Thursday-Sunday 6-12 for dinner.
Tel: 604 974 0626

© Jenny Brown March 2004
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