When Oru, the formal restaurant in the new Fairmont Pacific Rim, announced that it would feature a Pan-Asian menu, eyebrows were raised. The dubious concept brings horror to mind, with thoughts of chain restaurant menus looming in the air. Tastes – palate wise and beyond – are questioned. Would this be an expensive version of the Cactus Club menu, featuring an overpriced Coles notes version of popular Asian fare?

The menu is indeed comprised of various Asian dishes, cherry-picking from well-known Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Indian and Southeast Asian favourites. The server went to great lengths to inform us that even the service would reflect an “Asian” flair: dishes would be served whenever they were ready, instead of in a typical three course progression. Chopsticks are the default option; knives and forks available on request. The room features an impressive origami light fixture made by local master Joseph Wu. The message is presented loud and clear: if Oru is pushing the Pan-Asian concept, they’re going all out in doing so, guns a-blazing.

We started with the housemade tofu ($10) served with maitake mushrooms, Mongolian truffles and braised daikon in a thickened sauce. The tofu is a silken wonder, lingering in the mouth just long enough to savor its subtle flavour and breathed in shortly afterward, the sauce good but perhaps a bit lacking in salt. It’s not overly clear why this should be considered an appetizer on the menu (particularly given the server’s emphatic speech beforehand), the portion size masking how rich and filling tofu can actually be.

This was followed by the ramen ($15), served with housemade noodles, braised Berkshire pork belly, egg and bamboo shoots. The Straight’s Carolyn Ali has called this “easily the best ramen in Vancouver,” an exaggerated description given the city’s ever-increasing ramen options as of late. It’s good, not great: the noodles not quite toothsome enough, the broth not quite flavourful enough, with only the pork belly being noteworthy.

The smoked sablefish with claypot rice ($24) has similar problems. Though the sablefish in itself is fantastic, it doesn’t make immediate sense when paired with the lap cheong rice (nevermind the limited portions), and the rice in itself is no more than a good fried rice. Though served in a claypot, it hasn’t done quite enough time in it, and is without those crunchy bits of rice that make a claypot dish so enviable in the first place.

Despite these shortfalls, it’s safe to say that Oru has avoided all the pitfalls of Pan-Asian kitsch: there's no sense of dumbing these dishes down in the same way chain restaurant menus might. If anything, one could easily argue that these dishes are more representative of a true, multicultural West Coast cuisine, reflective of an environment where these dishes are increasingly less exotic.

There’s enough missing from Oru, however, that will garner the same criticism that has been laid on brethren-in-spirit Bao Bei. It may be a mistake to immediately compare these places to the traditional dishes from which they came, but it’s not a mistake to criticize both for not departing from those benchmarks enough. A modern context is sought and achieved; a modern product, not so much.

Where Oru succeeds, then, is in the desserts. These take Asian flavour profiles and leaves the baggage in the dust. A jalebi sits atop a pistachio-cardamon kulfi ($7), pomegranate gelee cubes sprinkled all around. It hints at the traditional without being mired down by it, providing a glimpse of some undiscovered land to which the rest of the menu will hopefully emigrate. And if Oru intends to be the destination restaurant that it should be, it'll need to.


Oru at the Fairmont Pacific Rim
1038 Canada Place
Vancouver BC
604 695 5500

Oru at Fairmont Pacific Rim on Urbanspoon


shokutsu said... @ March 18, 2010 at 12:18 AM

I walked past this place tonight just hours ago and was wondering what it was, thanks for sharing the report. That ramen soup, especially the color, just seems wrong to me. Ah well, I know I won't bother to get ramen here. :)

Etienne de Cochon said... @ March 18, 2010 at 1:00 AM

Was the daikon in the tofu dish picked by virgins under a full moon during an eclipse? All ethically sourced and organic?

Anonymous said... @ March 18, 2010 at 1:54 AM

more corporate co-opting of asian food. lame.

Joe said... @ March 18, 2010 at 9:16 AM

Etienne - at $10, given the portion size and the quality of the tofu, I thought the price for that dish was pretty fair. I'd expect to pay the same amount for store bought tofu at a Chinese restaurant.

The $15/bowl price for the ramen is up for argument, though consider what you're paying at Santouka. The claypot rice was, well, overpriced.

All that said, it was at the friggin' Fairmont. The high price tag is expected. The quality didn't match expectations though, particularly considering David Wong's credentials.

Anon - blaming the menu on 'corporate co-opting' is a pretty lazy comment. Try again.

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