The Fan Tan Cafe in Chinatown offers tasty traditional Chinese cuisine, not to mention a great patio from which to watch passersby on Fisgard Street. Photo contributed

ALLAN REID: Chinatown’s Fan Tan Café delights

People watching on sidewalk among the joys of dining at longtime dining spot

When I dine out, I tend to favour tiny, out-of-the-way places where the food served is less oriented toward mass appeal and more about the chef and his/her pursuit of impressive flavour.

Many of the places I’ve reviewed are small hole-in-the-wall spots (Le Petit Dakar, Fishhook on Fort) or they are hidden far from our usual trajectories (Chuck’s Burgers or last month’s Fairfield Branch Café). I look for places that are fantastic, often in some little way, but that most readers will not have visited or even heard of.

If size is the only criteria, this month’s restaurant qualifies as a hole-in-the-wall, but it is certainly not hidden away, nor will it be unfamiliar to most Victorians, for it has been serving locals and tourists alike, in the heart of Chinatown, for over 30 years.

The Fan Tan Cafe’s iconic marquee is squeezed over a high contrast red and black façade just a few metres wide Despite its diminutive size, the café has a richly lacquered finish: mahogany coloured tables and chairs are arranged, grid-like under a dark ceiling and dim lighting. Black wainscotting encircles the interior and a large fish tank brings luck, fortune, luminance and gentle motion into the room.

Reservations are both accepted and recommended. I arrived with friends and no reservation. We were lucky, and relegated to one of a few tables set out on the sidewalk under the cherry trees that line Fisgard Street.

My friends, visiting from Alberta, insisted that Victorians are lucky to be able to enjoy sidewalk dining. It is not just about eating outdoors: if it were, any patio would do.

We sat like four rocks clustered at rest within a turbulent stream of tourists sucked into the vortex of Fan Tan Alley clashing with the reverse stream pouring out. We picked out individuals to follow, if only briefly, catching snippets of conversation: some excited, some business-minded, some lost. Pedicabs unloaded next to us, their captains calling directions and recommendations to guests quickly subsumed in the crowd, while across the street, a delivery truck unloaded boxes of fresh produce for the Chinese market there.

It was a moment in the midst of the stream, but apart from it. It felt intimate, like we were really seeing the city now. An urban moment, or to paraphrase Don Henley, a Victoria minute.

I ordered the Spicy Lunch Combo ($14.95), which includes Kung Pao Chicken, Curried Chicken Chow Mein and Sweet/Chili Pork served together on one plate. Each component was just spicy enough to give my tongue a pleasing tingle and awaken my palate. And I was particularly happy that the sweet/chili pork was not the neon red found in most Chinese restaurants. I washed it all down with Peppermint tea served in a traditional teapot.

Alternately, guests can create their own combination plates, choosing any two ($10.95) or three ($14.50) items from a list of 22. Fan Tan also offers a gluten free menu and, of course, their famous Bubble Tea, which is offered in an impressive array of flavours. Hours are from 11am- 8:45pm every day, though they stay open an extra hour on Fridays and Saturdays.

Fan Tan Café, 549 Fisgard St.

fantancafe.ca 250-383-1611

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Powerful Russian folk trio makes triumphant return to city

Trio Voronezh back on Victoria stage for first time since appearing at Coupe Mondiale in 2013

Abbamania, Night Fever in spotlight at McPherson in Victoria

ABBA, Bee Gees songs will fill the Mac Feb. 7, along with Lady Gaga tribute

Vic High alumni named Victoria’s new Youth Poet Laureate

Neko Smart, the founder and coach of the Vic High slam poetry team, will serve a one-year term

Dance Victoria: The Trocks are in town!

Dance Days 2020 performance roster includes two powerhouse presentations

Pacific Opera Victoria exec member earns major honour

Yvette Guigueno to attend prestigious OPERA America leadership program this month in New York

Winners announced for inaugural Victoria Arts Council/Monday poetry contest

More than 100 entries received in five categories

Canadian polar bears’ ‘ingenious’ survival seen in BBC Earth series

Film crews also go to Tofino to watch black bears snap up crabs under massive boulders

Spring author’s reading series kicks off early in Sidney

Sidney and Peninsula Literary Society hosting Yasuko Thanh and Carla Funk for Feb. 7 event

The winners of London Drugs’ 2019 Amateur Photographer of the Year contest are…

After more than 26,000 entries, the winners have been selected across Western Canada.

‘How to Train Your Dragon’ filmmaker Dean DeBlois among Canadian Oscar nominees

Multiple Oscar-nominated Canadian talents on Academy Award hopefuls list

Most Read