As someone who lives in Chinatown and loves to eat, I noticed with interest when I saw that a new restaurant was opening at the corner of Somerset and Arthur. Honey Town takes up the western end of the plaza that also houses Possible Worlds, the store and workshop space opened by Spins and Needles, and Shuwei, aka Spicy Legend, another new and amazing restaurant that very much merits a post of its own. Fans of cute Japanese kitsch may know it as space that was formerly Global Homeware, though if you need more Hello Kitty in your life, you will be relieved to know that the store has merely moved to a smaller location next door.
Inside, Honey Town is a very pleasant space. The restaurant gets lots of natural light from the wall of windows along Arthur. The interior wall is clad in modern wood panelling, and the bright red vinyl booths give it a fun diner feel. Most of the patrons were cute and well-dressed young couples, and the place had the cheerful atmosphere that you would expect from a dessert-focused restaurant. The music selection is also apt– the sugariest of contemporary pop hits (think One Direction) are the perfect accompaniment to stuffing yourself with sweet treats.
Mains: the surprise stars of the show
For us, however, it was the savory dishes that stole the show. When the restaurant first opened, I stopped by to check out the menu, and the server pointed out the Taiwanese popcorn chicken as a specialty of the house. Between that and the fact that one of my dining companions is my go-to person for when I want to go shamefully eat KFC away from the eyes of all my vegan friends, I knew that popcorn chicken was a must-order. Indeed, it was unanimously adored by my three dinner companions and I. It was perfectly tender and moist, and the outside was crisp, not greasy, and it came with a spicy dipping sauce
The item most likely to feature in my daydreams, however, was the kimchi fries. They were so simple: just perfect, crispy french fries with a mound of kimchi on top. The fries remained miraculously unsoggy, and the dish was every crispy, salty, savoury thing I want poutine to be, but without leaving you feeling laden and regretful.
We also tried two flavours of Honey Town’s four flavours of bao. Ottawa street food aficionados may be familiar with Gongfu Bao‘s cross-cultural takes on this classic handheld snack, which consists of a soft white steamed flatbread wrapped around savoury fillings. Honey Town takes a more traditional, but no less exciting approach to bao.
The braised beef bao with kimchi was a big hit– very tender and nicely spiced. The next time I eat a pulled pork sandwich with coleslaw, I know that part of me will be pining for this. The fried chicken bao, unfortunately, was somewhat disappointing, especially since the popcorn chicken let me know just how strong Honey Town’s fried chicken game can be. The chicken was well seasoned, but dry and tough, which made the bao difficult to eat.
I’d definitely come back to try the other two flavours: they also have a classic pork belly bao, and an intriguing-sounding five-spice tofu bao.
Desserts: the true Mayor of Honey Town
The simplest dish we ordered was the double-layer milk custard. It was pure white, and came served in a small ramekin. Not overly sweet, the dish was a nice palate cleanser between the more intensely-flavoured items we ordered.
You can get the black sesame soup with red bean, green bean, or almond paste, but I opted for the original flavour since it wasn’t a dish I’d tried before. It arrived drizzled with sweetened condensed milk, and piping hot– I burnt my tongue foolishly trying to dig into it right away. The serving was quite large for such an intensely flavoured dish (one of my friends compared it to “eating warm muffin batter”, which she swore was a compliment). Another dining companion tried dipping their bao bun in it, and found they liked it better as a condiment than as a dish on its own.
I decided to order tofu pudding with green beans, because I misunderstood the menu and thought that it would be served inside a whole papaya, which seemed exciting to me. For me, this was the most challenging dish. For folks like me who grew up on Western food, the most unfamiliar thing about Chinese desserts tends to be the textures, rather than the flavours. This dish consisted of sweetened mung beans, cooked to a texture I associate with split pea soup, topped with a slippery, gelatinous tofu pudding. I’m by no means a reliable source as to the quality of Honey Town’s take on this dish, but it isn’t one I’d recommend to someone unfamiliar with Cantonese desserts.
I would say the same of the sweet dumplings in ginger syrup. The dumplings, small pink and white rice-flour-based balls with a tender, yielding texture, were nothing if not adorable. The ginger syrup was like a perfect cup of sweet and spicy ginger tea. However, again, it was a large serving with very overwhelming flavours, and I’m afraid we weren’t able to make much of a dent in the large bowl of it that came to our table.
Honey Town’s menu is extensive, and there are many, many things I’d love to come back and try. Chilled Mango Soup with Mango Ice Cream sounds like the perfect dish for a summer evening, and Tortoise Jelly with Sea Coconut sparked my imagination and sent me trawling through several fascinating Wikipedia entries.
They have milkshakes, frozen yogurt, sago (a pudding with bubble-tea-esque pearls), and many more treats. I also only noticed when I was re-reading the menu to write this review that they also offer soup dumplings, a Shanghaiese snack that I’ve not been able to find elsewhere in Ottawa.
The servers are helpful and friendly, and our food came quickly even though the restaurant was fairly busy. With its cute atmosphere and large menu of discussion-provoking items, Honey Town would be a great date spot. If you want to go destroy a big order of kimchi fries with some pals and giggle over pop music, I can vouch that it is also a great place for that.
Honey Town (710 Somerset St W.) is open from 11:30 am until 10:30 pm. You can check out their menu online.