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After Hours: Hong Shing Epitomizes the Toronto Culinary Experience

Dishes from Hong Shing's menu displayed on a black table

Overlooking the corner near Dundas and University for the past quarter of a century, Hong Shing has witnessed the city grow and change over the years – and it, too, has learned how to evolve.

“During that time, we didn’t look any different from any other Chinatown restaurant – we still had the white plastic tablecloths,” says general manager Cleman Fung of Hong Shing’s early days.

A wave of change began for Hong Shing when current owner Colin Li took over operations from his parents five years ago, intending to transform the restaurant to appeal to a new generation of diners. He modernized the space, cut the 400+ item menu down to a comparatively modest 70 dishes, and ushered in a new focus on locally-sourced ingredients.

Hong Shing’s current menu aims to stay true to the restaurant’s roots, while also adapting to Toronto diners’ changing tastes. “We have our really traditional Chinese Cantonese cuisine but after 25 years of service in Toronto we also recognize there’s a market for Americanized, fusion cuisine,” says Fung.

Hong Shing's garlic beef tenderloin, which is tossed in an umami-packed Maggi sauce and topped with fragrant golden garlic chips.
Hong Shing’s garlic beef tenderloin tossed in umami-packed Maggi sauce and topped with fragrant golden garlic chips.

Hong Shing’s diverse customers reflect the restaurant’s transformation over the years, according to bar manager Michael Ranger. “A lot of guests just Googled us and saw that we’re on some ‘best Chinese restaurants in the city’ list; and then there are people that are like: I was here 10-15 years ago and I’m still here,” he says.

Hong Shing’s new bar program is the latest step in its evolution. “Chinese restaurants, in general, don’t have much of a bar program,” explains Fung. Ranger, however, wants to change this precedent by developing a cocktail menu made to be paired with Hong Shing’s eclectic Chinese fare.

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The result is a bar program that emphasizes well-made classic cocktails, along with what Ranger describes as “remastered” cocktails that play with traditional flavours in new ways.

Ranger’s approach to mixology is exemplified by the Story of Kent, a riff on a Boulevardier made with bourbon, Amaro Nonino, Campari, vermouth, and raw sugar cane syrup. The sugar syrup and an orange zest garnish round out the cocktail’s strong and bitter notes, creating a more approachable type of spirit-forward drink.

Hong Shing's signature cocktail, Story of Kent
Story of Kent from Hong Shing.

To pair with the cocktail, Fung and Ranger recommend a dish that makes an equally big impression: the garlic beef tenderloin, which is tossed in an umami-packed Maggi sauce and topped with fragrant golden garlic chips. Locally-sourced asparagus puts a twist on this classic dish, highlighting Hong Shing’s old-meets-new ethos.

“Sometimes, eating the same thing over and over without any refresher gets dull,” says Fung. Instead, each new bite and sip of this pairing delivers a fresh taste bud punch. “We want to showcase a journey of flavours,” says Fung.

Hong Shing’s only-in-Toronto ambience and proximity to the Financial District make it a hotspot for business lunches, according to Fung. The restaurant also recently opened a stylish VIP room, which seats up to 25 people and features a special, 6-course menu. Fung says the VIP room is already becoming a popular choice for corporate groups.

“We try to be culture-based – in the sense of our culture, but also the city’s culture,” says Ranger. “We have a lot of different vibes that come through the door, whether it’s business execs or families or people visiting from out of town. The restaurant brings a lot of different communities together.”

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