Oyster Express in Historic Chinatown
On one of our recent visits to Phnom Penh and The Pie Shoppe, I noticed that a new restaurant had opened up in the old Chi Sing Trading Co. location at the corner of Gore and Keefer. If you’ve lived in Vancouver as long as I have, you’ll probably remember the spot as a typical Chinatown import store where you could find cheap knickknacks.
And if you go back far enough, you might remember the spot as a rough and tumble bar for the Stratford Hotel.
Courtesey of Vancouver Archives Stratford Hotel 1972
I’m pretty sure that the round windows were there when Chi Sing Trading Co. used to be in this location. They have since moved down to Union Street.
Anyways, back to the new restaurant that opened up last year… they had me at the name… Oyster Express. I love me some oysters!
Oyster Express is operated by ex-Rodney’s Oyster House shucker, Sean Chesney.
When I came by to visit one Sunday afternoon at 1pm, the restaurant was completely empty so I had my pick of tables. I picked a seat at the window and perused the limited menu offering.
While they don’t have many different dishes on their menu, they do have a fairly good selection of raw oysters to choose from and always have a featured variety available for $1.50 (and buck-a-shucks are available 3-6pm Tuesdays to Fridays).
Since the day was cold (but sunny), I decided to order up a Homemade Pomegranate Tea ($4). This turned out to be more of a girly drink than I had planned for, but since no one was around, I guess it didn’t really matter. It came served in a really large glass mug (almost the size of a mini fish bowl) and was piping hot. The aroma from the pomegranate wafted through the air and there were plenty of pomegranate seeds in the bottom of the glass.
I sipped on this sweet tea and watched life go by through the large window while folk rock music like Bob Dylan and Eddie Vedder were playing in the background.
The featured oyster on this day was the Gorges Inlet Oysters ($1.50 each today, $2.50 each regular price) and I picked up half a dozen. Gorges Inlet oysters tend to be small to medium sized usually and I was very pleased with how plump and clean they were. They had a very delicate and fresh flavour. The accompaniments at Oyster Express isn’t as extensive as you would find at Rodney’s but I think that’s okay because it brings the food back to a more simplistic approach. There was a mignonette, a cocktail sauce, and a hot sauce that you could top your oyster with – my favourite was the mignonette with a good dose of horseradish.
When I ordered the Oyster Soup ($9) Sean told me that it was a very simple soup that originated from a 200 year old recipe. It’s basically just 4-5 oysters in a very uncomplicated cream soup. Unlike a chowder that’s crammed full of ingredients, the oyster soup is very minimalistic… I can see how some people will either love how simple this soup is or they’ll be disappointed. Personally, I was happy that I ordered it and enjoyed it but I probably wouldn’t order it frequently.
I also ordered the Grilled Cheese ($8) which came with tomato and mushrooms. The bread was grilled up to a nice golden brown colour and I liked the idea of adding the tomato slices and mushrooms inside the sandwich. However, I found that the cheese in the middle wasn’t completely melted. I think the water content of the tomatoes and mushrooms probably prevented the cheese from melting completely. You know what could have made this sandwich better? Add some pan-fried oysters in the middle and turn it into a grilled cheese po’boy… that would be killer.
Apparently, the restaurant is busier at night now that they are licensed and is a good place to unwind after a long day at work. I think if they added a few more oyster dishes, I would probably come back more often. Maybe an oyster hot pot or some pan-fried oysters. But if you like your oysters simple and to the point, try out Oyster Express.
296 Keefer Street