Restaurateur Jonathan Lee wanted to make his grandfather proud
By Charmaine Y. Rodriguez
Michelin released its Vancouver Guide and Little Bird Dim sum + Craft Beer in Kitsilano is one of those that made it.
The 54-seater restaurant is being run by Jonathan Lee, the son of Filipino-Canadian restaurateur Joseph Lee, who owns the iconic Flamingo Restaurant in Vancouver.
Jonathan said that it was in 2019 when he and his siblings pooled their resources together to open Little Bird.
Michelin took notice and gave it the “Bib Gourmand” rating.
“The funny story is, I got an invite [but] I didn’t think we’d win,” Jonathan said. “I thought they were just inviting a lot of restaurants and I didn’t even actually show up for the event. The next day I got phone calls from people congratulating me,” he told ABS CBN News.
The Michelin Guide describes Little Bird as a hip lair with a contemporary feel, with its floors, tables and walls partly created from recycled chopsticks.
“It’s a classic lineup of dim sum favorites. Sticky rice studded with savory pork and chicken and sweet goji berries is a must-order. Of course, there must be dumplings, and Little Bird’s run the gamut from traditional (ha gow) to surprising, with sweet corn, cilantro and shrimp. Supremely fresh, savory and served steaming hot, these dumplings are the definition of comfort food. As promised, beer is king here,” the Michelin Guide reads.
It also noted that Jonathan’s pairing of the classic dim sum with local B.C. craft beers was the reason they started Little Bird.
“It’s a mixture of a unique dining experience where we’re bringing in classic, traditional dim sum. And something that BC loves which is beer and then dining experience,” it added.
A Michelin Star is awarded to restaurants offering outstanding cooking. The judges take into account five universal criteria: the quality of the ingredients, the harmony of flavours, the mastery of techniques, the personality of the chef as expressed through their cuisine and, just as importantly, consistency both across the entire menu and over time.
To counter the wrong perception that the Michelin Guide is only for fine dining, it launched in 1997 the Bib Gourmand special award for the best value for money restaurants – offering a three course meal at a reasonable price. The price limit for Bib Gourmand consideration varies from country to country, depending on the cost of living, but the inspectors are searching for the same high quality, wherever they happen to be in the world.
Lee said he owes the success of the restaurant to the pioneering spirit of his grandfather, who moved to Canada from the Philippines and brought dim sum outside of Vancouver’s Chinatown.
Jonathan’s grandfather is Yuk Sing Lee, who at 14 years old, was sent from China to live with his aunt in the Philippines.
There, Yuk Sing got married and had a son, Joseph, and started running grocery stores and hotels.
In 1969, he and his family set off for Vancouver with a dream of opening their own business one day, according to montecristomagazine.com.
Joseph studied hotel and restaurant management at BCIT and then in 1974, he and his father took over the Flamingo Steak & Pizza House on Cambie at West 59th Avenue.
They kept the original menu until customers clamored for Chinese food.
Because of this, the father and son duo expanded the Cambie Street restaurant and, in 1984, opened a second location on Fraser Street at East 18th Avenue.
The Cambie and Fraser Street locations closed and in the current one located on Southeast Marine Drive that opened in 2017, the family business continues to reinvent itself.