Surprisingly, quality Cantonese dim sum is quite a hit or miss in Taipei. With its proximity to Hong Kong and the variety of other mainland China culinary influences, I would have expected Taipei to be filled with excellent dim sum options. A year of exploring has led us to several decent options, which do not always come cheaply.
On our latest search for good dim sum, we decided to finally try the Shang Palace at the Shangri-La Hotel, which is located in the Far Eastern Plaza in downtown Taipei. We definitely had high hopes since the location in Hong Kong is a Michelin Two-star restaurant.
The Shang Palace in Taipei is quite elegant and has a number of private rooms that open up to accommodate busy weekend diners. The dim sum menu was filled a number of tantalizing options — many of which we have never seen elsewhere. For NT 899 (around $30 US), opt for the all-you-can-eat dim sum, which allows you to order a number of excellent dishes off the menu, some of which are very pricey on their own.
If you like to try various Chinese teas, they had a decent menu (although nothing compared to what we just had at Langham Place in Hong Kong a few weeks before). The menu featured a number of classic teas like Jasmine, Chrysanthemum, Ooolong, andPu-erh. We tried the Bi-luo-chun from Jiangsu, China. It is known for its delicate appearance, fruity taste, floral aroma but we were not that impressed. It was too mild — I much prefer stronger flavor teas like Pu-erh and Ti-kuan-yin. Most of the teas on the menu are from mainland China, but both the Oolong teas are local to Taiwan. All the teas are NT $80 (about $2.50 US) per person with meal service.
We started with a traditionally expensive delicacy – bird’s nest soup. Shang Palace serves Braised Bird’s Nest and Winter Squash Soup which was excellent. Although we did not really get any winter squash taste, the soup was quite flavorful.
If you have never heard of bird’s nest – it is quite the delicacy in fine Chinese cuisine. Soups or desserts made with real bird’s nest can easily run upwards of $50 US on a menu.
What is a bird’s nest you might ask? Exactly what it sounds like – it is the saliva nest of certain types of swifts. When dissolved in water, it takes on a gelatinous texture that is perfect in soup. Bird’s nest can be insanely expensive with entire shops in places like Hong Kong devoted to selling the various types available.
After the Bird’s Nest soup, we tried the deep fried black vinegar pork. The pork had pineapples along with red, yellow, and green peppers included. The sauce was thick and sticky, almost like honey. The pork was tender and the crispy coating was not overwhelming. The black vinegar taste was a nice compliment to the pork and peppers and cut the tartness of the pineapple.
Next were a couple more traditional dim sum items – shrimp dumplings and pork dumplings. The shrimp dumplings were amongst the best I have tried in Asia – the filling was a mix of shrimp and water chestnut and the dumpling skin was not rubbery like many places serve.
The pork dumplings are more like Cantonese shu mai and not the Shanghai style dumplings. We tried the pork with crab roe and they were excellent – not overly seafood forward like many of the shu mai with crab roe tend to be.
We went on to traditional bbq pork buns, with the sweet char siu pork filling. The buns were light and fluffy and not overly dense. The bbq pork was not as sweet and chunky as I prefer and am used to, but the flavor was excellent.
The next item we ordered was one of my favorites. Spring rolls with shrimp and goose liver paste. The spring rolls were cut in half prior to serving and more flat than some dim sum restaurants serve. This is quite a help with chopstick navigation since spring rolls can tend to be greasy and difficult to grasp. These culinary gems were not the least bit greasy and the strong shrimp and goose liver flavors mixed surprisingly well together. The shrimp flavor was mild and the goose liver paste melts in your mouth.
Moving to another unique menu item — jellyfish. This is a common menu item in many fine Chinese restaurants and like bird’s nest, jellyfish is an expensive delicacy. Shang Palace serves a jellyfish on their regular menu that is $50 so this was a perfect opportunity to try a smaller portion.
Shang Palace’s jellyfish is served with shrimp roe in a sesame sauce. I expected the jellyfish to be rubbery and rather disgusting, but it was not. The texture is slightly rubbery, yes, but the flavor was very mild and it was easy to chew. The flavor was clean and it reminded me of eating a fresh seaweed salad from a Japanese restaurant.
Next to arrive was the order of baked bbq pork pies. These flaky delights are not always that common in dim sum restaurants unfortunately. These were among the best I have tried. The crust was flaky and had a slightly sweet taste — perhaps it had been brushed with a bit of honey.
And we still had several more plates coming! Just to clarify – we asked them to make everything in small portions or just orders of two where possible, allowing us to order more dishes. I am invariably guilty of my “eyes are always bigger than the stomach” scenario.
Next was a BBQ pork with honey sauce. This was among my favorite dishes. The pork was very tender, moist and small crispy bits of skin where excellent. The honey sauce had a citrus tang and worked beautifully with the pork.
One of our last dishes was the roasted goose. This was probably my least favorite. The goose was greasy and pretty fatty. Duck and goose are not my favorite choices in meat anyways (except Peking Duck, of course) so I did not have high hopes I would love this dish. For those that love game meats and stronger flavors, this would be a great choice.
Our last “main” dim sum dish was deep fried mashed taro with seafood. One thing I have learned living in Taiwan, I typically do not always love the seafood here. I thought this dish was ok, but definitely had a strong seafood taste that overpowered the mashed taro. I’ve had this combo elsewhere and the seafood flavor was not so overpowering. This would definitely not be on my list to order again, but I saw almost every table around us order them.
At this point, it is safe to say I was pretty full and it was nearly time for the dim sum lunch to be over. We tried to order one each of the desserts to split, but due to a miscommunication, we ended with 3 desserts each. One thing I will not complain about in Taiwan is too much dessert. Chinese desserts are excellent as they are not overly sweet like many “western” desserts tend to be. And in some cases, they are often somewhat healthy (although that was not really the case here).
The desserts included coconut red bean jelly cake, coconut milk with sago, and deep-fried milk jelly. These are very interesting desserts and quite a departure from what I have tried before. The coconut red bean jelly cake is obviously a favorite as numerous plates of these circled the dining room (some tables even ordered multiple rounds). The deep-fried milk jelly was interesting although I think having it served in a soupy syrup is preferable (especially after ordering too many fried items during the meal itself). The coconut milk with sago was more like a coconut cream — it was very thick and coated the spoon. I could not stop wondering how many calories were in that dessert alone!
Overall Shang Palace rates as one of my favorite dim sum places in Taipei. If you can believe it, there are still a number of menu items we did not try. We plan to go back and try the other menu items soon. Although $60 + for two people at a dim sum lunch is on the high side, the food quality and choice of menu items is completely worth it.
Reservations are recommended for Shang Palace and there is a dress code (smart business) for dinnertime, but lunch was less formal. Be sure to allow yourself enough time to enjoy the items you want to try. The last order is at 2:30 pm so I would suggest giving yourself at least two hours if possible. If you cannot allow that much time, rest assured if you place a large order at one time, they do an excellent job at staggering entrees so you are not stuck with five things getting cold at once.
Shang Palace at the Shangri-La Hotel
Far Eastern Plaza
No. 201 Section 2, DunHua South Road
Lunch: 11:30 am – 2:30 pm
Dinner: 6pm – 9:30 pm
Dress Code: Smart Casual
Credit cards accepted