What is it? A glam restaurant blending Cantonese banquet fare with dinky baskets of dim sum, in the five-star Palais de Chine Hotel, in Taipei. The hotel sits atop Taipei Main Station, where the island-wide bus network, high-speed rail, metro system and airport train all converge to form the urban transport equivalent of a ball of tangled flexes.
What’s special about the restaurant? Earlier this year, the Michelin Guide awarded it three stars, making it the only restaurant in Taiwan to get the highest rating. In Michelin language, this means: “exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey”. How convenient that there’s a transport hub downstairs!
So, not too shabby then? It certainly has an impressive interior. The dim, sexy lighting means the 80-seat (plus six private rooms) establishment is cast in a constant twilight. Everything seems to be in soft brown or plum, with steel geometrics offering a metallic counterpoint via the suspended ceiling lights.
There’s a kind of castle glamour going on: booths have plush sofa-like seating; walls are wood-panelled; lamps are tasselled; and the waiting staff swish about as if on wheels. Secret door panels and mirrors on almost every surface lend the place an Alice in Wonderland feel. Yeah, it’s special.
And the food … The menu is a hefty 12 pages, leaning heavily towards Cantonese cuisine but with some Sichuanese dishes, Taiwan-inspired tastes and chef concoctions (wok-fried pork tendon with bell peppers and conpoy is flagged as Hong Kong-born chef Ken Chan Wai-keung’s tribute to his new home).
The restaurant’s signature Cantonese-style crispy roast duck (right; it needs to be ordered two days in advance), which earned special attention from the Michelin inspectors, is the most popular dish. Dim sum are magicked in, encased in gleaming metal baskets – the waitress says bamboo is being phased out because it has a tendency to look shabby: the steamed watercress and salty egg dumplings (far right) are indeed soft plump pouches of green goodness.
The baked egg tarts, three on a white plate, might not be big enough to satisfy former Hong Kong governor Chris Patten, but they are piping hot dollops of creamy sweetness cupped in biscuity pastry. I’m no Michelin inspector, nor Cantonese food critic, but the dishes are top notch in terms of taste, although the presentation is a little on the ordinary side.
What’s the bottom line? For a three-Michelin-star joint, it’s a bargain. A few standard dishes (steer clear of the bird’s nest and abalone; as you’d expect, they are on the more exclusive end of the price range), a couple of baskets of dim sum, a baby crispy duck (it will have lived for only 28 days) and a spot of dessert to share between two, sans alcohol, hovers in the region of NT$5,000 (US$163).