A place that provides decent food made with a bit of imagination, a hint of serious gastronomy and friendly service is harder to find than might be expected. Sheng Yuan (盛園) manages this as well as the fine balancing of serving Zhejiang-style cuisine with a few Taiwanese and northern Chinese twists.
But don’t go expecting authenticity. To begin with, the menu mixes too many styles. It ranges from northern Chinese beef dumplings (牛肉蒸餃, NT$100) through to Shanghai soup dumplings (上海小龍湯包, NT$90) across to northern Sichuan-style dumplings in chili oil (川北紅油抄手, NT$70) to a hometown favorite of stinky tofu with duck’s blood in spicy gravy (紅油麻辣臭豆腐, NT$100).
Given the range, though, Sheng Yuan does a remarkably good job. Its Shanghai soup dumplings (NT$90) are good, but its own variation on the theme, sponge gourd soup dumplings (絲瓜小龍湯包, NT$100), are excellent, using the natural sweetness of the gourd to create a juicy center.
The dumpling wrapping, while not the thinnest I’ve ever had, is well above the average in its refinement.
The restaurant’s attempts at Sichuan-style cooking are not so successful, and the dumplings in hot oil, a simple dish that is hard to get right, was underwhelming. The stinky tofu, while clearly made from high-quality ingredients, didn’t quite come together. Though aiming to straddle the length and breadth of China, Sheng Yuan is most adept at Zhejiang cuisine, and fortunately, in addition to soup dumplings, there are some outstanding dishes from the region on its seasonal menu.
The sponge gourd with crab roe (蟹黃絲瓜), served in a hot pot, was outstanding for the rich orange crab roe broth, which gradually thickened as it cooked over a paraffin flame into a gorgeous paste with a simple but intense flavor.
The Ningpo-style cooked fish belly (寧式紅燒肚襠, NT$250), which uses the relatively cheap grass carp (草魚), a freshwater fish notable for its fine grained flesh and often muddy flavor, was balanced with a heavy soy and oil reduction that showed off, in an understated fashion, the skill of the chef in turning inexpensive ingredients into a sophisticated dish.
A selection of side dishes is also available, all of them well-prepared and presented, starting from NT$30. The cold beef tendon in spicy dressing (NT$50), in particular, deserves mention for its perky sauce, and tendon that is delicate without being gelatinous, and firm without being tough.
Service is fast and courteous, and the vibe is lively, with a constant flow of patrons moving through.
The whole menu is also available for takeout.
Address: 1, Ln 25, Hangzhou S Rd Sec 2, Taipei City (台北市杭州南路二段25巷1號)
Telephone: (02) 2397-3522
Average meal: NT$250 and up
Open: 11:30am to 2:30pm and 4:30pm to 9:30pm
Details: Chinese menu, cash only
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