From Forbes Magazine to Hong Kong star Chow Yun-Fat, Din Tai Fung can count many famous names amongst its list of supporters. In fact many of the the popular Taiwanese chain's locations around the world devote entire walls to plaques signed by superstars that have dined there.
It’s also a perennial nominee (as well as past winner) in the Beijinger’s Reader Restaurant Awards. This year, it’s been nominated seven times, including nods for Best Overseas Import, Best Service, Best for Impressing Visitors and the coveted Restaurant of the Year. (By the way, this year’s voting runs now through March 8 – vote here to add your opinion)
This of course begs the question: does Din Tai Fung really live up to the hype? All that praise and overexposure initially seems misplaced as we pop a few bite-sized Seafood Dumplings (haixian xiaolongbao) during a recent visit to the establishment’s Parkview Green location.
The dumplings aren’t much larger than a one kuai coin, and an order of 10 costs an outrageous RMB 98. Though the dumplings arrive on a pristine cloth in a gorgeous bamboo steamer and are perfectly shaped with their carefully folded creases, the taste doesn’t live up to the presentation or the price. The shrimpy meat and broth within harbor hardly any of the ocean freshness that their name (and menu photo) imply.
We were much more impressed by the Pork Dumplings (xiaolongbao), priced at a more reasonable RMB 49, which were equal in number and size but far superior in flavor. Their minced meat was encased with a bit of broth that made the entire dumpling juicy, unlike their soupy seafood counterparts. The savoury morsels of pork inside are also tender, as opposed to the far too chewy seafood baozi.
To tie the evening off, we ordered a steamer full of sweet Red Bean Paste Dumplings (dousha xiaobao, RMB 38). Their deeply purple filling is slightly sweet but not overly rich, a fitting dessert that leaves us satisfied without feeling overindulgent.
But while Din Tai Fung’s dumplings are all the rage, it’s the service that makes the experience (though it comes at a price -- the restaurant tacks on a 10 percent service charge).
While our waiter makes the mistake of recommending the dismal seafood dumplings, he is otherwise extremely helpful. He advises us to use three drops of soy sauce and one drop of vinegar to our dipping bowls to ensure we have a perfectly balanced sauce for our baozi. He also recommends that we use our chopsticks to pick the dumplings up by their folds at the top, instead of their breakable middles, to avoid making a soupy mess.
The staff’s diligence and the establishment's cleanliness is also visible before we set even foot inside the establishment, thanks to two giant glass pane windows at the entrance where patrons can watch the cooks roll the dough, scoop up the minced fillings and fold the dumplings into immaculate little orbs.
The fine taste of most of the dishes, the immaculately clean dining environment and the exceptional service add up to a winning combination which goes a long way to explaining the accolates Din Tai Fung gets from readers of the Beijinger.
Images: Kyle Mullin
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