Fans of xiaolongbao (小籠包), or soup dumplings, should add Heshanzhi (何善之) to their list of places to try. The restaurant opened in March on Da-an Road (大安路) and is an offshoot of the hot-pot chain of the same name owned by actor-turned-restaurateur Shao Hsin (邵昕).
He appears to be aiming for diners who want a cheaper alternative to Din Tai Fung (鼎泰豐), particularly Japanese tourists who might not want to stand in line at Yongkang Street (永康街). The shop’s name is also displayed in Japanese phonetic characters. Heshanzhi’s exterior catches the eye with a welcoming set of huge intricately carved wooden doors that slide open automatically, and a large window looking into a steamy kitchen where passersby can glimpse the chefs at work.
The menu offers a few twists to the standard Shanghai-style fare. Well worth a try is Heshanzhi’s house specialty, soup dumplings with Penghu sponge gourd and shrimp (澎湖絲瓜蝦仁湯包, NT$200). The dumplings contain slightly less broth than the normal xiaolongbao, but are melt-in-the-mouth delicious nonetheless.
The filling, made of chopped sponge gourd, a green vegetable similar in consistency to a cucumber, has a subtle sweet flavor that complements the minced shrimp. Rounding off this morsel is a skin thin and delicate enough to satisfy the most discerning dumpling connoisseurs.
Some of the fancier selections include soup dumplings with Hokkaido minced crab filling (北海道蟹粉小包, NT$250) and sanxian steamed dumplings (三鮮蒸餃, NT$200). These items make the xiaolongbao with chicken broth (雞汁小籠包, NT$130) seem all the more humble.
The interior is a mix of modern chic and traditional Chinese decor, with gallery lighting, mirrored walls, dark lacquer wood tables and ornate wood carvings. But this refined, upscale atmosphere is cheapened in few corners, which have large photos of menu items plastered over them as wallpaper.
Address: 231, Da-an Rd Sec 1, Taipei City (台北市大安路1段231號)
Telephone: (02) 2707-0185 Open: 11am to 10pm
Average meal: NT$300 to NT$400 per person
Details: Chinese menu
That said, diners are getting decent Shanghai cuisine at decent prices. A range of cold appetizers, including excellent string beans and a garlic stir-fry, is offered at NT$60 per dish. Other classic items on the menu include chicken noodle soup (原盅雞湯麵, NT$150) and fried tofu and rice noodle soup (油豆腐細粉, NT$120), as well as a few crowd-pleasing northern Chinese dishes like fried scallion roll with beef (牛肉捲餅, NT$120).
Heshanzhi serves a wide selection of sweets, including freshly made mochi (手工麻糬, NT$90). The grilled flatbread filled with sweet red bean paste (豆沙鍋餅, NT$120) is a tasty and filling dessert, with a nutty flavor courtesy of a generous sesame seed coating.