Small lanes, so the creator of Quan believes, tend to produce Taipei’s best restaurants. There is a certain pleasure to be had in traipsing through dimly lit one-way streets or labyrinthine residential areas in order to seek out these hidden gems, and Taipei definitely has many of them. The superior quality of their food, so this theory goes, is directly related to their inconspicuous locations away from the city’s main thoroughfares. Lower rents mean that they can afford to spend more on things like the service and decor, but above all on ingredients and kitchen staff. This partially explains the rationale behind Quan’s name: the Chinese, 寬巷子 (kuan xiangzi), might be translated as ‘broad lane’. ‘Broad’ refers to the owner and head chef’s approach to hotpot, a
traditional Chinese dish which they believe benefits from the inclusion, or adaptation, of elements from other national cuisines. Thus customers here see elements taken from Japanese seafood dishes, and French styles of culinary presentation. This is more than just hotpot; one senses that the intention here is to unleash the hidden potential of a food genre that has become run-of-the-mill and limited by convention.
As you walk in the opposite direction to the crowds and head towards the unassuming street on which Quan opened its doors in August this year, close to Shilin MRT station, the restaurant’s under-stated signage and subtle lighting points you in the right
direction. Quan is an intimate place, but one which, by dint of quality interior design, avoids the crowded and stuffy atmosphere common to many hotpot restaurants. The staff are attentive, and everything from the lighting to the teapots, and from the hotpot stands to the chopsticks indicates an attention to detail and passion for design. As if that wasn’t enough, Quan has miraculously achieved all this while avoiding any whiff of the pretentiousness that sometimes accompanies Taipei’s design-led eateries.
Onto the food! Quan’s menu is lavishly illustrated, which is perhaps necessary given the slightly odd names of some items on there; the ‘silkic fowl Tonkotsu’ soup base springs to mind as one example. The menu’s focus is clearly on quality, and this means that customers looking for an encyclopaedic list of meats and vegetables to drop into their hotpot will be disappointed. Instead we are given a small range of well-selected ingredients, such as Matsusaka pork, shoulder of beef, and prime lamb. Four soup bases lead the charge, and the lightly-spiced Sichuan-style option
wins our approval for displaying a range of intense flavours without blasting our taste buds into pepper-numbed oblivion. Seafood is well-represented on Quan’s menu too, with fresh oysters, prawns, and salmon. Indeed, the fish plate looked so good on arriving at our table that it was difficult to stop ourselves treating it as sashimi. A number of house specialities set Quan apart from the crowd, and include menu items such as salmon and potato dumplings, grilled octopus with sliced cheese, and sesame spinach tofu wraps, all of which come presented in an elaborate and highly creative fashion. These are hotpot dishes that Quan can rightly claim as its own creations; experiments that, in our opinion, are resoundingly successful and cannot be tasted anywhere else. Quan also caters to traditionalists, who have the option of ordering duck intestines, honeycomb tripe, and beef sinew, though we somehow forgot to place our order for any of these items.
With excellent service, a unique interior, and a novel approach to hotpot, Quan is destined to become a rising star on Taipei’s restaurant scene. Deservedly so, we might add. One of Taipei’s strengths as a culinary powerhouse is its ability to adapt and experiment with traditional foods, using the city’s rich creativity to enhance conventional cooking. Quan follows in this tradition, and does so with pride in its original approach to hotpot. Where Quan’s growing
popularity will take the restaurant we can’t say, but we would definitely recommend eating there while it still remains, like the best of Taipei’s alley restaurants, a well-kept secret.
Love Taipei Rating
Value for money: 9/10
Bill for 2 persons with drinks: $2250
No.22, Lane 505, Section 5, Zhongshan North Road, Shilin District, Taipei