Review – Quan Hotpot

Quan 寬巷子 hotpot stand.

Attention to detail is one of Quan’s signatures, and even their pot stands are spectacular.

‘Lane Cuisine’

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

Quan 寬巷子hotpot soup base.

Quan has a spectacularly colourful set of hotpot soup bases.

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.

Detailed Design

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

Quan 寬巷子 hotpot spinach tofu wrap.

Quan’s sesame spinach and tofu wraps; a surprisingly tasty speciality.

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.

The Food

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

Quan Hotpot fresh vegetables

The quality of Quan’s vegetables outclasses those of other hotpot restaurants.

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.

What Next?

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

Quan 寬巷子 hotpot fresh fish.

Quan’s fish offerings are simple, fresh, and beautifully presented.

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

Food: 10/10

Atmosphere: 9/10

Service: 9/10

Value for money: 9/10

Bill for 2 persons with drinks: $2250

Address

No.22, Lane 505, Section 5, Zhongshan North Road, Shilin District, Taipei

台北市士林區中山北路五段505巷22號

MRT: Shilin

 

  • Quan Fish
  • Quan Hotpot
  • Quan Lamb
  • Quan Pot Stand
  • Quan Signage
  • Quan Telephone
  • Quan Tofu Spinach Wrap
  • Quan Vegetables

Review – Yundian: A Taste of Yunnan?

Yundian ?? Wall

Yundian’s walls are covered in quite colourful posters depicting Yunnan Province’s ethnic groups.

Yunnan cuisine has for a long time been one of China’s best-kept secrets. With an abundance of fresh ingredients, a range of different climates (and therefore agricultural crops), Yunnan cuisine benefits from a huge variety of different flavours. The Bai people in the area around Dali (大理), for example, use a lot of edible flowers in their cooking, both for taste and decoration. The Dai, residing on Yunnan’s borders with Laos, have a cuisine which has a lot in common with Thai food, and is perhaps even spicier. Visitors to Kunming, Yunnan’s provincial capital, have access to all of these different food traditions and a weekend there is a good opportunity to embark on a culinary voyage. Residents of Beijing and Shanghai have, in recent years, discovered Yunnan’s tasty delights and become major aficionados of the province’s food offerings, and the number of Yunnan restaurants in those cities has mushroomed. In Taipei, meanwhile, Yunnanese food remains an unknown entity, and those few restaurants that claim to serve up Yunnan dishes often do so in a manner that is indistinguishable from Thai food.

?? Yundian Across the Bridge Noodles

Yundian’s ‘Over the Bridge Noodles’ come with fresh bean sprouts, carrots, thin tofu, cabbage, and lean black pork.

Arguably no Yunnan dish is better known outside the province than ‘Over the Bridge Noodles’ (過橋米線), which is a rather mysterious name for a relatively simple bowl of noodles and has, in Kunming, become synonymous with marketing gimmicks aimed at tourists. A number of stories claim to explain the origin of the name, but the one that is most commonly repeated goes something like this: a scholar was camped out in the middle of a lake while studying for the imperial examinations. His wife (or mother, or aunt, or sister – take your pick) made sure that he was kept alive during his revision by taking him his meals over a bridge to his tranquil island. The problem was that by the time she got from her kitchen, across the bridge, and over to her scholar, the food would be cold. The scholar must have been a demanding chap discontent with cold grub, for his wife was forced to come up with an ingenious way to keep his food warm. She realised that if she covered the soup she had prepared with a layer of oil, it would not only keep the broth piping hot, but also allow her beloved scholar to cook the other ingredients in the soup just before he ate, resulting in a hot, fresh, tasty bowl of noodles, despite the bridge that had to be crossed. Perennially popular with locals in Kunming and central Yunnan as a breakfast meal, ‘Over the Bridge Noodles’ are normally served with the rice noodles, meat, vegetables, quail eggs, and other ingredients (depending which restaurant you’re in) on the side next to a stone pot containing the dangerously hot soup. The side dishes are simply dropped into the soup (meat first), hot spice and vinegar is added to taste, and then the slurping begins in earnest!

?? Yundian Papaya Salad

Yundian does an excellent papaya salad topped with crushed peanuts and a level of spice that is just right.

To Love Taipei’s delight, we recently stumbled across Yundian, a restaurant close to Zhongxiao Fuxing MRT station which specialises in ‘Over the Bridge Noodles’, and to our knowledge this is one of the very few places in Taipei they can be found. The service at Yundian is good, attentive, and unhurried, though the fashion jury is still out on the staff’s use of Lahu (拉祜族) ethnic costume as uniforms. Given their extensive range of noodle – side dish combinations, including ‘Zhuang People mala rice noodles’ (壯族麻辣米線) and ‘Yi People cold rice noodles’ (彝族涼米線), it is worth asking for recommendations. Yundian are honest when it comes to the authenticity of their noodles compared to the Yunnanese original; the taste is undoubtedly different, having been adapted for Taiwanese taste buds, which means a much thinner layer of oil on the soup, and higher demands regarding the quality of the ingredients. The black pork accompanying our noodles was lean and tasty and, in stark contrast to the soup in Yunnan, which tends to be drenched in a layer of oil whose consumption would likely prove suicidal, the broth was flavoursome and very drinkable. The rice noodles, however, were too soft, and the portion was scanty to say the least. Hot-heads and vinegar junkies would do well to ask for spicy sauce and other condiments as they aren’t put out on every table. We also gave Yundian‘s papaya salad a whirl and that proved to be deliciously refreshing and, despite warnings from the waiter that it would be very hot, the spice level was just right. The Yunnan-style tofu turned out to be a nicely presented fresh block of silken tofu topped with a layer of thick soy sauce and crushed peanuts. Light refreshment came in the form of a sweet cup of pu’er milk tea which was, frankly, not very good. Those who like to experiment with their beverages can also try the wacky pu’er and coffee mix, though we think it might be best left to the imagination.

?? Yundian Yunnan-style tofu

Yundian’s Yunnan-style tofu with a thousand-year-old egg.

Having sampled more of Yunnan’s province’s authentic ‘Over the Bridge Noodles’ than is probably advisable in a single lifetime, we have to say that Yundian provides a very different experience indeed. Without going into excessive detail, the unfortunate consequences of consuming authentic versions of the dish in Kunming can sometimes be felt for days, but thankfully Yundian gives the original noodle dish a much-needed healthy boost, letting Taipei residents experience this Yunnan staple without the risk of any internal strife. Yunnan locals might scoff at Yundian‘s sacrilegiously healthy ‘Over the Bridge Noodles’ and delectably drinkable soup, but they definitely get a big thumbs-up from us.

?? Yundian Across the Bridge Noodles

Yundian’s ‘Over the Bridge Noodles’ are a healthier, less oily sight than their equivalent in Yunnan.

Love Taipei Rating

Food: 8/10

Atmosphere: 6/10

Service: 8/10

Value for money: 8/10

Bill for two persons with drinks: NT$600

Address
No.14, Lane 49, Section 4, Zhongxiao East Road, Da’an District, Taipei
台北市大安區忠孝東路四段49巷14號
Tel: (02)27116411
MRT: Zhongxiao Fuxing
www.yundish.com.tw
  • Yundian Across the Bridge Noodles
  • Yundian Yunnan Tofu
  • Yundian Papaya Salad
  • Yundian Over the Bridge Noodles
  • Yundian Wall
  • Yundian Wall

Review – Tai G Medicinal Soup

Tai G (?G?) has conspicuous signage.

Tai G’s conspicuous signage.

Medicinal soup doesn’t often inspire visions of lip-smacking tastiness. Indeed, for many people the thought of consuming something medicinal for enjoyment rather than health reasons is simply bizarre. After all, many of the foods we associate with being the tastiest – foie gras, chocolate, steak, and ice-cream to name but a few – are better known for their negative health effects. Yet Taiwan has a treasure trove of restaurants specialising in medicinal soups, many of which would surprise even the hardest of hard-nosed skeptics with their sumptuous flavours and the quality of their food.

Tai G (?G?) chicken soup

One of Tai G’s speciality medicinal soups: chicken with pineapple and bitter melon.

Tai G Healthy Medicinal Cuisine (台G店 養生藥膳) is one restaurant which prides itself on the taste of its food as well as the health benefits. From humble beginnings as owner Gao Jianyao’s sesame-oil chicken stall in Banqiao, Tai G now has a chain of seven different outlets around Taipei serving its healthy chicken soups. Customers will find a variety of chicken soup options containing ingredients as varied as milk, ginseng, red dates, ginger, and pineapple. Some soups are tailored to winter consumption and others to summer, while one or two have even been designed to cater to different sexes. After ten years of experimentation, the Tai G proprietors have opted to part ways with the traditional method of soup-making and thus moved from cooking one large pot serving multiple customers throughout the day to cooking individual soup pots for each customer as and when they order. This ensures that the soup is served completely fresh, and that the customer experiences the best possible flavours. As a restaurant claiming health benefits for its food probably should, Tai G only uses organic free range chicken in its dishes.

Tai G (?G?) rice noodles

Tasty mian xian (thin rice noodles) with onion and garlic.

Love Taipei recently sampled the menu at Tai G‘s Shipai branch which is located on the busy Yumin No.1 Road. The restaurant’s interior is unspectacular but clean, which makes for a rather bland and uninspiring atmosphere, but is in keeping with an establishment that prefers the food to take centre-stage. The pineapple and bitter melon chicken soup is one of the dishes which is apparently suitable year-round, and despite being slightly too oily, it proved to be a great choice. The sweetness of the fruit balanced the melon’s bitterness, while the tender chicken gave the soup a delicious savoury edge. Fresh bamboo shoots, also served with pineapple, complemented the soup very nicely, and despite the portions being reasonably sized, the food rapidly disappeared in a blizzard of chopsticks. Tai G pays homage to its sesame chicken roots with sesame oil rice noodles which are dangerously good and come highly recommended as a side dish.

Tai G (?G?) bamboo shoots

Bamboo shoots with chicken and pineapple.

So, if you’re in the mood for chicken soup – whether for your soul or your health – it may be worth paying a visit to one of Tai G‘s branches.

Love Taipei Rating

Food: 7/10

Atmosphere: 5/10

Service: 7/10

Value for money: 8/10

Bill for two people without drinks: NT$460

Address
No.21, Yumin 1st Road, Shilin District, Taibei City
台北市士林區裕民一路21號
Tel: 02-2828-6810
MRT: Shipai
www.tai-g-net.com.tw
  • Tai G Signage
  • Tai G Bamboo Shoots
  • Tai G Soup
  • Tai G Rice Noodles