Dian Shui Lou (點水樓 ) bills itself – in French! – as a purveyor of authentic, Shanghai style cuisine. Its self-claim is backed up a win in the 20101 Northern Taiwan Top Restaurants Evaluation, where it was awarded a top “five stars” rating out of 309 restaurants critiqued by independent reviewers. With such strong claims, you would expect something special and Dian Shui Lou does not disappoint.
I have dined at Dian Shui Lou twice: once at an officially hosted function at the Huaining restaurant, and the second time for a weekend family gathering at the Xinyi branch. Beyond the food, one of the things that I especially like about Dian Shui Lou is that there are a range of price options for banquet menus, so you can come here either for a casual dining experience, or to bring people to impress. While Dian Shui Lou obviously does good business, I never feel rushed here, with wood panelling that transports me to back to memories of Shanghai 1945.
Like many Shanghai-style restaurants in Taipei, Dian Shui Lou follows the de rigour trend of featuring chefs visibly shaping dough to make fresh dumplings, buns and fried bread. And what they produce is very good. Dian Shui Lou prides itself on its crystal-thin dumpling skins and 19 “chrysanthemum folds”, which it claims rivals only Din Tai Fung in quality. To my mind, Din Tai Fung’s soup dumplings (tang bao 湯包) are in a league of their own (albeit tricky to eat), but I actually prefer Dian Shui Lou’s lighter, pillow-style dumplings – especially the vegetarian ones. And don’t miss Dian Shui Lou’s trademark green onion pancakes (chongyoubing 蔥油餅). These are freshly made with light, flaky pastry encasing freshly chopped Ilan scallions. They are less oily and salty than the average green onion pancake, although to my mind a bit more grease wouldn’t hurt.
Dian Shui Lou makes light work of the infamously oily Shanghai cuisine. Even the pork belly (dongpu zhurou 東坡肉) is not disgustingly rich: the glistening layers of fat make it far from a dieter’s choice, but the tender meat wedged in-between is succulent and tasty. Another often stodgy stable, white radish cake (luobogao 蘿菠糕), is light, fluffy and served cake-like in thick wedges. If you like radish cake for dim sum then you will love it at Dian Shui Lou. Giant lion’s head meatballs (shizitou 獅子頭) can sometimes miss the mark, but the meat orbs here are very moreish. Fish options are done well, too, and I enjoyed the vinegary west-lake style steamed fish. Also nicely done is the ham soup, which is pale with a strong but not overpowering smokey flavour. There was only one dish that didn’t appeal the cold, bony, gelatinous drunken chicken (zuiji 醉雞) was a bit too authentic for my taste.
Although Shanghai-influenced, Dian Shui Lou also includes some Taiwanese influences. One of the starters (xiaocai 小菜), which looked at first to be ordinary bamboo shoots turned out to be much more interesting betel nut shoots (binlangxun 檳榔筍). Desert options include red dates stuffed with Japanese-style rice sweets (mochi麻糬) is a sweet sauce, reminiscent of marzipan-stuffed dates, which is sweet without being sickly. And their mooncakes, which they make for the Mid-Autumn Festival, are among my favourite and include Taiwanese style flavours such as the ever-popular pineapple cake.
Dian Shui Lou has five branches in Taipei: Fuxing (near Sogo), Dian Shui Xiao Xiao Zhan (Anhe Rd Sec 1), Dian Shui Lou Yah Ting (Xin Yi Rd Sec 2, near Din Tai Fung), Nanjing (Nanjing East Road, Sec 4) and Huaining (near the Legislative Yuan). Location and menu details can be found on its website: http://www.dianshuilou.com.tw/en/edm.html