The Guest House conjures up images of a small eatery hidden inside a boutique hotel or B & B. But instead it is a luxury restaurant located in the Sheraton Hotel that welcomes with relaxed, unhurried charm. The restaurant describes its modern Chinese chic interior as reminiscent of a Su Dynasty tea shop. I think this is a bit of a stretch, but its mix of Asian antiques and modern furnishing is classic and elegant.
The restaurant is on two levels, with the 17th floor open for small dining groups. Try to get a table near the windows if you can; while partially obscured by the bamboo blind features, it is still nice to overlook Taipei. There are also tables near the ‘open kitchen’, which allows a view of chefs rolling dumpling pastry behind a glass screen. But I was attending a luncheon banquet, so was whisked away to one of the well appointed, albeit somewhat homogenous VIP rooms on the 18th floor. Make sure there are no late-comers to the party or they risk not knowing which room to enter.
The Guest House bills itself as providing authentic Sichuanand Yang Zhou cuisine. Maybe it was our meal choices, but I did not discern the prominent influence of either cuisine: none of the dishes were spicy and there were clear Western influences in several dishes. For example, the lunch began with a smoked salmon salad dressed with a light Japanese-style vinaigrette. And I felt as if I was in feasting along the Mediterranean Riviera rather than in downtown Taipei when I tried their playful stir-fried scallops with red and yellow sweet bell pepper.
But our meal selection also included Asian delicacies, such as the doubled boiled chicken soup with fish maw. This was my first experience of fish maw – the air-filled bladder found in certain fish – which looked and tasted like a cross between poached egg white and shark’s fin.
Also surprisingly good was the cholesterol-inducing roasted pork rib with osmanthus sauce, which oozed succulent flesh in-between layers of pure fat. (Some trivia: the Chinese osmanthus flower is a major ingredient in Jean Patou’s “1000”, the world’s most expensive perfume.) Note also the pretty decorative flower made from a carrot; a nice touch to the presentation of this rich dish.
More mainstream but enjoyable was the delicately flavored steamed cod with crispy soya bean sauce.
But I was disappointed with the stir-fried abalone mushrooms with green vegetables, which I thought unnecessarily oily.
Still, I liked the ‘fancy dessert’, which despite the name was really a simple sweet yellow mung bean ‘soup’ containing slivers of fresh Chinese yam (山药 — shanyao) root.
And I really loved the fruit plate; everything was perfectly ripe and beautifully presented.