Shanghai Shanghai was one of the first restaurants that I visited after arriving in Taipei, and one that I have since returned to several times. It’s reliable menu and comfortable surrounds make it perfect as a Friday night venue with good friends, for a work banquet in a private room, for a quiet business lunch or for a get-together with friends and their children.
Better known by its Chinese name that literally translates as ‘the Red Bean Restaurant’ (紅豆食府 — hóngdòu shí fǔ) is owned by the daughter-in-law of former Vice President Lien Chan. But unlike some celebrity run restaurants, this one does not rest on the fame of its owners and instead focuses on providing a comfortable and good quality dining experience for its patrons. Which partly explains why the restaurant has expanded into seven branches across Taiwan (not counting related restaurants run under different names).
On my most recent visit, we had a lunch with two young children, their parents and a group of friends. Nothing was too much trouble, and the wait staff seemed unperturbed by toddlers running around, prams parked in odd corners and young children grabbing for dumplings (they have good taste — the xiaolongbao were very good). And service was quick, friendly and reliable.
As soon as we arrived we ordered two baskets of xiaolongbao dumplings (蘇式小籠包 – sūshì xiǎo lóng bāo) to satisfy the cravings of the younger children. These were gone in no time (and not just devoured by the younger set — they were poplar with adults, too). But thankfully we soon had a serving of vegetable dumplings (素餃 -sù jiǎo) that were equally as good.
Another appetizer, which in this case was served along with the main dishes, was a serving of the ever-popular pan-fried spring onion cakes (蔥油餅 -cōng yóubǐng). I always have trouble saying no to a slice of congyoubing, despite the amount of oil in each serve. Here the pastry had a light, flaky touch that made it even more irresistible.
We chose mainly from their better known and recommended dishes. I especially enjoyed revisiting their peas and shrimps. Don’t even think of this being related to mushy, overcooked frozen peas. This dish, while simple, highlights the natural sweetness between the baby peas and simply cooked prawns.
I also enjoyed the beef with lilies. In a sense, this reminded me a little of an Australian/ Cantonese-style beef with pepper sauce. Except here the beef was not quite as salty (nor could I sense any hint of MSG). And the lilies gave the beef a slightly crunchy texture that paired well with the tenderness of the beef.
One of the most interesting dishes we ordered was bamboo with leaves. Here, tender bamboo shoots were ‘dry fried’ with vegetable leaves. I can’t remember exactly what the Chinese vegetable was, but the leaves ended up being crispy yet surprisingly not too oily.
We also couldn’t resist trying Shanghai Shanghai’s rendition of a Sichuan classic — dry-fried four-season beans (乾煸四季豆). The main characteristic of this dish is the way the beans are first ‘dry fried’ so that they become soft and wrinkly before being combined with a salty-pork mixture. I liked this dish but it is not the best version I have tried. I thought there was actually slightly too much of the pork topping — odd as usually the reverse is true.
Also tasty was Shanghai Shanghai’s homestyle beancurd (家常豆腐, jiācháng dòufu). The fried tofu cubes contained soft and silky curd within, and matched well with the slightly slippery mushrooms.
On a healthy note, we ordered a serving each of chicken essence soup with mushrooms (雞汁竹笙湯, jī zhī zhú shēng tāng). The soup contained a type of mushroom, which my dictionary translates as ‘bamboo fungus’ but which I often refer to as ‘loofah’ because of how it looks. The soup was more subtle than most chicken soups and was oddly delicate yet hearty.
We dined at Shanghai Shanghai’s restaurant on level 7 of Shin Kong Mitsukoshi Department Store A9 in Xinyi (台北市松壽路9號7F, 新光三越信義新天地A9館). The phone number is (02) 8789 2929.