Being half hongkie, I have a natural weakness for authentic dim sum. There are countless tea restaurants (茶餐厅) littered all over the city, and many places offering dim sum. Sadly, many of them barely pass as authentic, yet attract big crowds. Think.. Bi Feng Tang.
Thankfully, there are a few establishments that managed to please my tastebuds whenever I have a craving for good old cantonese dim sum.
Dim Sum, when translated simply means ‘small snack’. Think of it as the Chinese version of Tapas, and with tea instead of booze. Order a pot of tea, have some dim sum, more tea, more dim sum. Sound familiar already? (Of course, I am speaking for the traditional way Tapas is had, which you don’t experience in Shanghai. That will be another story for another day)
Enter Tang Palace. A huge cantonese restaurant chain with like, 10 restaurants across Shanghai alone. I’ve heard of them a long time ago, but never had the opportunity to visit because of their location. This time I was invited by a friend and I thought it was about time I gave Tang Palace a visit, at their Wei Jing Branch.
The location was definitely quite out of the way; It wasn’t far from the city center, but it was tuck away in a small road, and located in a quiet hotel apartment. The restaurant itself was split into the main restaurant, and a separate maze of dining rooms on the 2nd floor of the building. Decor was clearly quite dated, which actually wasn’t all too bad as long as it was clean as the rustic decor gave a traditional feel. The more important question was, was the food as traditional?
Thankfully, the answer was a resounding yes.
The tea menu was on a series of wooden tablets; Very unique. We ordered a cheap pot of Pu’er tea, which helps digestion and improves blood flow.
First plate to come up was the braised beef tongue.
Tender but with a slight bite. Beefy flavour with a hint of spice. Every table had this dish, and the reason was because, it was very tasty. One of the better braised beef tongues I’ve had. 8/10
Signature roast pigeon. Roast pigeon is a dish unique to the cantonese, and is very hard to get right in the homeland, let alone outside of it. Pigeons are usually quite small, as a result, it is easy to over-cook it in order to get a crispy skin. The one at Tang Court was superb – The best roast pigeon I’ve ever eaten. Crisp paper-thin skin, juicy succulent flesh that tastes sweet and well spiced and seasoned. This was on par with the roast goose I’ve had at Sham Tseng in Hong Kong. Crazy good. Another indication of how good this was? Our neighboring table of 4 ordered 7 of the birds. 10/10
Fried XO Sauce radish cake was above average. Cantonese style radish cake is a staple in all families; Every cantonese mum has her own radish cake recipe passed down by her mum, and so on. Some prefer their radish cake to be pure flavoured, while others enjoy theirs filled with many layers of flavours from dried shrimp, sweet preserved sausages, etc. The fried version at Tang Court was pure, with very little flour filler in the radish cake. Chunks of radish could be separated from the cake, similar to that at Tim Ho Wan, but a little more firm. So why was it only above average? The XO sauce, or lack thereof. I only tasted some generic chilli sauce fried with it. One does not simply pass off chilli sauce as XO sauce in a cantonese restaurant. 7/10
Next up was the obligatory har gao, shrimp dumplings. A good har gao should have at least 2 shrimps in it. Traditional ones contain a little pork fat and bamboo shoots. This one didn’t, but thankfully the shrimp tasted fresh and the seasoning was spot on. The skin did not fall apart easily, but at the same time, wasn’t chewy, signs of a masterfully crafted Har Gao. 8.5/10
Char Siu Buns were up next. Another dim sum classic. Rich and sweet pork filling, with a light airy, almost spongey bun that does not exist in western cuisine. I would best describe it as a cross between cake and bread. Tang Palace’s version is as good as it can get. 9/10
Glutinous Rice Dumplings, aka Lor Mai Gai, which translates to glutinous rice chicken. A dumpling wrapped with lotus leaves. It’s fillings are a rich umami laden mix of glutinous rice, mushrooms, chicken and at the heart of it, a salted egg yolk. Many cantonese children enjoy this from their early days of sampling dim sum, and often it lasts all the way throughout the course of their lives. I am, of course, speaking from personal experience.
The Lor Mai Gai at Tang Palace had all of the above mentioned components, and came with 2 pretty full-sized dumplings per serving. Well seasoned and perfectly cooked. I’m salivating at the thought of it. 9/10
Next up, the rice flour rolls, aka Cheong Fun. These come plain, or with a variety of fillings, notably shrimp, char siu, beef, and one version has them wrapped around dough fritters. We had the shrimp version this time, and like the radish cake, it was de rigeur. Perhaps overshadowed by the more exciting preceding dishes. I felt that while the rolls were soft and held well with chopsticks, the consistency was a little ‘floury’, not smooth enough. Soy sauce was a little overdosed, and tasted very common, unlike some of the special, lighter and sweet concoctions I’ve tasted elsewhere. 7/10
Next up was the Beef Hor Fun, or stir-fried flat rice noodles with beef; A classic stir fry which you can find on the menus of -all- hong kong tea restaurants. The key to a good beef hor fun, is first and foremost, the wok. It needs to be heated like the forges of Khazadum, well seasoned to have that smokey taste, and can only be fried very quickly and surely by a master. Any less, and you get limp, oily or dry and charred noodles. Unsurprisingly, the beef hor fun or 干炒牛河 at Tang Palace was exceptional. Full flavoured by the seasonings and the wok, tender pieces of not-overly-tenderised beef accompanied with chewy rice noodles that only tore apart in the mouth. 9/10
Instead of ending the meal with dessert, we were overstuffed, and finished off with our original order of custard buns aka 流沙包, which translates to flowing sand bun.
The filling of said bun contains a custard mixture with salted egg yolk. The result is a sweet and salty creamy delight. Ok, that sounded a little dirty. A sweet and savoury golden delight, cushioned between a soft bun. 8/10
I’m afraid that I forgot to mention earlier, that like many good dim sum restaurants in Shanghai, the crowd queuing at Tang Palace is enormous. We stood around for over an hour before our table was ready. Our plan for brunch ended up being lunch.
So what is the conclusion? Excellent dim sum at very reasonable prices. One other name I keep hearing about and unfortunately have not had the opportunity to try, is Jade Garden at Kerry Centre, which has a similar reputation, but at higher end prices. For now, Tang Palace is the King of dim sum in the Jing An area for me. Would I go back? I would love to, but the location and crazy long queue with literally nothing to do/nowhere to go to while waiting really puts me off, which leaves me settling for the more convenient alternatives, which I will blog about soon.
And that’s that.