Taian Table. The Shanghai Kid Review.
Taian Table had been hot on the news after their Michelin star nomination and controversy at their previous location. Since then, they have moved to a new secluded location in Jing’an, and back in full force.
While I did not have the pleasure of dining at Taian table at their original location, I have sampled a variety of dishes from them on several other occasions at food festivals and a private dinner for Bocuse d’Or, and have always been impressed.
Many thanks to chef owner Stefan Stiller for the invitation to Taian Table Menu 9, just in time before I leave Shanghai for good. (More about that in an upcoming post)
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Taian Table is located at Zhenning Lu, within an almost hidden, quiet commercial compound in the likes of Bridge 8, etc. The road to the Taian Table compound is very old school Shanghai. Littered with local businesses, grocery sellers and shady massage parlours.
Once you’ve fought past the old, filthy yet charming street, turn left and you will find the entrance to the very modern and clean commercial compound, where Taian Table greets you on the first floor.
A large, heavy wooden door separates you from the mundane world and the culinary haven within. Press the door bell, and you will be greeted promptly by the host/hostess before being led to your table.
The dining area is dim, yet sufficiently lit for the most part unless you get a corner seat on the bar. Seating is organised in the form of bar tables circling the open kitchen where most of the food is prepared, whilst a few booths fill up the remaining space for more private diners.
The ambience is low-key, classy yet comfortable. Most of your attention will be fixated on the legions of cooks prepping the dishes, and of course, on Chef Stiller as he lay the finishing touches.
If you intend to eat there for two persons, definitely reserve a bar counter seat. 9/10
As this was an invited tasting, a usual score of 7.5 is awarded.
That said, I noticed service that was consistent across the room with ours. The servers, chefs including Stefan himself took turns to bring the dishes to guests and introduced them. There wasn’t one person in charge of introduction, but rather all the servers and chefs seemed trained to be able to explain the dishes in detail, in mandarin and english.
Serving speed was commendably quick at the counter tables. In fact, so quick I had to ask Stefan to slow down; We were receiving dishes one after another just minutes after finishing them. The kitchen was trained like a well-oiled machine.
The usual courtesies were observed: plates and cutlery being replaced regularly, glasses being refilled without asking, etc. The servers even made light conversation and joked with us — a very rare thing in Shanghai.
Inclusive of service charge, the dinner meal at Taian Table costs RMB 1388 for 14 courses. Add RMB 800+ for wine pairing. They are very generous with their wine pours. Also, you do not leave hungry.
Welcome Snacks and Nibbles
A rack of nori dusted rice crackers. Always nice to munch on these.
3 speared bites, for our delight — Roasted cauliflower with black garlic, cured mackerel and Jerusalem artichokes.
The cured mackerel was especially tasty with it’s toothsome bite and balanced flavours between light fishiness and smokiness. It tasted almost like bacon.
The meal started officially with a playful starter. Sweet heirloom tomatoes cutting the richness of a superbly creamy Buratta disguised as a tomato, with little accents of arugula. An expectedly light and refreshing start to the meal to open up the palate. Beauty on the eyes and palate. 9/10
Scallop, Oyster, Sea Urchin, Coconut Dressing
3 of my favourite things from the ocean in one dish! Raw scallops, sliced and layered beneath a freshly shucked French Boudeuse oyster, Japanese sea urchin and covered with a delicate sheet of coconut water jelly, dressed with a coconut milk dressing.
The 3 treasures of the sea came together in one explosive and luxurious bite. It was the first time I’ve eaten this combination together in one bite, and I don’t know why I have not seen others doing it! The creaminess of the sea urchin, umami of the oyster and scallops came together beautifully, and rounded off perfectly with a hint of coconut milk.
I believe that the coconut water jelly helped to tone down the richness a little bit. The flavours of the oyster and coconut were the most prominent. Who would have thought coconut would blend so well with oysters! 10/10
Beef Tenderloin Tartar
Miso, Quail Egg Yolk
When it comes to beef tartar, I may be a little biased — I’m no big fan of it, nor raw beef for that matter, although I know beef tartar holds a very special place in the hearts of my many European friends.
That said, this version of beef tartar at Taian Table was quite lovely. The consistency was very smooth like a pate, and tasted a bit of tartar sauce, perhaps due to some gherkins or capers in the mix. Together with the quail yolk mixed in, the mouthfeel was velvety smooth;
A little bit of sweetness, saltiness, richess and tanginess. The lightly charred shallots gave a nice kick to the otherwise smooth-like-butter mouthfeel and flavours.
My wife nearly passed her dish to me because she had never liked beef tartar. After urging her to try a bite, she gobbled the entire serving down. 9/10
Zucchini, Confit Capsicum
A stack of vegetables. The flavours reminded me a little bit of a ratatouille. While I enjoyed the concentrated flavours of the capsicum, I felt the egg plant could have been burnt a little more for more smoky flavours. In terms of burnt eggplant dishes, it tasted very mild. This was perhaps for me, the weakest dish of the evening. 7.5/10
Capers, Lemon, Brown Butter, Fennel Pollen
This was a big treat! Cod tongue! It’s a piece of flesh off the lower chin of the cod together with the tongue, and is a delicacy in Norway. We were so lucky to be able to taste this at Taian Table’s Menu 9. Thank you Stefan for the eye opener!
The cod tongue had all the rich oily flavours you expect from cod, with a very very tender and finer flesh, unlike the usual flaky filet. They tasted almost like fish cheeks. This is no doubt, the best part of a cod for me, from now on.
Cooked in a classic french Meunière style with the addition of fennel pollen which was drowned away by the lovely cod and brown butter flavours. The fried capers, I felt was unsuitable, because after being fried to a crisp, they had lost their signature pickled flavours, instead turning into mini salt bombs. 9/10
Caviar, White Asparagus, Black Quinoa
Chef Stiller: “This is a very simple dish! Very simple.”
To be honest, this dish deserved more acclaim for it’s simplicity, because often the simplest things are the hardest to get right. Atlantic poached lobster with lobster bisque foam resting on a bed of black quinoa, paired with white asparagus before finally enhanced with some caviar.
Lobster was tender and juicy, it’s flavours fortified with the lobster bisque foam and a rush of brininess from the caviar. Whilst I’m personally not a fan of quinoa, the white asparagus proved to be a great companion to the crustacean. This was simply a very well executed lobster dish. 9/10
Loup de Mer
Edamame, Dashi Emulsion
Loup de mer, more simply known as mediterranean sea bass or Bronzino by the Italians. The one served at Taian Table that evening was from France, and again like the preceeding dish, was simply, but perfectly seared with an evenly crispy skin and moist, flaky flesh.
The sauce paired was more interesting, because it was a dashi and lemon juice infusion. It almost tasted like a yuzu broth at one point. Edamame beans were added for some added textures.
While this wasn’t a particularly exciting dish, it was very comforting and textbook example of a perfectly seared piece of fish. 8.5/10
Seared Foie gras
One thing I liked about Taian Table is that they don’t try to reinvent things too much. A lot of the dishes that I enjoyed were simply textbook perfect execution of pairings or techniques, like in the last two dishes. This foie gras dish was no different.
A classic pairing with cherry, in this case, a cherry compote. The thick slab of Rougie Foie Gras, seared perfectly with an even caramelised crust while still tender and almost tofu-like within.
More interestingly was the skewer of duck heart, leek confit and beetroot on the side.
While a little odd to be paired with a slab of foie gras, they reminded me of Japanese Yakitori and would rival many that I have tasted.
All in all, a classical dish with an interesting twist, and simply mouthwatering as I write this. 9/10
Mint, Pickled Watermelon Skin
After the series of heavy hitters, came the palate cleanser. In this case, it was a watermelon sorbet with liquid nitrogen frozen mint, crushed table-side.
It was interesting. Sweet, salty flavours with a minty after-taste. A unique, but very effective palate cleanser. 8/10
To put in layman’s terms, a Parmentier is a French version of Shepherds Pie. That is, a meat that is topped with mashed potatoes and baked with a cheesy crust.
Taian Table made use of a oxtail ragu in their version, with the top blow-torched for some charred smokiness. The oxtail was comforting and tender, and the mash creamy, Parisan style.
Whilst they tried to modernise the dish in it’s presentation, the flavours and textures gave a comforting and down to earth feeling. Hence I felt it didn’t need the bells and whistles of the dish’s presentation. 8.5/10
Char Grilled Squab Breast
Endives, Pear, Walnuts
The final savoury dish, and possibly the best. I was actually quite full at this point, though this was another star dish of the night that one simply cannot miss.
A grilled squab that had been dry aged 7-8 days, baked before being finished in a charcoal grill.
The squabs used at Taian Table are uniquely bred and slaughtered such that little blood is present in the flesh, resulting in less gamey meat.
On tasting, I simply adored the charcoal aroma together with the surface of the squab after going through a Maillard Reaction.
I observed a unique flavour in the Squab that was surprisingly pleasant. Think of it as a slightly gamier version of duck. The meat was cooked to perfect medium rare, and despite being pink, retained a bit of a bite.
The thick jus was lovely and fruitiness of the pear and endives helped to refresh the palate.
I was truly astonished by this dish, and would take this char grilled squab over a beef steak, any day. 10/10
Seeds, Lychee, Blood Orange
The first of the desserts was a basil parfait, seeds with a lychee emulsion resting on blood orange gel. To be frank, it didn’t look very appealing, but tasted bright, fruity and refreshing. 8/10
Yeast, White Chocolate
The main star of the dessert was this raspberry dish. White chocolate ‘fingerlings’ if I may call them that? Well, they were shaped like the finger gloves you put on to protect your fingers while working in the kitchen, filled with slightly sweet and tangy raspberries. I’m not sure where the yeast component came in, but the dessert was a feast for the eyes and wasn’t overly sweet.
The tangy raspberries balanced out the sweetness of the white chocolate together with the sorbet. 8.5/10
Completely stuffed at this point, I still managed to try a couple of the petit fours, and found myself enjoying the little mildly sweet cream puffs and macarons.
That summed up the dinner at Taian Table, which we finished in about 2 hours.
Their menu changes every 1-2 months, so quickly that by the time you read this article, you would be experiencing an entirely different menu at Taian Table. Taian Table is definitely on the top of the must-eat/visit list in Shanghai. While they are not at the level of Ultraviolet, very few in Shanghai can come close to the level of taste and service you experience here.