Last February we visited the restaurant Din Tai Fung in Bangkok with great expectations for their Shanghai Dumplings – Xiao Long Bao. Apparently, the Din Tai Fung in Taipei is considered one of the top restaurants in the world and it is known for their Xiao Long Bao, and we adore good Xiao Long Bao. Unfortunately, the restaurant in Bangkok did not live up to our expectations.
(Click images to see larger version.)
Longtime readers of this blog know of our love of Xiao Long Bao. At one point, in 2011, we thought we’d found a great source for them at the then-named Shanghai Happiness Restaurant in the popular MBK (Mahboonkrong) Center. (See Shanghai Dumplings in Bangok.) In December 2012 they were not as good. After our visit in 2014, they were good again – see our second blog Shanghai Xiao Long Pao Restaurant in Bangkok. Before I wrote this blog in 2013 we were quite excited to try out Din Tai Fung.
Din Tai Fung is known for “its famous signature xiao long bao.” As you walk in, you are able to watch 3 or 4 of the workers making the Xiao Long Bao in front of you: the dumplings came out looking absolutely gorgeous. In their literature they talk about how a good xiao long bao should have at least 18 folds. When ours came to the table, I actually counted over 20 folds and they looked stunning.
This particular branch is located in the upscale shopping center Central World in the Ratchaprasong Shopping District. It’s a pretty classy looking restaurant, modern and clean. They raise your expectations very high: a sign as you walk in informs you that “The arrival of Din Tai Fung in Thailand creates new standards in the local dining scene.” This is under the heading: “Ushering in an era of esteemed Taiwanese culinary heritage.”
It’s an attractive, modern setting. The place settings were pleasing and each table came with soy sauce, chilli oil, vinegar and pickled ginger. The ginger was our first taste of their food: it was the most bland ginger I’ve ever tasted with almost no ginger flavor whatsoever. I wondered: how on earth do you make ginger so tasteless!
At first glance, we were disappointed by the menu: although there were quite a number of noodle dishes, the rest of the menu didn’t provide many choices. We ordered 5 items.
First, the Xiao Long Bao. We ordered 6 for 145 baht (there’s also 10 for 195). The dumplings were beautiful on the outside; I counted over 20 folds in each of the dumplings – they looked spectacular. With great anticipation I dipped a dumpling in the sauce with “pickled” ginger, popped it into my mouth and bit down. The dough was excellent: not too thick, not too thin, just right for retaining a good quantity of the juice that squirted enticingly into the mouth when I bit down. Unfortunately, that’s where the positives stopped. The juice itself was bland. The filling itself was even blander. All that work and beauty, undermined by a bland filling and a bland broth that had virtually no flavor. It was truly a disappointment.
Another item we ordered was a salad, Spinach Tossed with Sesame. The dressing was pretty ho-hum, nothing spectacular at all; it desperately needed some salt. The overriding impression from the dish had to do with the toughness of the spinach, which I found mystifying. I sometimes cook up the leftover spinach from making Miang Kam in class at home and it always comes out easy to eat: it’s really very easy to cook up spinach so that it’s tender. If my spinach came out as tough as it was in this salad, I’d be embarrassed to serve it; in fact, I wouldn’t serve it.
The next item was Century Eggs with Slivered Ginger. The best part about this dish was the quality of the lovely Century Eggs: they were obviously of very high quality – translucent and delicious. Unfortunately, it was served with incredibly bland ginger: it would have been better served plain.
I thought the most successful of the dishes was the Sliced Duck in Crispy Spring Onion Pastry. The duck was very nicely cooked and the onion pastry was nice and crispy. Still, it was another bland dish that needed more flavor.
We finished with the Mango Pudding. As you can see (to the left), it’s a lovely presentation. Again, the taste was nothing very special at all.
The cost for our 5 dishes was 565 baht; after 10% service charge and VAT it came to 665 baht for a light meal for two, about $22 at the exchange rate at that time. Certainly, you can find spectacular food in Thailand for less, but this was not outrageous for a restaurant in Central World. Still, it felt like way too much to pay for bland food.
Basically, everything that was served was bland and could have been enhanced by a little salt. In Kasma’s cooking classes one of the central lessons learned is how salt can be used to enhance and bring out flavor without making a dish taste salty. For whatever reason, the chef here seemed to be salt-averse and this meant flavor-averse. Without a modicum of salt, everything lacked flavor. Even adding soy sauce couldn’t add flavor into the already cooked food – the dumpling filling itself or the duck. The overall impression was of bland food presented nicely.
If you are on a salt-free diet and don’t mind bland food, you might like this restaurant. If you like flavorful food that lights up your mouth with delight, you’ll want to give it a pass.
I normally don’t like to publish something so negative. However, when a restaurant in Bangkok, where you can find some truly great food, claims that their arrival “creates new standards in the local dining scene,” they had better give you food that delights and impresses. This food did neither.
When we get in the mood for Shanghai dumplings in Bangkok, we’ll go to Shanghai Xiao Long Pao Restaurant (link is to a previous blog).
Din Tai Fung
Rajdamri Road, Patumwan
CentralWorld Shopping Centre Level 7 No.4
Bangkok 10330, Thailand
Written By Michael Babcock, August 2013
All opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author only.