Twenty years ago, Taiwan's xiaolongbao chain restaurant Ding Tai Fung was voted into the world's Top 10 restaurants by The New York Times, and it's been trying its best to live up to that reputation ever since.
It may no longer be the gourmet establishment of two decades ago, but its popularity has not waned. It is certainly well patronized, especially by expatriates, who are convinced that the restaurant offers the best steamed pork dumpling buns in town. They certainly are the most expensive.
The latest offerings by Ding Tai Fung will not cost any less. Recently, its Beijing branch introduced another temptation to the menu - xiaolongbao filled with black truffles.
After just one bite, you can see the little black bits of truffle mixed into the juicy pork filling, and the famous fungus from Italy certainly smells and tastes like what it is.
The cost of the black truffle xiaolongbao is 176 yuan ($27) for a bamboo steamer of 10, and it is more than double the price of Ding Tai Fung's codfish xiaolongbao, which was the most expensive item on the menu at 85 yuan per serving.
But according to the restaurant, the truffled buns are selling out.
The black truffle xiaolongbao and its sister product, the foie gras xiaolongbao, have already been tested out at Ding Tai Fung's home base of Taiwan. They only became available in Beijing recently after the supply sources were assured.
Ding Tai Fung may still have to work on sourcing better quality foie gras, but the restaurant says it's definitely trying harder.
Apart from its signature buns, the restaurant also offers a more than decent selection of cold dishes, fried vegetables and classic soups.
Rice-wine marinated green soybean is a great cold starter for summer, as well as the Shanghai-style bran gluten, rice-wine marinated chicken, and tasty tea-tree mushroom with white sesame.
But you still have to come back to its most famous product sooner or later. The restaurant's crab roe and pork xiaolongbao is definitely one of the best in town, and an excellent introduction for first-timers to the restaurant. These are made from the freshest ingredients daily.
My personal favorites are the rice sponge cake, and black sesame bun. The sponge cake is prepared in the traditional way to gets its unique texture and the restaurant prepares its own.
Again, one is reminded of how important the sourcing of ingredients is when you taste the eight-treasure rice, a traditional dessert from the south. Ding Tai Fung makes it with glutinous rice from Northeast China, and candied and glace fruits from Taiwan.
The average bill is 120 yuan a person. It is a kid-friendly restaurant, but can be a tad chaotic at peak hours.