MANILA, Philippines – The S Maison mall at the Conrad is still filling up its space for various establishments, but many diners have already begun to stop by Paradise Dynasty on its second floor, drawn in by the promise of their headlining item: the mythical 8-flavor xiao long bao, or soup dumplings.
I’ve written before about where you can get many great ones in Metro Manila, and I like the selection from Paradise Dynasty. The variety (flavors including premium ones like truffle and foie gras, and even cheese, something you don’t see too often in soup dumplings) is novel and fun, though I think few will take to all 8 flavors. You’ll have your favorites. But share an order with a friend, and it’ll make for a very entertaining lunch or merienda. Plus, if you like just the one flavor, you can order baskets of single flavors in quantities of 6 or 10.
But first, a primer on Paradise Dynasty. It’s finally made its way to the Philippines from Singapore, where the first store opened in 2010. There are over 30 restaurants globally now. What stood out to me at the tasting event I attended, was Paradise group CEO Eldwin Chua’s emphasis on value for customers – leading to an overall growth for the brand, even though sometimes individual items may not necessarily be squeezed for profit.
Within each truffle xiao long bao, for example, you’ll find a slice of truffle, a very dear ingredient. And the foie gras flavor is a punchy and very evident addition to the meat and soup in the dumpling. Yet Chua says they don’t make money off the foie or truffle dumplings. On the whole, an order of the 8-flavor xiao long bao will run you P388, which is far from cheap but provides a clear and satisfying value for money offering.
Another standout tidbit is that natural flavors are used to create the vibrant colors you see in the soup dumplings. A few I’ve seen elsewhere have the over-bright luster of less well done dumplings, and the skin is sometimes lumpy and unable to hold the weight of the ingredients inside, or withstand the cooking process. That leads to a broken mess in the basket when it’s served. That’s not the case with the ones I’ve seen in Paradise Dynasty, after two more baskets and two visits.
Of the 8 flavors, truffle and foie gras are predictably standouts, but the ginseng, the 3rd of their premium flavors, is more subtle, a warming and delightful treat. Not to worry, the Szechuan one is not too spicy, but the flavor is strong and intense.
There are dimsum options – and as Chua notes, the dishes are Shanghainese, not Cantonese, as seen in many restaurants in the country. And so instead of the radish cake I was better used to, there was this delicious radish pastry (P138, 3 pieces), a clear winner for its savory but light filling.
I’m still uncertain as to how they were able to make egg whites taste like crab meat, but that’s what they did with this scrambled eggs with fish and conpoy (dried scallop) dish, P328. Chua told us about the inspiration for the dish, which is an old story about royalty craving for crab meat that wasn’t in season. For those looking for something a bit unusual, this is a nice option. The flavors are quite mild and pleasant.
This spicy Szechuan chicken dish (P298) looks a little intimidating, with all those fiery red peppers mixed in. But actually, it isn’t overwhelmingly hot, and the mix of spices elevates the flavor.
A deceptively simple dry noodle dish (la mian with scallion, P200) is also a highlight. Most of the food, with the exception of the 8-flavor xiao long bao, is presented without frills, but bold and subtle flavors alike don’t need too much to stand out.
One thing to note is that the noodle dishes come in large portions. If that’s all you’re ordering (and maybe a basket of the soup dumplings), two can share. But if you’re ordering a ton of other things, 3 or 4 people could share a noodle order.
As the restaurant is still in the first few months of operation, the service is still generally on the slower side. One thing I did was to ask for the bill a little early to provide an allowance for the lead time during the busy dinner hours, and there weren’t any hiccups.
The best seats inside are near the windows, where you can have a really pretty view of the water – and this is a great spot to take nicer photos of the very photogenic xiao long bao, too.
Happy eating! – Rappler.com
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