Le Palais is on the seventeenth floor of the Palais de Chine hotel in the Datong district of central Taipei. Despite its French name it serves mostly Cantonese cuisine, with head chef Ken Chan coming originally from Hong Kong before moving to Taiwan three decades ago. He became head chef here in 2010, with the executive chef of the hotel being Matt Chen. The restaurant was awarded three Michelin stars in the inaugural Michelin guide to Taipei in 2018.
The dining room is smartly decorated, each table set in its own screened off area and being carefully lit. The menu was lengthy, with various chef specials as well as a long a la carte selection. The wine list had a lot of Italian offerings in particular. Labels included Bodegas Balbainas Vina Pomal Reserva 2010 at TWD 1,230 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for TWD 701, Cloudy Bay Pinot Noir 2015 at TWD 1,920 compared to its retail price of TWD 1,196, and Ca’ Rome Romano Marengo Rapet Barolo 2010 at TWD 4,800 for a wine that will set you back TWD 2,557 in a shop.
I started with king prawn dumplings, aka har gao. These were excellent, the dumpling thin and delicate, the prawns lightly cooked and having some inherent sweetness. These were very good prawn dumplings by any standard (15/20). Next I had tenderloin of beef with assorted bell peppers and asparagus in a black pepper sauce. This was quite good, the beef pink in the centre and the peppers nicely cooked, the pepper sauce being quite light on actual pepper flavour though (14/20). Gai lan was, by contrast, clearly overcooked. It was not actively soggy but was cooked far beyond the level that I would expect, based on eating hundreds of versions of this dish over the years, from London to China (10/20). I tried a couple of stalks to check it was not just one piece that was problematic, and then spoke to the waitress. She took the dish away and after some consultation declared that this was the way the kitchen made gai lan. Perhaps, but it was not the way that pretty much any other respectable kitchen makes the same dish.
Finally, Taiwanese noodles featured large prawns, scallops from Hokkaido, squid and clam, as well as bak choi. The prawns were very good, tender despite their size, and the squid was good. Sadly the scallops were distinctly overcooked, still having a hint of sweetness but a real waste of a top class product. Clams were on the chewy side, and the noodles themselves had inconsistent texture, with some quite hard, undercooked clumps. The bak choi was fine, so this was quite a mixed dish, with some good elements and some quite poor ones in the same dish. Perhaps 12/20 overall.
The service was very good, the waitresses attentive and speaking good English. The bill came to TWD 2,827 (£72) for one person with beer and tea to drink. You could spend more if you drank wine, but if you ordered sensibly then a typical cost per head would still only be about £80 unless you ordered exotica like shark fin or abalone. Overall, this meal was quite inconsistent, ranging from the dubious bak choi through to genuinely good har gau. However this is a restaurant that Michelin granted three stars to, its ultimate accolade. If I stood in Bayswater in West London and threw a stick I could hit several restaurants at this level, and a few that were better, albeit with less smart decor and more basic service. This meal was well below one star level, so the three stars given is simply incomprehensible to me.