Since a friend wisely pointed out that we run by the Chinese calendar here and it has not officially turned a new year, it seemed like an optimal time to put out a round-up of the newest in food and drink this past year.
Also a great excuse to eat the Hawaiian stuffed-crust pizza being delivered to my door right now – New Year’s resolutions have yet to take effect.
I wrote this post so long ago and it’s been languishing in my draft queue. I am still, sadly – eating delivery pizzas. Resolution fail. Let’s all move on. Anyway – 2015 was a fairly good year for Taipei in food, but perhaps not in drink. Local and street food got copious amounts of coverage in global press; no doubt some of it was funded by a sweet, sweet native-advertising budget from the Taiwan tourism board.
Being the trendy trend-setter I am, I tried many of these new restaurants and bars*. Here is what I thought:
* This is obviously not a comprehensive list. Like any other city, Taipei has a ton of openings and closings each year. The ones below were memorable to me for some reason or other.
RESTAURANTS & CAFES
Photo via @taipeifoodie
• ACHOI – upscale “modern tapas” in the new AMBA Zhongshan (the chef came from Michelin-starred Jean Georges in Shanghai). I went with a large group of friends (one of whom was a vegetarian) and ended up getting a set meal to share. Note: not very good for vegetarians. I did experience some sticker shock, as I thought it was pricey for the portion size (I remember paying around 1600 without alcohol), and the dishes were a bit predictable. While the space is highly Instagrammable, I do feel sad that I paid over 15 USD for a bowl of sesame noodles with some fried chicken tossed on top, or a few cut-up figs with marscapone cheese. I do not feel inclined to come back for the equally expensive afternoon tea. Unless my Instagram is lookin’ a bit bare. Or – you know – a press tasting.
• Paradise Dynasty – and Breeze Xinyi fourth floor restaurants: Paradise Dynasty is what I like to call “shitty Din Tai Fung with those rainbow dumplings”. That’s what I remembered from visiting its other branches, and my visit pretty confirmed that this opinion still holds. The newly-opened luster has begun to wear off all the restaurants on the Breeze’s dining level (which includes an Osteria by Angie, a curry place, a Mongolian hot-pot place, a fancy Thai place, etc etc) – so the waits aren’t that bad. I’ve only tried Paradise Dynasty so far, and that’s kind a shame – because those rainbow xiaolongbao are truly unimpressive. I’m actually getting a little mad just thinking about it. I’d only go if (see the review) – ya know, my Instagram was lookin’ a bit bare.
• Alexander’s Steakhouse: Look out for a post on this one! Very, very impressed. Not even so much for the steaks, but for their cheese programme. This San Francisco-originated chain has brought some delicious, delicious cheeses to Taipei.
• Lee’s Sandwiches: Yet another sign of Southern California’s invasion of Taipei. Funny how that goes: I remember growing up with 85C bakeries and Ten Ren tea shops – Taiwan-based chains that had found popularity in a certain Asian-saturated corner of the US. Now a reverse kind of migration is happening, where US-based concepts are being taken into Taiwan. Vietnamese coffee, large banh mi sandwiches. I adore the Lee’s in California but it just didn’t translate well to Taipei. Frankly, I think it’s disgusting – couldn’t even finish my banh mi. Can’t fux with Vietnamese coffee though.
Photo via 1
• Spot Taipei: Opened by Austin Hu of Shanghai’s Madison fame, this New American joint does a really, really good waffle fried chicken sandwich (it is huge), and a pretty good all-day brunch, with items like coffee shortribs and blueberry pancakes. One of the more interesting brunches in town – if you’re getting sick of The Diner’s rote offerings.
photo via 1
• Voodoo Doughnuts: I just don’t get it – of all the global hotspots in the world that Portland-based doughnut shop Voodoo could open: Taipei? The lack of fanfare surrounding the opening just proved that maybe we really are past the doughnut craze (I remember the days when Mister Donut first opened, and then Krispy Kreme – oh god). Visited in its opening month expecting lines on lines on lines, but the pink-hued store was pretty much empty, even though it sells coffee and has copious seating. Over 30 types of doughnuts, both in their cake and “raised” iterations. All the hits were there: the maple bacon bar, Triple Chocolate Penetration, Cock-n-balls, etc etc. At NT$155 a pop, the Cock-n-balls was a bit pricey, given that you can get penis cakes from the night market nowadays for what I’m sure if a fraction of the price – and they look way more realistic. I personally though the doughnuts were pretty disappointing – but since I’ve never been to the Portland location (and ya know, just not really that excited about doughnuts) – what the fuck do I know?
photo via 1
• Roots Creative: Sliding quietly into the casual fine dining category that RAW and MUME brought to media attention to at the end of 2014, Roots has firmly cemented its status on my roster of favorites. Haven’t been this impressed by a Taipei restaurant in a long while. Blown away by the creativity, flavours and portions of the food. Amazing value – our bill came out to around NT$1000 per person [though keep in mind I only ordered one meat-based main, with no alcohol]. Service was impeccable. Menus seem to change seasonally, but here are some favorites: Korean pancake with farm egg, furikake, local chiles, a dish of Tomato with burrata, egg yolk, and herbs – and finally those gotdam fried tomato soup bites. Fuck – its totally meant to be a shared appetiser, but these are so good, I have visions of going back and ordering three portions as a meal. Don’t like sweet thangs so skipped on dessert, but have heard very, very good things on that front. They give you a giant fortune cookie with your bill in it at the end!
• The Shrimp Daddy, Brookhurst Seafood Bar: Yet another California concept given wings in Taipei. Shrimp Daddy and Brookhurst basically have the same concept. I prefer Shrimp Daddy because it’s a bigger space and they have more options on their menu, but if you really pressed me, I’d say that Brookhurst has a slightly better sauce.
• Woolloomooloo Out West: An expansion of the Woolloomooloo empire in an unlikely location: Ximending. It serves a more expanded menu than the other Woolloomooloo locations (including the best tacos I’ve had in Taipei thus far) – and the complex includes a second-floor theatre and arts events space for, well, artsy events.
DESSERTS & SPECIALTY FOODS
• llaollao: This is some yogurt chain from Spain that recently landed in the Xinyi Vieshow complex. Much to my chagrin, frozen yogurt (henceforth known as “froyo”) just hasn’t been able to stick here in Taipei. There used to be a few frozen yogurt chains around, but they’ve all closed. I predict that llaollao will do better than its predecessors for the simple fact that it doesn’t even taste like frozen yogurt. There’s none of that tartness – it taste just like ice cream. The toppings are also ice-cream like: add on ultra-sweet rich caramel, chocolate, cookie crumbs, and I couldn’t even finish my portion. Whatever. This is ice cream masquerading as frozen yogurt, and priced decently. Maybe would take it to the movies.
• Jamba Juice: Another American import. PSA: People, Jamba Juice isn’t healthy. I hope you didn’t think it was. Go get a fresh juice from the night market, or one of the fancy shmancy cold-pressed juices from one of the juice places popping up around town.
• Purplehood: Despite the dubious name [insert side-eye], excited that Purplehood has brought acai bowls to Taipei – specifically, in the middle of the East District in that one weird strip of stores that is constantly changing owners and concepts: remember the honeycomb ice cream craze? The acai bowl comes in two sizes – both of which are really expensive, but it looks very cute I’d prefer it over other “dessert” offerings in the area.
photo via 1
BARS & CLUBS
Nothing really exciting happened in nightlife this year, to be honest. I’ve covered pretty much everything in this post.
• OMNI: Luxy renovated and turned into OMNI, which is basically just Luxy with a better sound system and slightly different layout. I saw on Facebook (where they have a truly obnoxious, ubiquitous presence) that they won a design award or some shit for their renovation – which mystifies me because it truly just does look like old Luxy, only slightly updated.
• East End [at Hotel Proverbs]: Read all about my experience here.
• Frank: One of the better done concepts in the ATT4FUN building. Read about Frank here.
Here are some other establishments I’ve yet to try, but have heard a lot of buzz on. Will update as I go, and please let me know if there are any new places I have to try.
• TK Seafood & Steak (part of Hotel Proverbs)
• Yum Yum Cafe
• VVG Hideaway
• Le Blanc