It’s been eight months since the beginning of 2016, and nearly eight months since I’ve last written in this space – this bloggers comes hanging her head in shame. Part of the blame lies in that fact that I’ve taken a job in Shanghai and now live there full-time. But as I do end up returning every month somehow (I work a hospitality job, so it’s work all weekends, a very regret-filled 6am flight on Sundays, back by Wednesday night to start my work week again), I’ve been keeping fairly up to date on Taipei openings. My job is made easier by the fact that the Taipei scene grows more slowly than the hair on Donald Trump’s toupee. Ah, speaking of The Donald – very pleased with my decision to relocate to Asia. It’s another ten years for me.
• Sarabeth’s: Yet another popular NYC import: this time the shtick is brunch. Having opened – I suppose successfully – in Tokyo, testing ground of seemingly all the food concepts coming into the region, now the pancake purveyors have come to Taipei. Cinnamon french toast blah blah, ricotta-topped blah blah, egg-white omelettes whatever – double the price and twice the wait compared to other options in town, and of course, it opened in SOGO. I can’t review this, and I will never be able to review this, because I simply cannot be f-cked to wait in line for anything, much less some NT$400 pancakes in a mall in the morning. For way better brunch, check out SPOT (which, as Joan of Hungry-in-Taipei-fame has pointed out, also has Taco Tuesday!).
via @paulinecw77, @foodsnapper
• Plants: Upscale, highly-Instagrammable vegan food in the East District. Veggie bowls, home-made hummus, lots of shit made with beets, you get the drill. I was mainly lured there by reports of a kale caesar salad (!), which was good and an acai bowl (not really that good). The offerings seemed extremely hit or miss. I didn’t try their bowls, although the portion looked generous (rare for this type of place; I’ve left many a vegan eatery severely hangry). Some of their appetizers or small dishes were straight up bad. I’d stick with the hummus with beet chips, the sweet potato fries with beet ketchup – see? what did I say about shit being made with beets? – and the kale salad. Good for a light lunch with a friend.
• URBN Culture : Yet another vegetarian place, not to be confused with Herban Kitchen & Bar (a separate operation, a favorite brunch staple of mine when I lived in the city). I had been hearing about this place from a lot of different people. When I visited, I was shocked to see URBN has an identical menu to Herban – down to the font and the wording. When I asked the staff, I was told that URBN was affiliatd with I reached out to Herban’s owner Marco, who explained the situation, which comes down to a former partner at Herban leaving and basically copying the entire concept under a different name: “We find it very disappointing. We think she would have been much better creating a new identity, but she has insisted on using a similar sounding name and menu…We sincerely wish them well, though their obvious intention to confuse the market is borderline criminal.”
*Note: As someone who has a wealth of friends that own small F&B operations, I can firmly say that this is a horrible situation for Marco and the rest of the Herban team to be in. I was unpleasantly surprised when I walked into URBN and saw an exact copy of Herban; I was deceived into thinking it would be a new vegetarian dining experience and instead it was just a total rip-off of a concept that already existed. I’m sure people will continue to patronise the restaurant, but be aware before you go.
• The Green Room: I just thought of this while writing about the above two restaurants – the second vegan concept by Miss Green proprietor Vivian Chang, but entirely different menu: vegan Thai: curries, noodles, soups, all very good. It’s a large airy space, and they serve cocktails made with kombucha. Dogs are allowed!
• Mighty Quinn’s: An American import from the mean streets of New York City, serving up BBQ realness: brisket, ribs, burnt ends, dirty fries, sweet potato casserole. Brisket is good, ribs are good, many other items not good. And expensive, to boot – at around NT$400-600 a meal; especially as the eatery is operated cafeteria style.
• I’ve also heard that Baba Kevin’s Barbecue (which has had a catering-only presence in the city for a bit) has opened a store-front restaurant, now open for week-day lunches with a similar menu to Mighty Quinn’s. Haven’t tried, so jump on over to Joan’s review.
• Twinkeyz Tacos: Despite its seriously side-eye inducing name – *pause again for a side-eye* “but whyyyyyy” – this little taqueria caused a huge stir amongst the city’s ABC contingent, especially those hailing from a palm-tree laden region known as CALIFORNIAAAAAA. Big menu of taco options: the classics (carnitas, chicken, barbacoa) and a selection of more expensive specialty tacos (tacoz? Twinkeyz tacoz?): those Korean bulgogi tacos that were so 2011, chicken with Indian spices, GUA BAO TACOS. Best part for the vegetable killers is that they also have some amazing vegan/vegetarian tacos as well. The classic “street” tacos top out at $NT95, but the special onez range up to NT$150, which is (Hong Kong’s) Brickhouse level of insanity. This is Taipei! Anyway, they also have kimchi fries, nachos, Mexican corn, the whole shebang. The tacos were pretty good, and they even have a taco “flight” where you can try a selection of their tacos at smaller portions for a cheaper price (although for nachos, stick with Machos Tacos). I murdered my mouth on their delicious array of homemade hot sauces. When I went on a random Thursday, the entire store was filled with ABCs – or ABCz?
• Le Blanc: This steak n’ lobster shtick has officially come of age in Asia (from London’s Burger & Lobster, to the “Bull & Claw” opening last year in Shanghai). In Taipei, they do away with the annoying “A” & “B”-type name, but the concept is the same. It’s located on the bottom of the SWIIO Hotel, continuing the trend of restaurants attached to boutique hotels. You either get lobster with fries (NT$1400) – or steak with fries (NT$1000). It comes with a gorgeous little Caesar salad and soup. For sides, there’s thangs like creamed spinach (although they replaced it with 地瓜葉 when I went, hm) and truffle mac-and-cheese for an additional charge. The decor is very, ah, white. It kind of feels like a toy restaurant; or like they just ordered “VAGUELY BISTRO-LIKE RESTAURANT, EXCEPT ALL WHITE” from IKEA and then unpacked it in the empty space under the SWIIO Hotel. While the sides, soup and salads were incredibly well done, I personally thought my steak was not mind-blowingly good; but in an inverse line of thinking as my review of Twinkeyz (for NT$150 per taco, that taco better be DAMN good), the steak was prettttyyy goood for NT$1000.
Chez Nous Kitchen: Similar to Le Blanc at Swiio and TK Seafood & Steak at Hotel Proverbs (and of course, Achoi at the Zhongshan Amba) – Chez Nous Kitchen is an eatery attached to a boutique hotel, aptly named Chez Nous. It has an airy little dining room, serving up a strange-yet-comforting mix of updated Taiwanese classics (museli-crusted pork chop) and pappardelle with bolognese sauce. The basement lounge is yet to be opened – it include a cozy bar, much like MUD at Amba).
• Origines: French eatery that’s gotten a fair amount of hype for its rustic, hearty French classics. Haven’t been to try, but it’s in a trendy area (near Ounce, Roots Creative, etc) and seems like a solid week-night dinner option.
• Taïrroir 態芮: The newest fine dining player in town. Instagram addicted foodies have been on fire posting about dishes that are most definitely designed with aesthetic appeal in mind: their sakura egg dish with a multi-coloured cornucopia of toppings.
CAFES & LIGHT FOOD CONCEPTS
Swell Co. via @shaozhi.23
There are always too many cafes opening to keep track of. I depend on @taipeifoodie to keep updated, honestly. But here are two new ones I’ve visited and like:
• Untitled Workshop: Instagram’s new cafe darling. Pineapple-themed, stand-out items are matcha teas and avocado toast. They sell Mast Brothers’ chocolate (which, why) and other such hipster necessities.
• SWELL CO. CAFE: very nice working space, expensive coffee, mediocre food options.
BARS & CLUBS
• CHESS 2.0: Club-goers to Taipei’s thrilling capital now have the option of going to three exciting clubs instead of two: Elektro, OMNI, and Chess. Yes, the Chess of the city’s horrible post-3am life decisions is back with a sleek new concept right next to thirsty-local-boy-emporium MYST inside the ATT4FUN, which now officially houses nearly all of Taipei’s nightlife, and is a place I hope never, ever catches fire. CHESS 2.0 is literally divided into two sections: A) tables overflowing with magnums of champagne, and B) PEASANTS, STAND OVER THERE NEXT TO THE BAR. Chess 2.0 also has things like a little toy car filled with champagne and “driven” by bikini-clad girls over to your table, and these weird ceramic tea-cups instead of shot glasses. All this frippery kind of makes one miss the old Chess, which was just this tiny little hotbox where people to get absolutely wasted and dance to Drake on the sofas and champagne came with no sparklers and the tables mingled with the dance floor but no one cared because it was dirty and sweaty and fun as hell! But nonetheless, Chess is still Chess, and it’s still the place to go. Good hip-hop, really attractive people dancing to said hip-hop, every damn weekend.
• R&D 2.0: This bar moved to a bigger space, expanding their food menus to truly become a dinner-and-drinks destination. Worth bringing friends to for a relaxed weeknight dinner that moves into drinks.
• HANKO 60: Heard heaps about this place before I finally had the chance to go. Part of the revival of the older, western side of the city. It’s a speakeasy concept, and in my opinion, there’s more than a bit of a resemblance to PINGPONG129 in Hong Kong – with the basement rec-room vibes, glowing neon signage, etc. The cocktail menu is highly focused on pushing local ingredients: sour plum-infused vodka, smoking concoctions served in traditional Chinese tea-ware. But while the atmosphere deserves the hype, the drinks need some work (and won’t really satisfy those who prefer their cocktails spirit forward).
That’s it for now, kids. TIme to do a refresh on my nightlife posts, as those are long, long overdue. Look out for those soon. In the meantime: