HELLO – IT’S MEEEEEEEE; this sad excuse for a blogger is back from the dead after a very long hiatus (again, mostly due to the fact that I now live in another city). Anyway, that doesn’t matter, because I still A. Come back to the city pretty much every month and B. Have access to that marvelous social media tool FACEBOOK (Although the VPN has been pretty crap over in China as of late). And on the book of faces, I’ve seen a lot of my super-hip Taipei-based acquaintances eating, and posting, posting about eating. I’ve also been eating a bit as well. This really isn’t a curated list of any sorts, it’s just places that I’ve been going to on my trips back, although I’m way too lazy to visit during times where the lighting is halfway decent. Still trying to switch over from being a night owl that wakes up at noon. Here’s what I’ve discovered:
LATE 2016 – EARLY 2017 TAIPEI LOVES –
• CASUAL FINE DINING WITH LOCAL INGREDIENTS still going strong: RAW and MUME still leading the pack, my love Roots Creative – which recently changed its name to Gen Creative; the embattled nkụ, Tairroir, the list goes on. The trend’s gained such steam that even the damn New York Times noticed).
• AUSSIE-STYLE CAFES with the acai bowls, the avocado toast, avocado bagels, avocado salads, avocado drip coffee, avocado stuffed with avocado, etc etc. See Sugar Pea, The Antipodean, Cafe by Juicy Diary, Untitled Workshop.
• VEGAN FOODZ: Often overlapping – but separate from the previous trend, Taipei’s denizens are still riding the health train pretty hard and loving their vegan/vegetarian options: see VDAYS Fresh Takeaway, a new outpost of MissGreen in Eslite, juice delivery services like GOODIES, etc.
A THING YOU CAN DO OUTSIDE
• COMMUNE A7: Lots of cool kids congregating around this open-air market type set-up in Xinyi District. I thought it was just for Christmas, but guess it’s here to stay. What’s up with this, though? From what I’ve deduced through five years of living here, people in Taipei f-cking hate eating outside. Many a summer weekend has been wasted trying to search for a decent outdoor patio, only to just end up eating fries at COSTUMICE, again. Anyway, this concept is proving to be a popular weekend activity, no doubt due to offerings from Western restaurants, cafes and bars that already have other outlets and strong followings around the city: Lobster Bar, Uranium, Campus Cafe; PS Tapas, Alleycats, Tasting Room etc. It’s probably not as crowded recently because of the solid block of sh-tty ass rainy days that miraculously descended upon the city the moment I decide to come back for a month. Seems like something decent to do on a day with good weather – just go more for the atmosphere than the food.
• Chou Chou: A “modern brasserie” concept opened up by Hong Kong born Lam Ming King, former Executive Chef of Jean Georges in Shanghai (woohoo!) Chou Chou serves up very good versions of French comfort food in a beautiful setting (black leather banquettes, marble tables, copper pots – seemingly a necessary component of all Instagrammable restaurants these days) – and perhaps even more astonishingly, has an actual, working website with PDF menus! Hearty french classics like moules frites, duck confit, foie gras, etc etc. Prixe fixe sets here; lunch for 880; 3 courses with coffee for tea for 1280 – a pretty damn good deal. There also appears to be a gorgeous tiled private dining room as well: flowers, fancy wine glasses, the whole deal. Perfect for your rich-ABC birthday party needs. The flower-adorned duck seems to be the star item.
SUGAR PEA image via @taipeifoodie
• Sugar Pea: Man this place has been getting love from all the foodies and Instagrammers – no doubt due to the photogenic, light-soaked space and the – bitch you guessed it – white marble tables. Unlike many other similarly photogenic venues in the city (ahem, VVG, ahem, a poet), the food lives up to the visual hype. The menu is all very brunch-in-Melbourne: an avocado toast with crab, big, colorful salads; the banana pancakes proving to be a major favorite, as well as the chipotle chicken bowl. It’s one of the latest openings within this trend, but probably the best.
CAFE BY JUICY DIARY image by @mag_daily
• Cafe by Juicy Diary: Don’t get me wrong, Juicy Diary has high-quality cold-pressed juices, and delicious nut milks. I even did a cleanse with their juices a while back. It’s just that, well, they don’t make those damn juices anymore! Instead, they’ve hopped on the Aussie-style cafe train AS WELL and opened this very lackluster cafe in Dongqu. The acai bowl is both unimpressive and expensive (Plants does a better version, and is located nearby), the avocado toast is, like all avocado toasts, just avocado on toast, and this is one instance where the white marble tables don’t work. But good thing it’s called Cafe by Juicy Diary, so at least they have jui- oh, what? Wait, you only have two juices in stock, and one is a coconut water? Where the hell did all their other varieties go? I’ve called at least 2-3 times, each on different days, and I always get the same answer – “we only have two varieties in stock” – and same goes for their outlet in Shin Kong, which also means the cleanse sets are out. So you took away all my favorite juices and gave me this B-grade cafe? Hmmmm. Time to turn to Goodies.
THE ANTIPODEAN image via @ashely0911kk
• The Antipodean: A couple of interesting items on this Neihu cafe’s menu, although….it’s in Neihu. The stand-outs seem to be the acai bowl (probably the best I’ve had in town) and the avocado toast (this is the third post in a row I’ve typed “avocado toast”, are we sensing a theme here?) and a hearty English-breakfast plate. There’s a brightly colored wall with a kangaroo on it: seems pretty obvious they’re going for that “brunch in Melbourne” vibe. Not sure if it’d necessarily be worth the trek; depends on how fervently you bow down at the altar of Aussie-style brunch. Take a book or a laptop: it’s a decent place to work, as well.
This really should be under restaurants but I can’t be bothered to shift the order around of my photos; lo – it’s own special section.
• VDAYS Fresh Takeaway: An interesting second act from the team behind Mr. Meat (which just got a shout-out in the New York Times, along side Taipei dining heavyweights like RAW and MUME): a vegan take-away spot. Veggie bean and tofu burgers are popular, and they have salad boxes and sauteed veggies as well. To drink: cold-pressed fresh juices. Altogether a very hip entrant into the burgeoning health-food scene in the city, geared towards those on-the-go. As with their carnivore-centric concept, expect higher prices, but also high quality (and on-point branding).
• MissGreen: Has relocated from its former location on Wenchang to a spot right next to Roots Creative, serving a very similar menu of vegan burgers, wraps, pastas, and smoothies. Not as much a fan of the veggie burgers as before; but on my last visit the pastas, huge salads and risottos were the best bet. They also have kombucha! (I now much prefer their Thai joint, The Green Room). Take your other insufferable healthy vegan friends after you all do a spin class.
MISSGREEN image via @chiu_29
BARS & LOUNGES
• TigerLily Taipei: This place is just okay. This could be because I don’t really care for bars in general, but this concept really feels a bit half-assed. The drinks are okay. The food is…bar quality. I actually can’t even remember anything about this place other than it’s got that dimly-lit concrete vibe and it’s walking distance from OMNI. I have no idea really why I even wrote this review – just that I started it, and then felt like I had to finish it. Perhaps because there are actually a million other venues like this in the city that I’ve visited but wouldn’t necessarily write a review about; that start with a decent space and concept, but just don’t quite take it to the next level or push the envelope in any aspect, whether it’s their food, drinks, decor, branding. But as long as there’s a human element and people who are loving what they do, there tends to be nice community of regulars built around the place – always a positive thing to see.
• Meowvelous Clubboy’s Saloon 俱樂部男孩沙龍: The most buzzed-about bar opening in a long while, this little bar attached to the Meowvelous restaurant proper near what I call the IKEA-Mandarin Oriental area. With champion bartender Victor Yang coming from his former post at Marquee to helm the bar, you can’t go wrong with any concoction he and his team whips up – and how photogenic they are, garnished with flowers, leaves and other bits & bobs. It’s a bit further from the rest of Taipei’s nightlife offerings; and the space is limited, so it’s more suited for a quiet dinner and drinks with a friend. Very, very well done.
• KOR: From the owners of OMNI (formerly Luxy) and events company theLOOP comes a shiny, impressive new lounge inside of OMNI, specifically in the space that was formerly the short-lived, mystifying “CERCLE”. Unlike that particular venue, this concept is well-designed, well-thought out, and well-staffed: combining to make the most significant Taipei nightlife opening well, since OMNI got a revamp (and a design award, to boot). These guys are going from strength to strength. The tables are arranged stadium style, on tiers that ascend from a massive bar that wraps around the main floor. The music is mainly hip-hop, which – YES! My only qualm is that it’s pretty fucken bright inside: I get that it’s a lounge concept as opposed to OMNI next door, but the combination of alcohol and bright lights leads to some unwanted situations, namely, my friends and acquaintances on the upper tiers leaning over to see me getting tequila-trashed on the main floor table. Also, even if you’re not drunk, it’s just awkward! Actually, especially if you’re not drunk, it’s awkward! I don’t want to see everyone that clearly! That kind of awkwardness-induced-by-bright-lighting shouldn’t have to happen until the morning after. Anyway, ever since this place opened late last year it is THE place to go. Everyone is here, every weekend. This is – and presumably will be, knowing our sleepy little city – THE spot of 2017.