The dining scene in Taipei, Taiwan is more exciting than ever. While the streetfood may dominate, fine dining restaurants are also on the rise.
Street food rules at Taipei’s beloved night markets, including super affordable specialties “coffin bread,” oyster omelets, the aptly named stinky tofu, Frisbee-sized crispy chicken cutlets, and of course, bubble tea. Yet the LGBT-friendly city (following Taiwan’s landmark legalization of same-sex marriage in 2019) has earned a spot on the fine dining foodie map in recent years, too.
The Michelin Guide published its inaugural Taipei edition in 2018, and its second, launched in April 2019, saw 24 restaurants awarded with at least one Michelin star (Palais de Chine hotel’s Cantonese restaurant, Le Palais, entails the list’s single three star inclusion). In 2019, website Eater launched an ambitious series of articles, The Eater Guide To Taipei (www.eater.com/taipei-foodrestaurants-guide), which covers its cuisine both high and low (fun fact: local 7-11s are a favorite spot to grab a bite, and they have proper seating areas to boot).
I’ve been to Taiwan’s vibrant capital at least eight times now, and I’ve witnessed and indulged in its evolving culinary scene, as several trailblazing venues and chefs gained international fame for artfully rendering regional terroir, notably RAW and Mume, which both opened in 2014 and continue to place on Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list (www.theworlds50best.com/asia/en).
Today, elevation is the name of the game, with hotpot, xiao long bao soup dumplings, East-West fusion, experiential cocktails (e.g. Room by le Kief, East End at Hotel Proverbs), and more receiving locavore, inventive, high-quality twists.
One of my favorite sites when visiting Taipei is an excellent English-language food blog, A Hungry Girl’s Guide To Taipei (hungryintaipei.blogspot.com). Its spot-on writer, Joan (she keeps her last name a secret), keeps tabs on both new and long-establi shed restaurants, cafes, and foodie developments, with a dose of cultural insight. Also check out her Instagram, @hungryintaipei. Joan, in fact, joined me for a taste testing expedition at one of the six venues that made the World Eats cut from my belly-stretching 2019 visit (and yes, with more bubble teas than I can count!).
Hands down, my favorite, most memorable meal of 2018 was at chef Hiroyasu Kawate’s Florilege in Tokyo (deservedly ranked number 5 on Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants 2019). When I learned chef Kawate opened Logy in Taipei’s Da’an district, with Florilegés Hokkaido raised former sous chef Ryogo at the helm, it became my top priority to secure a booking. Thanks to one of my local dining buddies, the sassy fine dining and luxury hotels-obsessed Joseph Wan who recently launched a skincare line called Voodoomoi (www.voodoomoi.com), we managed to snag a coveted reservation, which otherwise must be secured via the venue’s website 60 days in advance.
Logy’s interior is dark yet photogenic: an L-shaped, 13-seat bar with open kitchen sets the stage for Tahara’s 10- course tasting menu (a bargain at $121), which includes a supplemental booze-free tea-based beverage menu. While Florilege filters deeply Japanese ingredients through French technique and innovation, Logy draws inspiration from a more diverse set of Asian cuisines, albeit with the same Japanese precision and 80-percent locally sourced, seasonal Taiwanese ingredients. Menus change bimonthly, yet there are a couple of signatures that survive these rotations. One, presented early in the meal, is a take on chawanmushi, an elegant black bowl of warm egg custard, crabmeat, wolfberries, beef, and squidbased broth, and an oval of cilantro-green Angelica celeriac ice cream. Meanwhile, one can also expect a second and supremely Taiwanese signature dish, an aiyu jelly with fizzing coconut cubes and a pour of coconut juice. There’s plenty of tableside presentation and explanations, plus interaction with ingredients in their various forms. Now bestowed with a 2019 Michelin star, and with time to develop further, Logy begs for a revisit, and damned if I won’t show up at the door to make it happen. 1F. No.6, Ln.109, Sec.1, Anhe Rd. Tel: +886-2-2700-0509. www.logy.tw
MUZEO GASTRONOMY & DRAFT
A 2019 opening, MUZEO occupies a former Da’an district hair salon space turned intimate, modern-industrial restaurant, and offers up a mix of locavore Western fusion cuisine and a selection of Taiwanese beer, housemade cocktails, and wine on tap. My visit, during the soft opening, proved a lovely affair compliments of chef Xavier Hsu, who previously worked at Taiwanese celebrity chef Andre Chiang’s namesake Singapore venue. Chef Hsu’s seasonal a la carte menu featured a silky, creamy Taiwan-made Caprese starter with cherry tomatoes and elderflower jelly, and Chinese fried chicken dusted with a medicinal green lovage root powder also sourced in Taiwan. Other dishes represent a game of international hopscotch: duck breast with carrot purée, burnt onion, and beetroot jus, a Scotch quail century egg, and an oyster omelet upscaled with sakura shrimp, lovage powder, and white wine shallot. No. 14, Alley 6, Lane 170, Section 4, Zhongxiao East Rd. Tel: +886 2 2752 5299. www.facebook.com/muzeotaipei
The four-year-old Mr. Meat is part of a wave of upscale, hipster hotpot restaurants, with a playful, butcher-themed, high quality approach, and blatant imitators. Including one named Meat Gangster. The exterior of this Dun Hua venue is easily spotted thanks to a cool swath of street art, while the interior features a butcher’s case, tables, booths, and bar counter seating with embedded hotplates. Besides the assortment of local and imported meat, including both Iberico and Taiwanese pork and Cherry Duck, Mr. Meat is distinguished by its fermented ingredients, rich with probiotics, and choices of broth (sour cabbage and hot chili among them) in which to swirl your veggies and protein. Another delicious standout is toothsome instant noodles-based dishes, and the Braised Pork Minced Rice, based on an almost 90-year-old recipe from the owner’s grandmother. I was sure to polish off my meal, and make an Instagram post, with a “meatcicle”: a popsicle that resembles raw bacon but is actually comprised of cranberry sorbet and marscapone cheese. No. 35, Lane 81, Section 2, Dunhua South Rd. Tel: +886 2 27035522. www.facebook.com/mrmeathotpot
One of Taipei’s most beloved, approachable French restaurants, chef Lam Ming Kin’s “modern brasserie” Chou Chou saw the arrival of a Da’an district sister venue, Longtail, in summer 2017. I doubt there’s sibling rivalry per se, but Longtail went on to earn a Michelin star for East-West fusion dishes that draw inspiration and key flavors from Southeast Asia, like kaffir lime, kaya, and lemongrass, and of course seasonal local produce. There is an L-shaped bar, over which light bulbs hang from narrow stalks, tile floors, wood panel ceiling and tables, and leather seats. One can order a la carte or opt for two eight-course tasting menus, with slightly different offerings and price points (a reasonable $61 and $93, respectively), that change quarterly. A cocktail pairing runs $32 more, and I was pleased to see an a la carte mocktail menu packing seven tasty libations including a “Watermelon Brisk” (watermelon, lime, sea salt, mint tea). One standout course I almost requested additional helpings of entailed a pair of dumplings accented with Thai accents of fish sauce, lemongrass, pomelo pulp, and crushed peanuts. Utterly divine. Ditto for medium fatty tuna (chutoro) tartare with crispy nori rice and Indian rojak. A signature Singaporean-inspired dessert, Kaya French Toast with espresso ice cream and soy caramel drizzle is a must. No. 174, Section 2, Dunhua S. Rd. Tel: +886 2 2732 6616. www.longtail.com.tw
This sky-high restaurant located on the 31st floor of W Taipei hotel (the gayest five star property in the city, by the way) puts a contemporary spin on Cantonese food. Here you’ll also discover a massive menu of other Chinese dishes from executive chef Wo Hoi Ming, eye-popping views, and a chic atmosphere. The décor is sleek and shiny with splashes of purple, black tables,and creamy lavender seats juxtaposed against the floor to ceiling windows, while one can also opt for white banquettes further from the glass. Being a cheese addict, I was sure to order the fried turnip shreds with cheese: crisp, light brown pastry packed with perfectly gooey cheese. The custard buns resemble just picked brown and white mushrooms, but actually contain a tasty, eggy center. I had requested Beijing duck in advance and wasn’t disappointed: it arrived, caramel brown, carved tableside with a razor sharp cleaver by a young, attractive fellow whose arms’ edgy tattoo sleeves seemed incongruous with his bottle cap glasses and geeky features. Of course, when in Taiwan one should be sure to try the local specialty beef noodle soup, and YEN’s is absolutely delicious. The deep brown soup is laced with hearty flavor, tender braised beef, bok choi, and squiggly, toothsome wheat noodles. Meanwhile, tea sets arrive in Taipei 101-shaped Plexiglas towers, and if night has fallen head back to adjacent YEN Bar for views of the real Taipei 101 and an Oolong Fizz with oolong tea-infused gin. W Taipei, 10 Zhongxiao East Rd.Tel: +886 2 7703 8887. www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/tpewh-w-taipei
Xiao long bao, steamed sack-like dough pouches containing pork and broth known as “soup dumplings” in the West, were born in Shanghai, but the Taiwanese gave them a more thin-skinned, compact-sized twist that truly became popularized thanks to Taiwan chain Din Tai Fung; their signature: precisely 18 folds at the top of each chewy-skinned dumpling. You’ll find xiao long bao on many restaurant menus throughout Taipei, some offering unorthodox, creative fillings, including spicy shrimp, and bitter melon. Enter nine-year-old Singaporean-born chain Paradise Dynasty, located just across from the W Hotel in the shiny shopping mall Breeze Xinyi, which adds the novelty of eight color-coded, delicious varieties. First timers can order up a basket containing one of each and the sequence in which to consume them: pork, ginseng, foie gras, black truffle, cheese, crab roe, garlic, and Szechuan, or 5 or 8 piece portions of individual varieties. I’m crazy for the yellow-skinned cheese, the pork laced with gooey, stringy melted cheese (I keep forgetting to ask what kind they use, but I’m guessing it’s gruyere or mozzarella), the aromatic black-skinned garlic, and red Szechuan, which contains just enough numbing pepper and spice. Having tried Paradise Dynasty locations in multiple countries, I’d say the best is easily Taiwan’s, delivering superb flavors and flawless dumplings that rarely rupture prematurely, possibly due to the precise standards for crafting xiao long bao here. I should also mention the extensive, book-sized menu of Szechuan, Shanghainese, Cantonese, and other Chinese specialties, but I’ll always be back again for the bao.