Liang Ban Jia Korean BBQ (Taipei)

August 16, 2015 in Food, Reviews, Taiwan, Travel by pacejmiller

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We were itching for some Korean food, and one of the recommendations from the internets is Liang Ban Jia (兩班家), a Korean BBQ restaurant situated on Level 6 of the A9 Shin Kong Mitsukoshi department store in Taipei’s Xinyi District.

The place is apparently packed during peak hours, but we went early for Friday lunch and managed to snag a seat.

As with most department store restaurants in Taipei, the decor is top notch and the atmosphere very comfortable. The service is of course also excellent. They apparently have this special ventilation system that absorbs all the smoke and fumes from the BBQ plates so your clothes won’t get all stinky.

They have a couple of lunch sets, one at NT$980 per head and one at NT$780 per head. The annoying thing is that if you have only two people both of you have to get the same set, so you can’t say have one person order a set and the other order a la carte.

The good thing about getting a set is that you get more value for your money, especially since you get unlimited side dishes (such as kimchi and other pickled vegetables), but the bad thing is that your selection is set and you can’t order the things you like. You can, however, order one set of sides for NT$80.

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The a la carte menu

In hindsight we probably should have gotten the set, but because we wanted specific things the sets didn’t have, like bibimbap and seafood pancake, we ended up ordering a la carte.

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No stinky clothes with this grill

We couldn’t come to a Korean BBQ without getting some BBQ, so we ordered the TORO pork, the cheapest item on the menu at NT$240 for eight slices.

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The waiters help you cook the meat, and they even use scissors to trim off the darkened edges. Apparently they don’t always do that if the restaurant is super busy, but they did so on this day.

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See the sauces at the bottom of the above photo? The one on the left is the Korean chili bean sauce, which is not that spicy but fantastic with just about anything. The one on the right is a lemony soy sauce which gives the meat a nice kick.

That said, the TORO meat was not great. Kinda tasted very porky and chewy. No wonder it was so cheap.

The other meat we got was spicy chicken.

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This took ages to cook. Needed a lot of patience. And the finished product was rather spicy. Unexpectedly spicy. Also not the greatest of choices (NT$280) but the beef was so expensive it would have made getting a la carte a rip off.

Next up, a spicy kimchi seafood soup.

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Lots of stuff inside and they cook it right in front of you on a separate portable gas stove. The soup was nice but it was super spicy. Like numbingly spicy.

They also cook the bibimbap in front of you too, and ask how spicy you want it and how well-done you prefer it.

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I have to say I really liked the bibimbap. I had to add some of that extra chili bean sauce but once I did it was excellent. Cooked to perfection and lots of great flavours. I wish I could have had more.

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Last, but not least, the good old seafood pancake.


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I also really liked this as it was thick and fluffy (some seafood pancakes are thin and crispy) and had solid fillings. The sauce was also sour and tangy, which went really well with it.

It was too much and we couldn’t finish everything, so we ended up taking a few pieces of seafood pancake back. We were also not close to finishing the soup. In hindsight, it probably would have been sufficient to skip the soup and the TORO pork, and perhaps upgrade the chicken to a better beef.

In sum, Liang Ban Jia is a perfectly solid Korean restaurant, but at NT$800-1000 per head it is a lot more expensive than similar quality restaurants elsewhere.

HOWEVER, I recently went back and tried out a different branch, at Shin Kong’s Tiemu store, and tried out one of the sets. It was a lot better, mostly because the quality of the meats were on a completely different level. So I’m revising my rating to give it a bump up.

8/10

Details

Liang Ban Jia (兩班家)

Address:  Level 6, Shin Kong Mitsukoshi A9, No. 9, Song Shou Road, Xinyi District, Taipei (nearest MRT Taipei City Hall/Taipei 101)

Phone: (02) 2720-1980

Hours: 11am-2:30pm, 5pm-9:30pm

Ben Cuisine (犇和牛館) (Taipei)

August 13, 2015 in Food, Reviews, Taiwan, Travel by pacejmiller

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Groupon has some amazing deals, and one that recently caught our eye was this amazing 71% off “Michelin” feast offered by Ben Cuisine, a Taiwanese restaurant group specializing in teppanyaki and Japanese seafood. They have three restaurants all located next to each other in an alley off Anhe Road in Taipei’s Da’An district, and the offer is for their smallest one, their “Wagyu” shop with just a dozen or so seats.

I admit I was sceptical because, according to Groupon, the original value of the two-person deal is NT$6805, but they were giving it to people for NT$1980, or just NT$990 per person. So either the restaurant is feeling really generous or they are in trouble and are full of shit. But hey, it worked, because we bought it along with a lot of other people. Given that the deal is only available during lunch, reservations need to be made early to ensure a seat.

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The menu looked impressive on paper, so I was eager to find out just how good this “Michelin” feast is. By the way, I have doubts it’s even legal to use “Michelin” in promoting their restaurant because it doesn’t have any Michelin stars or chefs that once earned a Michelin star.

First up, French bread while I forgot to take a photo of. Basically just a typical bun with some olive oil dip.

Next, two appetizers. The first is a prime sirloin beef roll with truffle salad. It sounds awesome, but looks like this. It was pretty average, to be honest. The meat was not very tender and the flavours were too familiar.

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The other appetizer, a crispy pan-fried shrimp with salad. Not particularly memorable.

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Then it was time for a soup. You could choose a shrimp bisque or a clear seafood soup, and we both went for the former. The bisque looked good enough but was very average. There was just something missing.

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Next up, an entree before the main. We each got a serving of this Spanish Wagyu tapas with a crab “gnocchi” (really a pancake). The beef was fine and I liked the crab pancake, but the pastry wrapping the beef didn’t taste very fresh. I did like the red curry sauce on the side though.

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Then, it was time for the main courses, of which there were two. First, the prime sirloin with roasted garlic. It looked okay but I’ve had much much better steak. Wasn’t too bad with the onion garnish.

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The other was the pan fried chicken on top of creamy mashed potato. This turned out to be my favourite dish of the lot. The crispy chicken skin was prepared nicely and the mash was sublime. Unfortunately the chef out a little too much salt on the skin.

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After the mains they moved us to a small room for dessert. It was not the most comfortable of settings (you can see it along the back wall from the top photo), and the dessert was awful — soggy, cold, pre-prepared crepes and fruit. I don’t know when they prepared it but it was obvious they had just to take it out of the fridge. The post-meal beverage (coffee, tea, etc) was also just average.

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In all, it’s hard to imagine this meal being worth NT$980 a head, let alone NT$3402.5 per person. Strictly speaking it was not terrible, but when you charge a premium and put “Michelin” in the title you’re raising expectations pretty high. The truth is you can get better teppanyaki in a better setting in plenty of other places for that price range.

6.5/10

PS: The restaurant has apparently “extended” the Groupon deal.

Details

Ben Cuisine (Wagyu) (犇和牛館)

Website: http://www.bencuisine.com/

Address: No. 4-1, Lane 102, Section 1 Anhe Road, Da’An District, Taipei (nearest MRT Xinyi Anhe, exit 1)

Phone: (02) 2703 2296

Hours: Monday-Sunday (11:30-14:30, 17:30-22:30)

‘No Menu’ Teppanyaki at Shen Yen (Yilan)

August 10, 2015 in Food, Reviews, Taiwan, Travel by pacejmiller

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We went to Yilan on a family vacation a couple of months ago (yes, this is how far behind I am) and, of course, planned the entire trip around what restaurants we were going to eat at. After some research, we put Shen Yen (饗宴), a no-menu teppanyaki restaurant, at the top of the list.

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As with most restaurants in the countryside, Shen Yen doesn’t look particularly extravagant from the outside or the inside. In Taiwan, the decor would indicate a mid-range restaurant, though in Yilan it’s one of the most expensive places you can visit.

They have two levels but there aren’t that many seats, so reservations are a must. Everyone is seated around the teppanyaki grill for the main meal, which has more dishes than I can count, and will be moved to a separate table seating area for the dessert.

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While there is no menu you choose your sets by price range, which go from NT$1600 to NT$1800 to NT$2000. I don’t exactly know the difference, but I was told that the higher the price the better quality the ingredients. Given that this was likely once in a lifetime, we went all out with the $2000 set.

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Everyone gets one of these triple sauce trays — a tangy soy-based dressing, onion garnish and pickled vegies. They go well either by themselves or with any of the meats dishes.

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Interestingly, the first dish is fruit with some nuts. Chinese restaurants usually serve fruit at the end, but I didn’t mind trying some of the Yilan fruit produce to kick things off. It’s supposed to be good for digestion. Taiwanese fruit is the best. The best.

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Next up, some sashimi. The first was extremely fresh. The wasabi is also freshly made and is supposed to be from Taiwan’s famed Alishan.

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We also got some of these cold cut bamboo shoots — proud local produce — along with some fish roe. Very refreshing.

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Next up, the first hot dish, fresh prawns. The chef even taught us how to peel them. Massive and juicy, and the natural flavours alone were sufficient.

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The chef then began preparing scallops and meats.

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I love scallops. This was perhaps a little too well done for my liking but it’s easy to tell how fresh it is.

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This was one of my favourites, a cheese roll with fish inside. The Parmesan was really crispy and flavoursome and the fish inside was only seared, not full cooked. My kids loved it.

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This is one of Yilan’s most popular dishes, the cherry duck. It wasn’t as mindblowing as the cherry duck I had the last time I was in Yilan but it was still pretty good.

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Beef fillets. Steak is always good, and it was interesting getting a different type of experience with each bite by mixing the cubes with fried garlic, sea salt, black pepper and white pepper.

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Abalone. Fresh from the tank.

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This one was incredible. Basically a beef dumping with foie gras inside. The juices just explode in your mouth.

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This was a tangy, saucy, slightly spicy creation with lots of mushrooms. Reminded me kung pao chicken. I haven’t seen this one in a lot of other food blogs, so perhaps it’s a seasonal inclusion.

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Lobster with sea urchin sauce. If you’ve had sea urchin sauce before you’ll know it’s very sweet, and when you squeeze some lemon on top it’s just divine. There wasn’t as much lobster meat as I had expected though.

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A simple grilled dish with salt and pepper. It’s good for what it is.

We moved to the table section for the last few dishes. This is a baby dried shrimp fried rice.

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And this is a very exquisite seafood soup with lots of goodies inside.

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Lastly we were treated to beverages (tea, coffee, juice, etc) and this slightly underwhelming chestnut cake. I was looking forward to something more chocolaty, personally. Shame we didn’t have more choice for this one.

As you can imagine, we were absolutely stuffed after this meal. The servings were not big, but when there are so many dishes they add up. By the end I was overflowing. So basically what I’m saying is that you probably don’t need to get the NT$2000 set. Judging from other food blogs it seems you more or less get the same things as the cheaper sets expect they tack on a few additional dishes. I don’t think it’s worth it.

In all, Shen Yen was a solid experience, but it’s not a place I’d be rushing back to if I were in Yilan again. For the same price you could get a much more comfortable experience in Taipei, though I understand the appeal of Shen Yen is that you get a lot of local produce that’s extremely fresh, and the enjoyment comes from the natural flavours more than any culinary additions. As a bit of a picky eater, I’m also not a huge fan of the no menu idea because it limits your options.

7.5/10

PS: Look for the photo of Jay Chou near the toilets.

Details

Shen Yen Teppenyaki (饗宴食坊)

Address: No. 326, Hebin Rd, Luodong Township, Yilan County

Phone: 03-965-7998

Silk Road Feast at The Westin Taipei

May 7, 2015 in Food, Reviews by pacejmiller

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A very kind friend gave us a couple of paid-for coupons to the Silk Road Feast buffet at the Westin hotel in Taipei. Despite buffet restaurants upping the ante every year, Silk Road is still known as one of the most deluxe buffets around with its extensive variety and the overall quality of the food. This is no cheap stuff. Silk Road has fresh seafood, made-to-order pasta and omelettes, sashimi, Thai, Chinese dim sums, and freshly made Indian naan and so forth, and of course the usual salads, desserts and hot dishes. Even if you just take one bite of everything they have on offer you’ll still end up stuffed.

The biggest attraction at Silk Road, however, is that in addition to the buffet, each guest also receives a main course — a Choice-grade US steak, grilled in a hot plate deliver straight to your table with roasted garlic.

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A steak main course comes with every buffet entry

If you don’t like steak, they can replace it with half an Australian golden lobster.

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The lobster alternative

Each table comes with a few plastic tokens with your table number on it. You can take the token to some of the made-to-order counters and just drop it into a box. When the chef is done they will take it to your table so you don’t have to stand around and wait.

There is also a bar with plenty of fresh juices and other beverages they can make for you on the spot. If you want tea or coffee you can just ask the waiter and they will bring it to your table.

Anyway, let me give you a brief tour of the facilities.

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This is the fresh sashimi section, where the chef will slice up an assortment of fresh fish to your liking. There’s also some rice there if you want to make chirashi.

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This is the fresh seafood isle and cold section, with fresh shrimp, squid, and pre-made salads.

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A little further down is the cold cuts and fresh DIY salad section.

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Head around the corner and you’ll enter the Indian section, with a bunch of flavoursome curries on offer.

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An authentic Indian chef makes authentic Indian naaan (or is that chapati?).

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Back around the front, there’s this fresh seafood section I completely missed until I was too full. You pick what you want and they cook if for you.

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In this section you choose the type of pasta you want, the kinds of meat you want, and the type of sauce you want. And the chef will make it for you, fresh.

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This is the hot food section. Mainly Chinese stir-fries.

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I think this is the Thai section. Meatballs and curries with Thai rice and rice cakes.

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A little further down and you get to the roasted meats section. The place to be if hams and sausages are your thing.

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And then there’s a dim sum section with chicken feet and shumais.

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This is the bar area with juice jugs and beverage dispensers.

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Bread paradise. I missed taking a photo of the omelette section, which is right next to this.

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Fruit to finish off the meal. Those tiny white bowls in the photo are buts and candies like M&Ms. The cheese and crackers section is next to that.

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Cakes!

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And last, but not least, the gelato. You can get it in a cup or cone.

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No comment.

In all, a super stuffing meal with amazing variety. The steak was obviously not the best I’ve had, but it tops a lot of steak restaurants I’ve been to before. Cooked medium, with roasted garlic…mmm…you don’t even need to add any additional flavour. I liked the lobster as well, though it didn’t have quite as much flesh as I would have liked.

As a buffet, there will be some hits and some misses, but each section at Silk Road manages to hit a certain level of quality. You might not love everything, but there will be very few things that will disappoint, if any. The service is also outstanding and there are enough waiters in each seating area to make sure you are well attended to.

On the whole, a quality experience. I’m not sure trying everything is a good idea for your health or your palette, but if you can manage, good for you. My favourites were the salmon sashimi (extremely fresh), the Thai section, the Indian naan, and of course, the desserts. No chocolate flavoured gelato, which is probably my only complaint of this visit.

9.5/10

Details

Silk Road Feast at The Westin Taipei

Website: http://www.westin-taipei.com/01_text.asp?ln=1&sn=27

Address: 133 Nanjing East Rd. Sec.3, Taipei, Taiwan

Phone: Tel : +886-2-8770-6565    (booking hotline: +886-2-3518-3078)

Hours and Prices:

Breakfast 06:30 -10:00 / NT$750+10% per person; NT$375+10% per child (5-12)

Lunch 11:30 -14:00 / NT$1,380+10% per person; NT$375+10% per child (5-12)

Afternoon Tea 15:00 -17:00 / NT$990+10% per person (no main course) or

NT$1,380+10% per person (with main course) or NT$350 +10% A la carte;

NT$495+10% per child (5-12) (no main course) or NT$885+10% per child (with main course)

Dinner 18:00 – 21:30 / NT$1,380+10% / per person ; NT$690+10% per child (5-12)

Snack -A la carte 21:00-22:30

*No main course for children unless specified otherwise

Trésors de la Mer (Taipei)

April 29, 2015 in Food, Reviews, Taiwan, Travel by pacejmiller

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I’m not much of a seafood guy, to be honest — too much trouble getting all that shell off, sorting through bones and putting up with potential skin allergies — so I had never heard of Addiction Aquatic Development, basically a fish market joint owned by the Japanese cuisine juggernaut Mitsui Group.

The website can explain the place better than I can, but essentially they offer many different types of ways you can eat fresh seafood. There’s a supermarket with a lot of sashimi, sushi and bento; a stand-around sushi bar where they make the stuff fresh; a hotpot area; a grill/BBQ section; and a proper restaurant — Trésors de la Mer .

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The view from the second floor of Trésors de la Mer

The restaurant also serves fresh seafood, which you can choose yourself from the tanks and iced section outside the front door.

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They have set specials (in Chinese only) that range from NT$1,280 to NT$2,280 per person (minimum 6 per table), but as I am quite picky with my seafood we decided to order a la carte.

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The seafood is REALLY fresh

The upstairs dining area is spread out but comfortable, and also surprisingly child-friendly.

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It’s all about the food, of course, so let’s check out what we got.

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First up, salmon sashimi. We only got salmon because that’s what we like, but we got half belly and half “normal.” Served on a bed of ice and with fresh lemon pieces, this was an absolute delight.

If you noticed that it is missing wasabi, it is because we have to grind it fresh ourselves.

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You get this plate with trapping holes in it and you have to grind a stick of Japanese horseradish to create the wasabi, which you then scrape to the edges with this wooden brush. It’s a lot of work, but totally worth it, because fresh wasabi is totally different to that processed stuff you mostly get and it’s fabulous.

If you order sushi, they will roll around a sushi cart and make it for you on the spot.

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I ordered a tuna one and it was just OK. Not enough tuna for the amount of rice you get and for the size of the dried seaweed sheet.

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One of the highlights was the prawns, seasoned with salt, pepper and garlic and served with a side of salad drizzled with a vinaigrette dressing. The prawns were just so fresh and succulent and makes you realise that freshness really makes a huge difference.

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To ensure we would we full, we ordered a stir-fry seafood and chicken udon. Also very good, with a thick but light sauce but not too starchy. The seafood again was fresh and the chicken was surprisingly succulent.

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I love scallops, so we got a couple of skewers of grilled scallops. It was fresh and flavoursome, though in hindsight seared might have been better because scallops are more awesome when they are raw.

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The biggest surprise of the meal was the fish. It looked small and dry, but boy was it marvellous. With just a dash of salt and lemon, the natural flavours were allowed to shine through, and despite being grilled it was so fresh it almost melts in your mouth with a natural moistness.

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Lastly, you get a plate of fresh fruit — in this case sweet pineapple, bell fruit and guava.

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After sampling the meal at Trésors de la Mer I can definitely understand why Addiction Aquatic is such a popular destination for tourists, especially those from Hong Kong and Japan. If you love seafood, there’s probably no better place to visit in Taipei.

8.5/10

Details

Trésors de la Mer

Website: http://www.addiction.com.tw/lamer/

Address: Level 2, No.20, Aly. 2, Ln. 410, Minzu E. Rd., Zhongshan Dist., Taipei City

Hours: 11:00-24:00 (Addiction Aquatic open 6:00-24:00)

Phone: +886-2-2508-1268

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