Welkin Hot Pot (天鼎) (Taipei)

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

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So we’ve been hearing rave reviews about this place called Welkin, a relatively new hotpot place, which has two stores in Taipei and one in Kaohsiung. The group also has a Hokkaido BBQ restaurant called Duomo, also in Taipei.

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The first thing I will say about the place is that it is very nice. Swanky. Very different to your typical cheap and dirty hotpot place in Taipei. Despite how it looks, however, Welkin is still all-you-can-eat, which is what Taiwanese people love because they think they’re getting great value for money.

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The branch we went to on Anhe road recent just completed renovations and expanded their store two twice its previous size. Business must be good, even though I heard the restaurant was embroiled in that embarrassing oil scandal last year. I’m sure they sorted that mess out and their suppliers are qualified now.

To be honest, I’m not 100% sure how the menu works at Welkin. There are menus and all, but you’re better off getting a waiter to explain it to you. In short, they offer two set courses, each coming with a regular hotpot and a steam pot, which is supposed to be quite healthy as you steam all the food and allow the fat and oils to drip down below.

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There are two types of sets, a NT$798/person set, which comes with crab and an assortment of all-you-can-eat meats (beef, pork, chicken, etc) and processed hotpot products, plus a salad bar where you can get extra stuff as well as salads and fruit. The NT$998 is basically the same except there is an additional seafood platter. Of course, there is the customary 10% service charge on top. Children under 100cm are free, and it’s half price between 100cm-140cm. Anything above that is full price.

All sets come with unlimited soft drinks and beer, as well as a large handmade dessert to share. From what I understand, if you have four people or more in your group you can upgrade your crab to lobster for free, which is what we did.

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Before you start eating anything, they bring up this bowl of lettuce leaves for you to wrap the meats, a cool sugar cane drink that is very light and only a little sweet, great for cleansing the palette. Everyone also gets three sauces in a little tray. From left to right: a wine-based sweet sauce, a tangy lemony sauce and a thick sesame sauce. They each go well with different things, but my favourite had to be the sesame. I can’t get enough of that stuff.

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First up, a light seafood soup. Not a lot of flavour but it gently preps your belly for what’s to come.

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Here’s the lobster we upgraded to. As you can see, fresh lobster, some prawns and plenty of fresh vegetables. The white dish on top is a creamy sauce that goes well with the lobster.

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The meats are also presented well. Here’s the beef, which came with a kiwi sauce we picked (you get a choice of three). Sublime.

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A hand roll with fish roe and pork floss.

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Pork slices (yet to be cooked) with soy and butter.

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And here it is cooked.

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Seafood platter, with fish, prawns and scallop (uncooked)

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Cooked.

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The rest of the steamed meats (pre-cooked).

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After that we got the hotpot rolling, and you can throw in whatever you want.

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Some of the stuff we got from the all-you-can-eat salad bar. Apart from the seafood platter stuff and the lobster/crab you can also get as much extra meat or prawns, etc as you want as well. Just have to tell the waiters. I heard that the waiters might be deliberately slow in bringing out the food so you can’t eat as much, but on this Friday night they were packed out as usual (the newly renovated section was completed but not yet open to the public) and I found the service to be quite fast.

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Lastly, when all is done, they bring on the dessert. I don’t know if it changes, but on this night we got an awesome honey toast. Marshmallows, ice cream, chocolate sauce, fruit and wafers — doesn’t get much better than that!

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Strangely, even though it was all-you-can-eat, I didn’t feel that stuffed after the meal. Neither did other members of my family. I think it had something to do with the steaming of the food, which made it a lot lighter than hotpots and BBQs. The price was decent — NT$1098 (including surcharge) per person for the deluxe meal — but you can save a lot of money if you buy a book of 13 vouchers for NT$10,000. That works out to be NT$769 per person (no need to pay surcharge).

Nice ambiance, good service. The quality of the food is better than expected consider it is all-you-can-eat, and there’s quite a good variety to choose from. Not the type of place I’d go back to regularly, but definitely a good experience if you are celebrating a special occasion.

8.5/10

Details

Welkin (天鼎)

Address: Level B1, No. 191, Sec 2, Anhe Road, Da’an district, Taipei (nearest MRT Liuzhangli)

Phone: (02)2733-7000

Website: http://www.dadido.com.tw/index.html (Chinese only)

Hours: 11:30am-10pm

Shaffer’s Kitchen (Taipei)

February 25, 2015 in Food, Reviews, Taiwan, Travel by pacejmiller

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Taipei locals have been raving about Shaffer’s Kitchen for a couple of years. Opened by a Taiwanese woman looking for something to do after moving back from the United States with her American husband, the restaurant is known for her home-style cooking with a gourmet touch. Think of kind of stuff the contestants of My Kitchen Rules like to make. (For a more detailed history, check out this post from Taiwan Xifu)

Reservations are highly recommended. We went for lunch just before Valentine’s Day, and the place appears to be particularly popular with local workers because of their affordable business lunch set. Intent on something more special, we asked for the regular menu instead. And here it is.

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Since it was (almost) Valentine’s Day, they were also nice enough to give us this home-made, hand-made cookie.

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We ordered way too much stuff for ordinary humans to consume. We started off with some marvellous home-made bread. The long slices are infused with olive oil and herbs, while the round buns are hot and fluffy on the inside. A great way to kick off the meal ahead.

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The soup of the day was carrot (I know it looks like pumpkin), and it had both a nice flavour and consistency.

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We ordered one of the special starters (on the blackboard in the back), roasted eggplant with pine nuts on toast. This one had a lot of Balsamic on it, which was a little too much for me, though there’s no denying that it’s a fine conceptual creation.

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The other starter we got was from the menu, the goose liver pate. This was very fragrant and would have been a good order had I not already devoured so much bread.

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Yes, we got another starter, the salmon crepe roll, which came stuffed with salmon and creme cheese, with fish roe on top. This was my favourite starter. Small but delicate and delicious.

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After the glut of starters, we had barely any room to fit the two mains, the first of which was the duck breast with red wine berry reduction.

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I loved this duck breast and the sauce that came with it. The duck was seared to perfection, with a crispy skin on the edge and soft flesh beneath. The sauce was tangy and sweet, and thankfully there was plenty of it.

The other main was the famed balsamic roast chicken. Just look at it.

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As I said before, I’m not the biggest fan of balsamic, but in the right doses it can be sublime. They got it right with this chicken, with the sweet and sour flavours penetrating deep into the skin without being too pungent or overpowering.

We really wanted to get some dessert was well (there is a wine-pear dessert that’s supposed to be awesome) but we were too stuffed to dare.

So on the whole, Shaffer’s Kitchen lives up to the hype. Good food, friendly atmosphere and hospital service at reasonable prices. It’s not Michelin-star cuisine, but as far as classy, home-style Western cooking goes, this is about as good as it gets.

8/10

Details

Shaffer’s Kitchen (雪飛詩歐廚)

Address: No. 9, Lane 42, Yixian Road, Xinyi District, Taipei City

Phone: (o2) 8789 4088

Website: http://shafferskitchen.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ShaffersKitchen

Opening Hours: Tue – Fri 11:30pm – 9:30pm; Sat – Sun 11:00am – 9:30pm (Closed Mondays)

Piccola Enoteca (Hsinchu)

February 23, 2015 in Food, Reviews, Taiwan, Travel by pacejmiller

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We were dropping by Hsinchu in northeast Taiwan after a morning picking strawberries in Miaoli (further south) and needed a good recommendation for a place to have lunch. That recommendation turned out to be Piccola Enoteca, an Italian joint with an innovative recipe crafted by a Hong Kong owner.

The restaurant is small, with probably only enough room for 30-40 seats, but even for a Friday lunch it was very busy. Here is their menu (which apparently changes regularly), available in both Chinese and English — but I apologize for it being too small to read properly. They have a mix of homemade bread, antipasti, pasta, and main course meats, as well as side dishes. They also have some daily specials, so be sure to check out what they are from the professional staff.

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Here’s what we ordered (for four adults).

First up, an interesting take on the Taiwanese oyster omelette, with additional fish and squid. It’s as good as it looks, and not as oily as they typically are.

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Next, fried truffle and mushroom balls. Incredible stuff. Anything fried and anything with truffle is awesome, so the two together is hard to top.

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The first main course is a simple handmade pasta with black truffle, shaved freshly before your eyes. The handmade is perfection, though the flavours were held back to allow the star of the dish, the truffle, to dominate.

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The second pasta dish was the pumpkin ravioli. A superb blend of textures and sweet flavours. An Italian dish with an Asian touch.

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The third and last pasta was a more conventional tomato-fish spaghetti with ample garlic and a sprinkle of cheese and chili. The highlight again was the handmade spaghetti, cooked al dente.

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The main meat recommendation was “Saltimbocca”, the Chinese name for which is translated to “Jump in the mouth”. It comprises Yilan pork together and ham together with special herbs and spices. Very interesting mix of textures and flavours, especially with the Basalmic vinaigrette to give it a tangy sourness.

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The other meat was a special, a fish dish with an assortment of vegetables. The fish was well cooked, though this was probably the least memorable order of the meal.

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We were already stuffed, but dessert was a must.

We ended up ordering this homemade vanilla ice cream with Balsamic, a strange combination but a successful one. The ice cream was very creamy, and the Balsamic helped balance the flavours with a light tang.

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The other was a traditional tiramisu. One of the better ones I’ve had in Taiwan for sure.

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My favourite dessert selection was their lemon cheese cake, which was surprisingly light and fluffy but not too sweet and with just the right amount of sourness. With some chopped apple on the side, this was an incredible end to a pleasant meal.

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On the whole, a very rewarding dining experience. It would have been perfect if they had some pizza, but in terms of pasta and desserts it’s definitely a place worth visiting if you happen to be around Hsinchu.

8/10

Details

Piccola Enoteca (彼刻義式餐酒館)

Address: No. 84, Guangming 3rd Road, Zhubei city, Hsinchu county

Phone: (03) 558 6831

Website: http://www.piccolaenoteca.com/

Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/piccolaenotecatw

Opening hours: Mon-Fri 11:30-15:00, 17:00-22:00, Sat-Sun 11:30-22:00

Ying Chi Dining Room (英記茶餐廳) (New Taipei)

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

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Ying Chi Dining Room (英記茶餐廳) is a restaurant I’ve probably been to more than a dozen times, though last week was the first time I finally remembered to take photos before hoovering everything done.

So as you might have guessed, I love this place. It’s part of the same group that owns New CB Party KTV, so they are always situated together. They have three outlets, though I can only vouch for the one in Banqiao in New Taipei because that’s the one I go to most, though I have visited the one in Ximen before. I have heard mixed reviews about the Fuxing store.

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The beauty of the place is that the you have a wide variety of selections (unfortunately the menu is in Chinese only), from traditional yum cha dim sums and BBQ meats to Hong Kong tea cafe rice, noodles, toasts and milk tea/coffee beverages, as well as Taiwanese congees and clay pot dishes. They even have Taiwanese beef noodle soup, sashimi and sushi.

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The scary thing is that most of their stuff is excellent. It’s not going to be the most delicate cuisine you’ll ever have, but there’s no deny that it tastes darn good. My favourites have to be their top-notch BBQ meats (we tend to get a triple-platter), their wonton noodle soup, and their stir fried beef rice noodle, though you really can’t go too wrong with anything. The service is also extremely quick, and the prices are reasonable, probably ranging from about NT$150-400 a head, depending on what you order and how much you want to eat.

These are some of the things we had during the most recent visit.

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Fried radish cakes stir fried in XO sauce

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Traditional Hong Kong pineapple bun with iced butter

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Chaozhou fried rice

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Triple BBQ platter with BBQ pork, soy chicken and pork belly

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Eggplant pot

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Rice noodle roll with BBQ pork

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Sesame balls

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Scallop dumplings

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Shu mai

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Stewed beef pot

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Stir fry beef flat rice noodle

I wish I had some photos of the seared salmon sushi and other dishes because they are sensational too.

This is the type of place you can go to in large groups or visit over and over again because there are so many selections. Good food, fast service, reasonable prices — can’t ask for more than that.

10/10

Details

Ying Chi Dining Room (英記茶餐廳)

Address: No. 1, Section 1 Zhongshang Road, Banqiao District, New Taipei City (nearest MRT: Fuzhong)

Phone: 2957-7979

Hours: Sun-Thurs 11am-11pm; Friday-Saturday 11am-12:30am

Website (Chinese): http://www.newcbparty.com/ycbr3.htm (contains details of other stores)

 

Katsusei (勝勢) (Taipei)

February 1, 2015 in Food, Reviews, Taiwan, Travel by pacejmiller

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Move over Anzu, there’s a new tonkatsu king in town.

For years, I have been convinced that Anzu (杏子) offers the best katsu in Taiwan, though recently I have heard murmurs that the quality of their food has declined significantly. At the same time, a new juggernaut, Katsusei (勝勢), is said to have emerged in Taipei’s Xinyi district at Breeze’s new Songgao store.

As it turns out, the two restaurants are owned by the same chain, so that explains a lot, but in any case I still had to check it out for myself.

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Apparently the place gets packed out early, so we arrived just after the clock struck 11am to ensure a seat. By noon there was a line forming outside.

Judging from the menu, the special is this kurobuta (black pork). They even have a super black one unique to Breeze that uses black crumbs. The other special is the Australian rib eye beef steak katsu.

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For those into seafood, they also have this massive tiger prawn katsu and Hiroshima oyster katsu, as depicted below.

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Other options in on the menu include regular tonkatsu, chicken rolls, steak and hot pots, as well as special lunch bentos.

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We ended up going with a kurobuta katsu (fillet) and a regular hire katsu (loin). With one of the orders we paid a bit extra for a set that includes a beverage and a choice of dessert.

Katsusei‘s sauces and condiments are very similar to Anzu‘s. They have this little tub of pickles which are really nice, plus all-you-can-eat rice and cabbage salad. The two salad dressings are sesame and shiso , and the two katsu sauces are sweet and spicy. As with most katsu restaurants these days you get a bowl of sesame to grind and mix with the sauces.

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The katsu was, as expected, sublime. Definitely as good as Anzu was in its heyday, perhaps even better. The regular pork loin katsu below arrived first, and it was extremely soft and tender. When you add that tiny dash of hot mustard on the side to go with the sauce and rice, the mix of flavours and textures is simply unbeatable.

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The kurobuta katus came second and it was also very good for a fillet katsu — which typically have more “bite” than the pork loin. No complaints though about the flavour, the juiciness of the pork itself and the crunchiness of the crumb coating. The miso soup and pickled sides were cherries on top of a very satisfying meal.

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Lastly, as part of the meal set, an orange juice (not freshly squeezed though) and a surprisingly nice cheese cake.

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My only gripe was that the cake came with a fork that was very difficult to use as it would splinter the cake into tiny pieces. Price-wise, it was very reasonable,  just a shade under NT$900 for two people.

Overall, one of the best if not the best katsu restaurants I’ve sampled in Taiwan. Katsusei is the real deal, and fans of Anzu should do themselves a favour and try this place out.

10/10

Details

Katsusei (勝勢)

Address: Level B2, Breeze Songgao, No. 16 Songgao Road, Xinyi District, Taipei (nearest MRT Taipei City Hall / Taipei 101 World Trade Center)

Phone: (02) 2722-0128

Hours: Sun-Wed 11:00-21:30; Thurs-Sat 11:00-22:00

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