Bite 2 Eat (New Taipei)

February 12, 2014 in Food, Reviews, Taiwan, Travel

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Eslite is one of the only chain book stores in Taiwan that has managed to survive in recent years thanks to its world-famous 24-hour store and its diversification into more of a cultural department store. The Banqiao Eslite (the one closer to Fuzhong MRT station) recently re-opened after undergoing refurbishment, and it is now home to one of the most popular restaurants in the area, Bite 2 Eat. As far as I am aware, there is only one other store in Taipei in the Xinyi district, though there are two more in Kaohsiung and another in Tainan.

So is it worth the fuss? I went and found out.

Taiwanese people really know how to mould the image of a restaurant, and Bite 2 Eat is not different. It’s an Italian restaurant, strictly speaking, but it has the look and feel of a stylish cafe that young people in the city just love. The walls are packed with random decorations, clocks and signs, and all the waitresses are young and friendly.

The menu is in both Chinese and English and filled with a generous range of pizza and pasta (and risotto) selections that are roughly around NT$200 each, but if you order appetizers, additional beverages or meal sets it could work out to be NT$400-500 per head. Some of the choices are fairly standard, but they also have a lot of creative and wacky creations you might not have expected. Here are some shots of the menu.

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So this is what we ordered: a pizza and a pasta, one of which we combined with a Fantasia Set Meal (NT$259) that includes an appetizer and a Frantalia side dish, plus a drink and dessert. Our selections were pretty much all recommended by the waitress.

First up, the fried squid (our Frantalia dish), which came with some salad and a line spinkle of mustard. I really enjoyed this as the batter was thick and crunchy, and they did not skimp on the squid. Perhaps a little on the salty side, but squid dishes often are.

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Next up, the appetizer, which was a simple focaccia with a dip. Now, I don’t know what the dip was, but it was amazing, creamy and kind of garlicky, with a smooth texture and some herbs. The focaccia was also fluffy with a touch of sweetness. The two went together very well.

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Our first main was the pizza, and we went for the spicy Seasoned Chicken Pizza. It wasn’t too spicy but it was spicy enough to give it a bit of a kick. The handmade base was fresh, but it was a little on the soft and floppy side, though the flavoursome and ample cheese made up for it. Not a bad pizza at all.

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For the pasta, we went for the Spicy Spaghetti with Smoked Duck , and this one actually was quite hot. I also enjoyed this one — the spaghetti was al dente, the duck breast was tasty and the fried slices of garlic on top really hit the spot. It smelled really good too.

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Lastly, we went with the Tiramisu for dessert. It was a reasonable slice that tasted fine, although it felt like they had just taken it out of the freezer as the bottom was still icy.

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On the whole it was a solid meal, better than the majority of these types of cafes I’ve been to in Taiwan. Great ambience, good service, delicious food and reasonable prices. I can understand why there are always people lining up. The best part is that there are so many great selections on the menu that I’m sure I’ll be back to try some more.

8.5/10

Details

Bite 2 Eat  (薄多義)

Facebook page

Address: Level 5, Banqiao Eslite, No. 46, Section 1 Zhongshang Road, Banqiao District, New Taipei City (nearest MRT station Fuzhong)

Phone: +8862 2954 0410

Birkin Waffle Cafe (New Taipei)

February 11, 2014 in Food, Reviews, Taiwan, Travel

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There are a lot of popular cafes in New Taipei city these days, especially near the Banqiao/Fuzhong/Xinpu area along the blue MRT line. One of these is Birkin Waffle Cafe, a short walk from the Xinpu MRT station and a slightly longer walk from Banqiao MRT station.

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It’s a nicely fitted two-storey restaurant with a lot of comfortable sofas and slim young waitresses, which might explain why it is so popular with locals. And there is this big bear on the steps to the second floor, which people seem to like but freaked me out when I saw it.

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Their menu is fairly extensive and offers all day breakfast, burgers, paninis, salads, fried stuff, steaks, ribs, and of course, waffles. Prices are fairly standard and depending on what you order you’re probably looking at around 300-500 per head. Minimum spend is a beverage, but if you order a meal that comes with a drink then it won’t be necessary. Here are the snaps I took of the menu. Interestingly, the breakfast section does not have English translations.

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The first thing we ordered was one of the items on the breakfast menu which had eggs and ham on buns, bananas, salad and hash browns. I have to admit this was way too weird for my liking as the mix of flavours was completely off. From the photo I thought it was eggs benedict, but it was actually scrambled eggs, which is fine, but the buns beneath were sweet. And hash browns with bananas? It was just whacked.

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With my expectations dampened, I didn’t expect much from the next item, the special sauce beef burger. But guess what? It was amazing! Nice bun, great beef patty and tangy sweet chili sauce. The fries were nice and crispy too. A standout burger.

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For dessert, we were tossing between the chocolate and the strawberry but ended up going with the latter. Not a bad choice but the waffles weren’t anything spectacular.

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On the whole, a pretty comfortable place to dine, especially for a nice brunch or get together. The food is a bit of a mixed bag and I don’t recommend the bizarre breakfast options, though the burger we tried was excellent. I was surprised that with “waffle” in its name the place didn’t offer more waffle options (there were 6 in total), but the one we tried, one of the recommended flavours, was fairly decent.

8/10

Details

Birkin Waffle Cafe

Address: No. 1, Jièshòu St, Banqiao District, New Taipei City

Phone: +886 2 2257 1777

Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Birkin-Waffle-cafe/371824229553388

Chamonix Teppanyaki (Taipei)

January 18, 2014 in Food, Reviews, Taiwan, Travel

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Taiwan’s Wowprime Group is just killing it with all their awesome restaurants. Chamonix is their attempt to tackle deluxe teppanyaki, and it’s a highly successful one with 15 stores across the country. We went to the store in Banqiao in New Taipei City, which is fitted beautifully with comfortable seats around the teppanyaki hotplate, where chefs make your meals on the spot. For dessert, there is a separate lounge section, which is also very comfortable.

Chamonix is considered little on the dearer end at NT$980 per person, plus 10% service charge, but it’s about right for high quality teppanyaki. In any case, what you get is, in my opinion, is well worth it.

The set courses come with a seasonal appetizer, bread, soup, salad, lemon sorbet, a main course, a fried rice, a dessert and beverage. Apart from the appetizer, bread, sorbet and sakura shrimp fried rice, there are several options to choose from for all other courses, and don’t forget the menu also changes regularly. The current full range of English menu options can be found here.

This is what we had.

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Seasonal appetizer

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House bread

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Salmon and fruit salad

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Green salad

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French shrimp bisque

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Truffle-infused onion soup

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Lemon sorbet

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Grilled beef tenderloin

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Chicken and seafood combo

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Sakura shrimp fried rice

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Panna cotta & fruit juice

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Pudding and tea

In all, it was a very satisfying meal that was very Wowprime, which means great variety, excellent average quality and service, and different to the type of food you would get at other teppanyaki places. Highly recommended.

8.5/10

Details

Chamonix (夏慕尼)

Website (English): http://www.chamonix.com.tw/en/index.htm

Locations and contacts: http://www.chamonix.com.tw/en/locat.htm

Hours: 11am-2:30pm, 5:30pm-10pm

Fresh Japanese at Nomenu (Taipei)

December 27, 2013 in Food, Reviews, Taiwan, Travel

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Tucked away in a small alley in New Taipei’s Banqiao district, just across the road from the city hall, lies Nomenu, a new Japanese sushi and sashimi bar that offers delicate and fresh cuisine prepared by chefs right in front of you.

It’s called Nomenu, but having absolutely no guidance would pose a bit of a problem for customers, so…there actually is a menu — albeit one that just lays out some basic parameters of meal sets and prices and some grilled ala carte options. This contradiction aside, Nomenu turned out to be a surprisingly enjoyable experience, an intriguing joint I would recommend to people who like their fresh fish and don’t mind leaving the fate of their meal to the chefs. Of course, you can tell them in advance what you like and don’t like, and they will try their best to accommodate, though I have to admit it made me a little nervous because the Japanese are known to be quite adventurous in their choice of ingredients.

For our visit, we were presented with several set options, two of which were NT$280, one for NT$380, and two special “no menu” sets valued at NT$800 and NT$1600. The cheapest sets, to be honest, probably don’t offer enough for most average people, as they only include an appetizer, six sushi pieces or sashimi don, a soup and panna cotta dessert. The NT$380 set is a little better with both the sushi and sashimi don (with less suishi pieces), but you’ll probably have to order some side dishes to feel completely satisfied.

I have no idea what the NT$800 and NT$1600 sets provide, but I’m assuming it’s high quality produce. All prices are subject to a 10% service fee.

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The chilled appetizer that day was a three-pronged attack, with potato mash and fish roe, that slimy green thing I don’t really like with sesame sauce, and a skinned tomato with a vinaigrette dressing. They were not exactly the type of things I like, but then again it tasted pretty good for stuff I don’t like.

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The sushi set was the highlight for me. It came with an assortment of fresh fish, some lightly seared and others completely raw. You can tell it’s fresh and the wasabi is also freshly made, not like the packeted stuff you get at sushi trains. The sashimi don was good too, though I felt there was not enough sashimi pieces for the amount of rice you get. We also ordered a chicken with sea urchin sauce from the ala carte menu (mostly skewers and grilled items), which was wonderful and went well with the leftover rice.

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The soup was not miso as expected, but a light seafood broth, and the panna cotta dessert was fairly good, creamy but not too heavy, with a dash of sugary syrup on top. On the whole it was a very light but tasty meal, which I was happy with but unfamiliar with as most Taiwan restaurants like to stuff you to the brim with low-quality food so you feel like you go value for money.

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The best part about it, however, is that you are likely to be presented with a slightly different experience every time you go there given the chef-designed sets and depending on the produce available. From other food blogs I have visited it seems the food I had — or at least the appetizer and soup — was different to theirs. If the opportunity presents itself I will be back.

8/10

Details

Nomenu (旬鮮/鮨)

Address: No. 160-11, Section 1 Zhongshan Road, Banqiao District, New Taipei City (it’s actually on Min-an Street which is perpendicular to Zhongshan Road, across the road from the front entrance of New Taipei City Hall)

Phone: 0930 300 616

Hours: 11am-3pm, 5pm-9pm; closed Mondays

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

nomenu

Ikki Japanese Restaurant (Taipei) (藝奇)

August 10, 2013 in Food, Reviews, Taiwan, Travel

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The food just keeps rolling in, and I just keep rolling on.

Ikki (藝奇新日本料理) is one of many restaurants belonging to the mighty WowPrime Group in Taiwan, whose lineup includes Pin Tian Japanese Katsu, Ju Hokkaido Hotpot, Yuan Shao BBQ, and Tasty Steak House, among others (some of which I will review in due course)

While each restaurant has a different price point and theme, they all have the WowPrime stamp of quality. Ikki is a Japanese restaurant regarded as part one of WowPrime’s classier joints, with each set course priced at NT$698 (about AU$25) (+10% surcharge). That’s actually still exceptional value considering the number of courses you get, the lovely ambiance and the exceptional service.

There are about a dozen Ikki restaurants spread throughout Taiwan, and this review is actually a combination of visits to two separate franchises — one near the Ximen MRT station and the other being the newly opened store at Banqiao (also near the MRT and bus station at High Mall). The two visits are separated by 8 months, but I think the menu has largely stayed the same.

Once you are seated and even before you make any orders, you will be treated to this light seafood broth, which offers unlimited refills. It’s a great way to whet the appetite, but make sure you don’t have too much because a mammoth meal awaits!

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Seafood broth — with unlimited refills!

Then, it’s time to take your order. Like pretty much all WowPrime restaurants, you get a selection of choices starting from salad to appetizer to rice to main course to dessert and beverage. No matter what you choose, it’s NT$698+10% surcharge.

Here is the Chinese menu, though I hear they also have an English one. The annoying thing with the menu is that most of the photos are on a different page, meaning you have to flick back and forth. But the waiters do explain what each dish includes, so that makes up for it a little bit.

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Ikki Menu

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Ikki Menu

If you are lucky, you might get this complimentary palette cleanser — an icy plum vinegar.

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Icy plum vinegar — only if you are lucky!

The first course is salad, and according to my latest visit there are three options. We all went with the fresh fruit and vegetable salad, which looked the best to me. It was excellent, with a light and tangy dressing, crispy greens, tomatoes, mango and dragon fruit, and a few slices of chicken.

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Fresh fruit and vegetable salad

Next up, the appetizer. Over the two visits we managed to order all three, so check them out. The first is a crumbed cod with tartar sauce on top of grapefruit! Superb mix of flavours and textures — possibly my favourite dish at Ikki. And if you don’t want grapefruit, they give you more fried cod. Win-win situation either way. Check out both versions below.

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With grapefruit

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Without grapefruit…but with more cod!

As for the other two appetizers: a prawn and seafood steamed egg bowl, and a creative mushroom rice cake. The former was better than the latter.

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Seafood Steamed Egg Bowl

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Steamed Mushroom Rice Cake

There’s still a couple of more courses before the mains. Next: rice and noodles! We got two out of the three — a salmon rice and a duck steamed rice — skipping the cold sesame sauce noodles.

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Salmon Rice

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Duck Rice

The last course before the mains is either sashimi or a steamed dish. The sashimi usually includes an assortment of salmon and tuna, but we asked for all salmon, which they were nice enough to accommodate. The other two options, which we both got, were smoked salmon plus seared scallop, and a prawn with thick vermicelli noodles. All three were excellent, especially the smoked salmon/seared scallop, two of my favourite things rolled into one.

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Salmon Sashimi

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Seared Scallop Wrapped in Smoked Salmom

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Steamed Prawns with Vermicelli

At long last, the main courses, of which there are 8 options. We got a few. Check it out.

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Stone-cooked Beef Cubes with Abalone Mushrooms

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Stone-cooked Chicken Wrapped in Bamboo Leaf

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Stone-cooked Chicken

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Surf & Turf with Chicken and Fish on Tofu

The mains were all pretty good, but if I had to choose again, I’d go with the beef cubes or the bamboo chicken.

Lastly, the desserts (I skipped the beverage pics). We got a pineapple panna cotta and a caramel mousse cake. Both were just OK, but by then I was too full to care.

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Pineapple Panna Cotta

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Caramel Mousse Cake

All of the WowPrime restaurants are pretty tasty, and Ikki, in my opinion, is towards the upper end of the pack. The quality is solid, the variety is excellent and the flavours are generally favourable. It’s not going to blow you away, but it’s easy to see why Ikki is so popular (and hence reservations are a must).

8/10

Details

Ikki (藝奇新日本料理)

Website: http://www.ikki.com.tw/Foreign/index.htm – includes English menu

Branch addresses and numbers: http://www.ikki.com.tw/Foreign/branches_E.htm

 
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