Ben Cuisine (犇和牛館) (Taipei)

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

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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)

Welkin Hot Pot (天鼎) (Taipei)

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

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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

Brunch at Pig & Pepper (Taipei)

April 26, 2014 in Food, Reviews, Taiwan, Travel

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Pig & Pepper (a clear rip-off of the children’s TV show, Pepper Pig, lol) is a trendy restaurant in Taipei’s Da’an district that serves new American cuisine. What is that, exactly? I don’t really know, but they have lots of different things, from brunch selections to pastas and salads to an assortment of desserts (including “funnel cakes”) and fancy appetizers.

We went during lunch one day when it was nice and quiet (we went early), where the only other patrons were a couple of American fellows dressed in strangely identical attire. Not sure if they were in casual uniform, Mormons or a couple who thought it would be cool to dress the same, but I digress. The restaurant is typical of most cafes in the area — wooden, clean, and decorated with ornaments and artwork. The good thing about ordering is that they have an iPad with photos of a lot of the dishes, so you can ask to see them if you have trouble making up your mind.

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You can look at photos of the dishes on this iPad if you so desire

It was not easy choosing what to eat because everything looked very enticing, both in the photo and the menu. In the end, we went with crispy crab cakes as appetizers, scallop with cheese ravioli, and the open face burger, with two desserts yet to be revealed.

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Crispy Crab Cakes with Corn Salsa and Mango Coulis

The crispy crab cakes were awesome and the first standout crab cakes I’ve had (most others I’ve had tend to be generally similar). These ones were genuinely crispy on the outside and not stingy on the crab on the inside. The corn salsa, which also had spanish onions in it, was a great complement, and I couldn’t get enough of the mango coulis. A tasty, innovative smash hit.

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Scallop with Cheese Ravioli, Truffle Cream Sauce and Cocoa

I have my reservations about cheese ravioli, but on this occasion I was sold by the scallop and the truffle cream sauce. This was a heavier dish because the cream sauce was very creamy, and the cheese wasn’t light either. But the scallops were fresh and big and you can rarely go wrong with truffle, so no regrets.

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Open Face Burger with Toast, Cheddar Cheese Sauce and Sunny Side Up Egg

I was in the mood for a burger and this was the only one they had. We didn’t really feel like Danish toast (too sweet), however, so they were nice and enough to exchange it for ordinary thick toast. The fries were excellent and the salad was fresh, and I like it when you can add as much or as little sauce as you want (in my case, a lot). There’s nothing extraordinary about it but I enjoyed it a lot, definitely one of the better brunch options I’ve had in Taiwan.

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Homemade Madagascar Cheese Cake

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Sticky Fig Toffee Cake

The first dessert we got was the Madagascar cheese cake, which was quite heavy but offset by the refreshing fruits on top and the ice cream. A little on the salty side, from memory, but not a bad cheesecake. The second dessert was the sticky fig toffee cake, which was less heavy than the cheesecake but I didn’t think the peanut butter ice cream went that well with it because both were so full of flavour. Nonetheless, solid desserts.

Overall, definitely a place I could see myself returning to. A nice selection of unique dishes, superb ambience and warm service. Perhaps the idea of some of the dishes are better than the dishes themselves, but I can understand why it’s such a popular joint among locals and expats

8/10

Details

Pig & Pepper

Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pigandpeppertaipei?fref=ts. 

Address: No. 15, Lane 295, Section 1, Fuxing South Rd, Daan District, Taipei, Taiwan (nearest MRT Da’an)

Phone: 02 2708 7899

Hours: Tue – Fri: 11:00 – 15:00, 18:00 – 22:00; Sat – Sun: 11:00 – 16:00, 18:00 – 22:00

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Abu’s Authentic Cuisine (Taipei)

April 10, 2014 in Food, Reviews, Taiwan, Travel

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It was our wedding anniversary, so we decided a special lunch celebration was in order. My wife had been craving the souffle at Abu Brasserie, which has apparently shut down and relocated to north Taipei’s Beitou district, so we chose its more deluxe cousin, Abu’s Authentic Cuisine, located near the big roundabout in the Da’an district.

It’s a relatively small restaurant that’s well-decorated and gives off a cosy, intimate atmosphere. While Abu’s Brasserie features more Italian-influenced cuisine, Abu’s Authentic Cuisine learns closer to French. The dinner menu can apparently be quite pricey (in the vicinity of NT$3000-5000 or more) but the lunch sets are much cheaper and can be as low as NT$1000 (+10%) if you choose the cheapest main course.

Here’s that day’s lunch menu.

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It’s a four-course meal, with salad, a soup, a main course and two desserts, plus tea or coffee. Wanting to try everything, we ordered both salads, though we really wanted the corn soup so we skipped the ox-tongue chicken broth. For the mains, we ordered the steamed truffled beef tenderloin with anchovic garlic sauce, and the potato and duck confit. And since it was our anniversary, they were preparing the souffle especially for us, in addition to one of their usual desserts.

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Before any of our ordered dishes arrived, however, we were treated to some nice tea and a couple of pieces of crispy naan coated with spice powder. It had a great kick and whet the appetite for the magnificent house bread (four types) which I wanted more of but held back because  didn’t want to be too full. The bread also came with butter, olive oil and a tuna dip.

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This first salad is the warm abalone with zucchini, which was sensational. You could tell it was quality abalone and it was cooked to perfection. You didn’t really need much else, but it went well with the vegetables and peppery herb sauce on the side.

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The other salad we got: the wild mushroom, truffle egg and mixed salad. I loved this col salad, which provided a nice contrast to the warm one. The scrambled truffle egg was sublime, and it came with a freshly shaved piece of truffle. The salad itself was also very fresh and topped with a refreshing dressing that wasn’t too heavy or light.

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The corn soup with crab was a revelation. It’s the best corn soup I’ve ever had, and I’ve had thousands (OK, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but I’ve had a lot). You don’t usually associate fine dining with corn soup, and to be honest, I didn’t think they could make it particularly different. But whatever they put into this one, it did the trick. It had the right consistency and wasn’t watery but didn’t feel like it was filled with starch either. The flavour really penetrated through the entire soup, which was also at the right temperature (often places serve soups too cold). Best of all were the pieces of fresh crab meat — not the canned or fake stuff you tend to get at Chinese restaurants. Unbelievable stuff.

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The first main course, the steamed truffled beef tenderloin, was superb. The size doesn’t look substantial (it didn’t need to be) but the meat is deceptively thick. You get one piece where you just enjoy the natural flavours of the beef, and another one that comes with a sauce. There’s also a bit of extra condiment on the side plus some sea salt/pepper, so you can really get a different experience with each bite.

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The second main is the potato and duck confit. It’s quite similar to many other French duck confits in that it has an extremely crispy and slightly salty outer shell with soft, juicy duck meat inside. But I liked this one a little more than the duck confit we got from Abu Brasserie because of the rocket on top and the fact that it wasn’t quite as salty on the outside. It also didn’t feel like it was dripping with oil, so it didn’t come across as a super heavy dish.

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And of course, after the terrific meal we were treated to what we were promised, the souffle. It came beautifully decorated with candles and flowers, and we could not wait to dig in. Here’s a piece.

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The fluffy texture, the cream, the strawberries — it was perfection.

The desserts were finished, however, as they soon served a second dessert, a simple yet delicious peach with a biscuit and creme, plus some dried apricots. 

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And there was tea and coffee as well. I got myself a cappuccino. The rock sugar was a nice touch.

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In all, a fantastic lunch, good service, and great atmosphere. The particular waiter we had that day was probably new and perhaps somewhat nervous (and/or mentally challenged), but apart from that there’s not much else to fault with the experience.

9.5/10

Details

Abu’s Authentic Cuisine

Address: No. 28 Siwei Rd, Da’an district, Taipei (nearest MRT: Da’an, Zhongxiao Fuxing, Zhongxiao Dunhua)

Phone: +886 2 2707 0699

Hours: 12:00 – 2:30 pm, 6:00 – 9:30 pm

Abu

Italian at Bianco Taipei

January 7, 2014 in Food, Reviews, Taiwan, Travel

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So we keep hearing about this tasty and affordable Italian joint near the big roundabout close to the Zhongxiao Dunhua MRT station. It’s called Bianco, and it serves an assortment of freshly made pasta, risott and pizza, as well as brunch selections that the locals just adore. We ended up going there on a very rainy weekday and were lucky to have booked because otherwise we wouldn’t have been able to secure a seat, so that just shows how popular the place is.

The restaurant itself has a clean cut look with decor dominated by white. They do have child seats and the back area is quite roomy so we had little problem just leaving the pram by the table.

Here’s a sample of a page of the menu, which is in both Chinese and English.

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As the bottom of the menu indicates, the prices are a la carte, but you can create a set meal that includes soup, salad, drink, cake and/or gelato for extra. Any two of the above is an additional NT$170, any three is NT$210, any four is NT$260 and you can get all five for NT$290.

We didn’t want to stuff our faces as usual so we just added two items, a soup and a gelato (two scoops) to go with our two mains, their trademark organic risotto with black truffle in cream (NT$410), and a peking duck pizza (NT$320)

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The soup of the day was a minestrone which was very hearty and flavoursome, with lots of fresh vegetables. I wished there was a little more soup though, but that’s just me.
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The organic black truffle risotto was wonderful. Very aromatic, not too creamy, not too salty, just the right sprinkle of cheese and full of truffle flavour. I really enjoyed it and thought it was a refreshing change to the normal truffle risottos you tend to get at other Italian restaurants.

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The Peking duck pizza was pretty good too. If you like Peking duck and hoisin sauce, chances are you will enjoy this. The base was decent, not spectacular, but it was sprinkled with a healthy dose of toppings, including cucumber, spring onions and sauce. It’s actually not the first time I’ve had this type of pizza, and to be honest I actually prefer the one I had back home in Sydney at the Australia Hotel at the Rocks. That one is bigger and has more duck, though to be far it also costs more than twice as much. Still, I enjoyed it, and I doubt I can get it elsewhere in Taipei.

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As for dessert, we chose the gelato. You can go up to the front counter to choose which flavours you want, and we ended up going for the green tea and chocolate. If you pick cake you can also choose the type of cake you want, and you can check out a sample of the type of stuff that’s on offer below.

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The two scoops of ice cream we got were fairly good. The green tea is no Haagen-Dazs, but it was good enough, and the chocolate is better than your average no name brand.

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On the whole it was a satisfying meal and I can see why so many people rate it highly. I wouldn’t say it’s one of the best Italian restaurants I’ve been to in Taipei, but it’s very good, the prices are reasonable and I can definitely see myself going back there again.

8/10

Details

Bianco Taipei (義大利食材餐廳~白色)

Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/bianco.fb

Address: No. 19, Alley 112, Section 4, Ren’Ai Road, Da’An District, Taipei (nearest MRT Zhongxiao Dunhua, blue line)

Phone: 02 2325 3655

Hours: Monday to Friday 11:30am-10pm, Saturday/Sunday 10am-10pm

bianco