Sabrina House (Taipei)

March 19, 2014 in Food, Reviews, Taiwan, Travel

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So I’m trawling through Taiwan’s plethora of food blogs to find a place for my weekly lunch outing and I stumble across Sabrina House (紗汀娜好食), about a 10-minute walk from the Minquan West Road MRT station. These brunch/lunch/dinner cafes are a dime a dozen in Taipei, so I wasn’t expecting much, but in the end I was pleasantly surprised and impressed by what Sabrina House has to offer.

Even though it has three floors, Sabrina House is a really popular place, so if you want to make sure you get a seat you better book in advance, especially if you are going on the weekend. We were seated on the third floor and spent an inordinate amount of time going through the extensive menu, which offers way too many enticing dishes for indecisive people.

Here’s a sample of some of the pages I snapped:

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As you can see, the range they have is ridiculous. They have a lunch special that comes with a soup and an unlimited refill drink, which is pretty good if you want something from that menu but to be honest I don’t think you save all that much. Apart from the lunch specials they have an extensive brunch menu with many traditional options, sandwiches and burgers and a whole stack of main courses, pastas and risottos, some of which are standard and others a little unusual. On top of that there are heaps of salads, appetizers and desserts (including waffles), and even a kids menu as well. It’s the kind of place you can go back to five times and not order the same thing once.

We didn’t want to go overboard that day so we went with a brunch selection — the Roast Beef Benedict — and the recommended pasta — Capellini with Scallop and Dijon sauce. I love Dijon, so we had to go with that. For one of the dishes we went with a lunch set, so we also got a fairly decent cream corn soup and bread, plus a soft drink. They have a minimum order of a drink per person, but if you get a set meal you won’t have to get an extra drink. Price-wise you’re probably looking at NT$250-$45 per head, depending on what you order and if you go for dessert.

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Cream corn soup with ham and croutons

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Roast Beef Benedict

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Capellini with Scallop and Dijon sauce

The Roast Beef Benedict was much better than I expected because most benedicts I’ve had in Taiwan have been rather subpar. The muffin base was fluffy and the beef itself packed a great flavour and went well with the egg. The hollandaise sauce could have been a little more authentic, but the wedges and tangy salad dressing made up for it.

As for the pasta,  it would have been nice to get a little more than just the one scallop, and the pasta itself was slightly overcooked (a little soft), but the dijon sauce itself was absolutely amazing. It’s like nothing I’ve tried before and I’m sure I’ll be back to try it again.

For dessert, we got the tiramisu, which according to food blogs was highly recommended. I really enjoyed it but my wife thought it was average. It had several layers of mascarpone and bread, which I found interesting, and the creamy sauce and chocolate powder on top was great.

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Tiramisu

On the whole, a top notch experience. With so many things to choose from on the menu, and with each looking so tasty, I’m sure I’ll be back.

9/10

Details

Sabrina House (紗汀娜好食)

Address: No. 1-5, Lane 182, Section 2 Zhongshan North Road, Zhongshan District, Taipei (nearest MRT Minquan West Road or Zhongshang Junior High School Station)

Phone: +886 2 2593 1001

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

Hours: 11am-10pm

Sabrina

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

Opposite Cafe (Taipei)

February 9, 2014 in Food, Reviews, Taiwan, Travel

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It’s the opposite of every cafe I’ve ever been to.

Likely inspired by “The Opposite” episode of Seinfeld (OK, that’s a joke), Opposite (對面) is a new Italian restaurant located across the road from National Taiwan Normal University near the Guting MRT station. We decided to pay the place a visit after seeing it packed out with happy patrons a couple of times while passing by.

Opposite has an outdoor area with a retro petrol pump for some bizarro reason and an outdoor pizza kitchen that is frighteningly efficient. The indoor seating area is fitted with clean decor and some booths, but as it is a relatively new place they don’t yet have child seats, so keep that in mind if planning family outings. Some menu items, such as waffles, were also not available as at the beginning of February.

As for what was available, Opposite’s menu has about a selection of a dozen pizzas, four of which are vegetarian and two of which are sweet dessert pizzas. The topping mix could be a little strange for some people, such as duck breast with orange sauce, mushrooms and asparagus, as well as banana and black olives with honey. On the pasta section they have about eight choices plus a couple of risottos, and most of the choices are conventional such as tomato, pesto or wine sauce with pork, seafood or chicken. Additionally there are some salads, appetizers, soups and main courses such as chicken, steak, pork knuckle and salmon.

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“Enjoy Evey Delicacies” including “Cutty heart”: It’s the opposite of every good English menu you’ve ever seen

The pizzas are around NT$200 each and the pastas are a little more at around $250 but there is a range depending on the dish. The main courses are the most expensive at around NT$600 each. I’ve taken some shots of the menu for reference below.

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We ended up ordering two pastas, a risotto (gratin) and four pizzas for six people, and it was just barely enough because the servings are quite small, meaning if you share everyone will only get a slice of each pizza and a bit of each pasta. One thing I will give kudos for is the amazing speed with which they make the food. It’s fast enough for you to order a few dishes and then add to that if you so desire later without feeling like there is a long lull in between.

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Pesto shrimp pasta

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Creamy tomato seafood pasta

 

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Creamy chicken and rice gratin

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Shrimp, pineapple and pesto pizza

 

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Duck pizza with orange sauce

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Matsusaka pork pizza

The quality of the food is decent but not great, which is a concern as the serving sizes don’t really match the price, though I suspect the restaurant should survive given its favourable location. Some of us liked the duck pizza with the orange sauce, while others thought it was a little strange. The beef and kimchi pizza was nice, but both the kimchi and beef were quite scarce (just check out the photo), while the matsusaka pork with peppers was nothing special. I liked the creamy baked risotto and the pesto shrimp pasta, but I wouldn’t say they are standouts. The seafood pasta with tomato cream sauce was the same.

Verdict: nice location, comfortable setting, fast service, but only above average food and relatively small portions for the price. Glad I tried it out but not a place I see myself returning any time soon.

7/10

Details

Opposite (對面)

Address: No. 125-8, Section 1 Heping East Road, Da’an District, Taipei (nearest MRT station Guting)

Phone: +8862 23930022

opposite

And finally, in honour of one of the greatest episodes of the greatest show ever, I present you a clip from “The Opposite.”

Bunny Listens to the Music (Taipei)

February 1, 2014 in Food, Reviews, Taiwan, Travel

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Every now and then a restaurant comes out of nowhere and pleasantly surprises you. Bunny Listens to the Music, which I suppose should be classified as Italian, is one such restaurant. It shouldn’t have been surprising, given I had heard many good things about the restaurant for a while, but I didn’t actually think it would be anything great.

Located near National Taiwan Normal University, Guting MRT station and the popular Yongkang Street, Bunny Listens to the Music looks like just another cafe-esque restaurant with your usual salad/soup/dessert set meals. Nice enough, but apart from the bizarre name there’s nothing to suggest that the food will be much different to any of the other similar joints in Taipei.

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We booked late on this Friday (there was a group function) and ended up only getting a sofa seat, which I personally did not mind although it was probably more suited for coffee and dessert than a proper meal because it was so low. There are also seats on the outside for people who like to enjoy the outdoors on sunny days.

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They have a fairly simple menu that changes regularly, but if you want to be sure before go then check out their website (see below). They have a popular business lunch set where the price is based on your choice of main course and includes bread, coffee, tea/coffee and dessert. When we were there the prices ranged from NT$400 to $580 for the business lunch, plus 10% service charge. If you want to upgrade your beverage or dessert (the set course dessert that day was panna cotta, which was not good enough for us!) then you just have the pay the difference in price. I would definitely recommend that you upgrade your dessert because it’s from Boite de Bijou, a really fancy patisserie from the same owner. There is one just around the corner form the restaurant, so if you like the dessert then make sure you go check it out and buy more!

We ended up getting two upgraded lunch sets, and this is what we got.

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The house bread was a hit. Crispy on the sides and nice and fluffy on the inside. A good start.

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We got one of the two soups on offer with the meal sets: a vegetable soup (basically a minestrone) and a carrot soup. Both were better than your average meal set soup and tasted fresh and hot.

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For the first main course we got a creamy risotto with sliced chicken and duck. I was shocked by how amazing it was. Not only have I never had anything like it before (half chicken, half duck), the risotto was cooked perfectly, with just the right bite, creaminess and flavour. I loved this dish.

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The second main we got was a spaghetti with tomato, garlic and eggplant. It was a little more sour than I expected, with a pungent vinegary smell I’m not usually accustomed to, though I actually enjoyed it a lot.

Last, but not least, the dessert. As explained, we upgraded to the Boite de Bijou desserts and got a yuzu hazelnut tart and maple mousse mascarpone dome. Unbelievable, I tell ya.

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So that’s my visit to Bunny Listens to the Music, one of the best new (as in for me) restaurants I’ve visited in a while. I can definitely understand why this place comes highly recommended and is frequented by local celebrities. After our meal we then went around the corner to Boite de Bijou and bought more cakes. True story.

9/10

Details

Bunny Listens to the Music (兔子聽音樂餐坊)

Website: http://www.bunnymusic.com.tw/index.html

Address: No. 15, Lane 6, Qingtian St, Da’an District, Taipei (nearest MRT Guting)

Phone: (02) 2395-9388

Hours: 11:30am – 10pm

map

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

 
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