Liang Ban Jia Korean BBQ (Taipei)

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

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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

Michelin-quality fine dining at STAY (Taipei 101)

October 24, 2013 in Food, Reviews, Taiwan, Travel

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One of the premier dining locations in Taiwan is of course at Taipei 101, formerly the tallest building in the world. We heard about this place there called STAY, an acronym for Simple Table by Alléno Yannick, the French chef who has been awarded 3 Michelin Stars since 2007. Needless to say, it’s an expensive meal with a lot of creative fine dining cuisine.

Located on the 4th floor of Taipei 101, STAY has the look of a fancy joint with its large tables, dim lighting and crafty decorations. We went for lunch and they offered four set menus ranging from NT$980-NT$2800. Here’s what each had to offer.

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It was not our original intention, but after much deliberation we ended up going with the two most expensive ones.

First of all, we got to sample the house bread, which was an assortment of hard-crusted buns and baguettes. They were pretty good, with the standout being the lemon and honey bread. Man that was good!

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House bread

Next, the canapes. I won’t pretend I remember what they are, but they were more interesting than delicious. Pretty to look at but the flavours or textures did not jump out at me.

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Introductory canapes

The NT$1900 menu offered a starter of seabream ceviche (below). Now this is more like what ‘m talking about. It’s basically seabream sashimi with a citrus sauce. The little capers and the mayo on top were amazing when complemented with the fresh fish. I liked this dish a lot.

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Seabream ceviche

For the more expensive NT$2800 set, we got the Maine lobster salad as the appetizer. The lobster salad tasted somewhat like a crab salad, which is great, and the crispy thing you see in the photo went well with the sun-dried tomato and cheese. But the creamy sauce drops were not as flavoursome as I expected. It would have been nice if it gave the salad an extra kick.

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Main lobster salad

Next up, as part of the NT$1900 set, a pumpkin soup with a whole slab of creamy mustard on top. Very nice.

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Pumpkin soup

The soup with the more expensive set was oyster with leek compote and bread. If you like oysters, this is your thing. Personally, I preferred the pumpkin, but the fresh oysters were pretty good too.

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Oyster soup

The NT$2800 set has one extra course which we shared — the crispy ravioli stuffed with duck confit and foie gras. I have to say, this was one my my favourites. It’s pretty much like a duck tarte with a tangy cherry sauce. The actual cherry pieces were sublime.

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Crispy ravioli with duck confit and foie gras

Then it was time for the main courses. With the NT$1900 set we got a US prime rib-eye steak and with the NT$2800 set we got a veal tenderloin, both cooked to medium rare as suggested. Both were pretty good though not the best steaks I’ve had. These were more delicate and refined, especially the veal which had gnocchi and mushrooms.

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US rib-eye steak

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Veal with gnocchi, mushrooms and spinach

Last but not least, dessert. The NT$1900 set came with a Philadelphia cheese cake, which I was stunned to see because it resembled no cheesecake I’ve ever seen. See those three tiny blocks? Yep, those were the cheesecakes, one bite each and gone in a real hurry. The cubes were good and the basil ice cream was surprisingly awesome, but the cheesecake was underwhelming because I felt like I didn’t really get to taste it.

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Philadelphia cheesecake

The most expensive set of course comes with the most extravagant dessert. In this case, it was a pastry ribbon of four pastry desserts plus two sorbets. They were OK, with the standout being the little chocolate tarts on the left.

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Pastry ribbon

The waitress also walked around with a bunch of marshmallow sticks in chocolate, lemon and strawberry. I’m not a big fan of marshmallow and found them a little on the sweet side. I did however like the chocolate coated stick with pistachios which reminded me of those Japanese Pocky snacks.

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Marshmallow sticks + chocolate covered biscuit stick with pistachio bits

Dessert actually wasn’t the last thing. There was also coffee and desserts. Standard stuff.

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Overall, STAY was not the breathtaking experience I had expected when I heard it was run by a 3 Michelin Stars chef, but it’s still a nice, classy meal with some clever and well-presented dishes. For the price, however, there are probably better options out there. I just don’t think it brought out the best of what Alléno Yannick had on offer.

8/10

Details

STAY (Simple Table by Alléno Yannick)

Website: http://www.yannick-alleno.com/restaurant/taipei/ (French)

Phone: +886 2 8101 8177

Address: 4th Floor, Taipei 101, ShiFu Rd, No. 45, XinYi District, Taipei

Italian cuisine at Diamond Tony’s (Taipei)

August 16, 2013 in Food, Reviews, Taiwan, Travel

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Another day, another Italian restaurant. This time, we tackled Diamond Tony’s, one of those seemingly high class joints with three locations, snazzy decor and an assortment of Taiwan-modified Italian appetizers, pastas, seafood and steaks.

Diamond Tony has store locations at Dazhi, Taipei 101 and Ren’ai Road (a short walk from Zhongxiao Xinsheng MRT station), and all three have similar but slightly different menus dominated by lunch and dinner sets at prices that are not cheap but reasonable. On this day, we went to the last one on the list, their Ren’ai store, situated on the second floor of a building that looks classy but a little on the old side.

You can check out the menus online here (the Ren Ai store menu is the one on the left). We went with a lunch set, offered between 11:30am-2:30pm. The price of your set depends on the price of the main course, and some of the appetizers require a surcharge. All meals come with homemade garlic bread with fresh crab meat cream sauce, soup, coffee and dessert.

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The scrumptious homemade garlic bread with crab meat cream sauce

The meal got off to a wonderful start with the homemade garlic bread, which is made to look like a traditional Taiwanese pancake, with a crispy outer shell and a soft and is soft, hot and fluffy on the inside. The garlic flavour is not too strong, which is good, but what makes it so awesome is the crab meat cream sauce which you dip the bread in. I just couldn’t stop dipping and eating.

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Soup of the day with half a crispy bread

Next up, the soup, which was mushroom with some special spices (I think there was also peppercorn or something) and pepper. There was also a nice big crouton they threw in there that went well with the creamy flavour.

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Roasted pumpkin and smoked duck breast salad

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Pan seared duck foie gras

We went with the two duck themed appetizers above, the duck salad and duck foie gras (extra NT$300 charge), which were both excellent. The salad was crisp with a tangy and fruity vinaigrette dressing, which provided a refreshing contrast to the meaty taste of the tender duck breast. The foie gras of course is not top quality, but it was good enough, especially with the accompanying fruits and berries giving it a sweet and sour kick.

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Prawn ravioli with ricotta cheese and spinach

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Spaghetti carbonara

For the mains, we got prawn ravioli and a spaghetti carbonara. Unfortunately, they were disappointing, by far the most disappointing dishes of the meal. The ravioli, in particular, was not quite what we expected. It was way too big and not hot enough, and the sauce lacked flavour. The carbonara, on the other hand, was too creamy, and coupled with the cheese and bacon it became extremely heavy. So thumbs down for the main courses.

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Chocolate brownie cake with choc macaron

We were hoping the meal could be redeemed with the dessert, but alas, it was not great either. Pretty standard stuff, a chocolate brownie cake, with a blueberry and a chocolate macaron on top. The macaron was nice, but the rest of it was forgettable.

So, the garlic bread and the starters were fantastic, but the mains and dessert weren’t very good, meaning Diamond Tony’s kind of evened itself out. It could very well be that we simply didn’t order their best dishes, so I will give them some benefit of the doubt. That said, with so many alternatives available, it’s hard envisioning us returning to Diamond Tony’s again.

7/10

Details

Diamond Tony’s (隨意鳥地方義大利餐廳) (Ren’ai Store)

Website: http://www.diamond-tony.com.tw/

Address: 2F, No. 89, Section 2, Ren’ai Rd, Zhongzheng District, Taipei (MRT Zhongxiao Xinsheng)

Phone: (02)8101-8268

Hours: 11:30-14:30、17:30-21:30

Pizza/Pasta at Vapiano (Taipei)

July 25, 2013 in Food, Reviews

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I had no idea that Vapiano is actually quite a well-known Italian food chain with stores all around the world, including, surprisingly, Australia (Melbourne, Brisbane and the Gold Coast).

What makes the place stand out from the rest of the crowd, apart from the fresh ingredients, is that they have these pizza and pasta bars you have to walk up to and order yourself and wait while they cook your meal on the spot (or come back later — they give you one of those buzzer things often seen in food courts). It is not, however, a buffet, as each person is given a chip card on which your orders are tabulated, and you simply pay at the counter at the end.

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The Vapiano store in Taipei is at the 10th floor of the ATT4Fun Mall at the trendy Xinyi district, just a stone throw away from the iconic Taipei 101 building and next to the Vieshow cinemas. It’s quite a large place with a lounge/bar like feel and decor and was packed with office workers and trendy people on this particular weekday we visited for lunch.

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The menu is extensive — antipasti, salads, pizzas, pastas and of course, desserts, beverages and alcohol — and you can check it out yourself here. It’s not cheap though; the pizzas and pastas have three prices: NT$280, NT$360 and NT$420 and the rest can also go up as high as NT$400. The best part about the place is the incredible variety, especially as you can mix and match your favourite pasta with your favourite sauces and meats/seafood.

That said, the dishes we ordered — a “calzone” pizza, with spicy Italian sausage, ham, mushrooms, tomato sauce, mozzarella; and a scampi campanelle (though it was called a different type of pasta), with prawns, tomatoes, vegetables and tomato sauce; and a mushroom risotto — were not quite as good as they sounded on the menu. They were good, but not fantastic. Maybe I would have had a different opinion had I ordered something else.

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The other thing I wasn’t a big fan of was the ordering system. Given that you are not making the food yourself and there are still waiters and waitresses around, it made little sense to me why you couldn’t just order from the menu from your seat like a regular restaurant. Instead you have to go back to your seat and wait for the buzzer to go off the head back; or, as the pasta bar recommends, stand at the bar and wait with lots of people, any of whom could steal your dish from you.

So yeah, I didn’t really “get” Vapiano. It’s a nice place to visit with a group of friends because of the atmosphere and ambiance, and the variety and the food is more than adequate. But if you are looking for a nice Italian joint for a more private occasion and more exquisite food, then there are certainly better options at this price range.

7.5 out of 10

Details

Vapiano

Website: http://www.vapiano.com.tw

Address: Level 10, ATT4Fun, No. 12 SongShou Rd (Nearest MRT Taipei City Hall)

Phone: (02) 2722-7111

Hours: 11AM – 1PM; Friday/Saturdays 11AM- 2AM

Department Store Shopping in Taipei!

January 17, 2010 in Taiwan, Travel

I’ve been wanting to post this one for a while.

Taipei is a bit of a shopping paradise for a few reasons: (1) they have lots of huge department stores which multiple levels; (2) a lot of them are in close proximity to each other; (3) Taiwanese people love to import or rip off foreign stuff, especially from Japan (and now Korea); and (4) the prices are generally a fraction of their overseas counterparts (more so Western countries than Asian ones).

As far as I understand it, there are two big chains which dominate the market: SOGO and Shinkong Mitsukoshi.  I believe they have relatively similar things, but have a slightly different feel to each other.  Official websites here and here.

If you have limited time and you would like to visit some (or several) of these department stores, I would recommend visiting two areas in Taipei: the Zhongxiao Fuxing district and the Xinyi District.

(Read on about the shopping districts by clicking on ‘More…’!)

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