TWG Tea Salon (Taipei)

September 15, 2014 in Food, Reviews, Taiwan, Travel

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The entrance to TWG Tea Salon at Breeze Center

Feeling posh? If so, go check out the TWG Tea Salon, the upscale Singaporean tea seller/diner at Taipei’s Breeze Center. I’m not much of a tea guy, but I do like brunch and I do like desserts, and TWG has both in spades. The store is pretty big, with about half dedicated to selling teas and the other with seats for dine-in patrons. No child seats or boosters, so that could be inconvenient for families.

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Tea. Lots and lots of tea

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A selection of tea-flavored ice creams

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The cake and macaron cabinet!

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Here’s one of their portable dessert cabinets

They also have a dining section outside the store, though it can get a little hot on sunny days despite the air conditioning as there is a sun roof.

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Outdoor dining section (that’s actually indoors)

Their menu is quite extensive, with a wide array of breakfasts, brunch sets, all-day dining and a la carte options. I took a photo of the full menu below (hard to see) but you can check it out the same thing at their official website here (note prices are in Singaporean dollars). Price-wise it is not cheap, around NT$1000 per brunch set and meaning that you’re likely to spend about NT$1000 a head when you take into account the 10% service charge.

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We ended up going with a midsummer brunch set, which comes with a massive vegetable quiche, freshly squeezed juice (we chose apple), one of their special teas, two scones or muffins, and a choice of dessert. That’s supposed to be a one-person set, so we also got their mini-burgers set a la carte, which comes with three tiny burgers.

Check it out.

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A visit to TWG is not complete without some tea!

They have about a zillion types of teas, so if you don’t know your stuff it’s best to ask the waiters for assistance. We wanted something that goes with milk, so we ended up a more traditional English Breakfast type. But if you want chai, or if you want fruit-infused tea, they’ve got plenty of that as well.

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Summer quiche

I’m a big quiche fan and a fan of this big quiche. This is a fantastic quiche, with hearty ingredients and chunks of real vegetables. The cheese is also not too strong and the flavour is just right — not too salty. Goes very well with the salad.

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Mini burgers!

These burgers were a little too mini for me, but they still tasted wonderful. The one closest to the camera is a foie gras burger with apple chutney, while the one on the right is a spicy chicken burger with a sauteed shallot confit. The one on the left is a Wagyu beef burger with a special TWG tea cocktail sauce. They were all wonderful in their own way, with contrasting flavours and textures, and really complemented each other well. Apart from the small size, this one was a dominating winner.

Then it was time for dessert, and after some soul searching we went for a lemon tart. We also chose the scones over the muffins (unfortunately you can’t get one of each). Here are the desserts and the jam/cream that came with the scones.

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Lemon tart and scones

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Cream and marmalade

The lemon tart was sour, which is just how I like it, and the meringue on top provided some sweetness to offset it. The tart base was solid and biscuity, the way it ought to be. The scones were quite average, and I think our homemade ones are better.

One final warning — the water is extremely expensive, from memory close to NT$200 for a relatively small bottle.

Overall, it was a pricey meal, but quite a nice and relaxing one too. An apt location for a relaxing afternoon tea or a brunch date. The food is high quality and there are plenty of options to choose from, so it’s not a bad place for a group gathering either.

8/10

Details

TWG Tea Salon

Address: Ground Floor, Breeze Center, No. 39, Sec. 1, Fuxing South Road, Taipei

Phone: + 86 21 3363 1837

Hours: 10am-10pm

Website: http://www.twgtea.com/

Movie Review: Lucy (2014)

September 12, 2014 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

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Lucy is a big deal in Taiwan. About half the movie was shot in Taipei, which is why locals have been so supportive by flocking to see it by the truckloads, turning the sci-fi action flick into the No. 2 film at the domestic box office for 2014 (behind — you guessed it – Transformers: Age of Extinction). The film’s reception in Taiwan has been somewhat muted. Some people say it’s awesome, while others have given it the lukewarm “It’s OK.” No one in the country really wants to say it. So I will. Lucy sucked.

Our eponymous protagonist, played by Scarlett Johannson, is a young woman living in Taipei who becomes an unwilling drug mule to some Korean gangsters. During her ordeal something happens, opening up her brain capacity from the normal (mythical) human 10% and accelerating it towards 100%. If you’ve seen the trailers you’ll know some crazy stuff goes down. She doesn’t just become a smart gal. She becomes a freaking superhero who would shit all over the Avengers if they ever met in a dark alley (and yes, that includes the Black Widow).

It sounds like a cool idea, and writer and director Luc Besson (who is also very popular in Taiwan) clearly thinks so too. But for a movie about an unfathomably intelligent being, Lucy is remarkably stupid. Stories about maximizing human brain capacity are not novel — Bradley Cooper gave it a shot in the flawed but vastly superior Limitless back in 2011 — but in Lucy the enhanced brain functions are taken to a whole new level, giving her ever-expanding supernatural powers like telekinesis, super-hearing, mind-reading, shape-shifting, tapping into electronic signals, controlling gravity, expert marksmenship, time travel, etc — you name it, Lucy can do it. And you thought the stuff Johnny Depp could do in Transcendence was ridiculous.

So basically, any semblance of real science goes out the window. The film is more or less a superhero action flick, and everything about it — from the tone of the film and its completely over-the-top action scenes to the way she transforms after gaining her powers — tells us not to take things too seriously. And yet, Lucy lacks the elements of what makes a superhero movie good. The problem lies with the complete lack of character development, or rather, the reversing development in her character. Lucy started off semi-likable, but the more powerful she grew the less human she became. She loses her morals and emotions. She essentially (and quite literally) turns into a machine — and we don’t give a shit.

When a film fails to make any emotional connection we start looking for something else, and in this case it’s the action. Lucy is adequate in this regard but nothing special. There is one scintillating car chase scene through the streets of a major city, but apart from that there’s not much we haven’t seen before. One of the reasons the action fails to truly excite is because Lucy becomes so powerful that she has no enemy who could provide the film with some much-needed conflict or tension. There’s no formidable foe or arch nemesis to give us the type of showdown a movie like this demands.

Worse still, Lucy has a distinct dearth of humour for a Luc Besson film. There’s a little bit of the usual cheekiness, perhaps, but there are no laughs to be found in Lucy, which is strange given the film’s farcical nature and tone. As for the performances, Johansson and Morgan Freeman are about as good as you could have expected, while the special effects are admittedly seamless, though both are things we tend to take for granted these days.

Unfortunately, my gripes go deeper than that. For all the hoopla about filming in Taiwan, it turns out that those scenes could have been shot anywhere. So we see some shots of the busy Taipei streets and various angles of Taipei 101. Big deal (sadly, for some Taiwanese audiences, that’s enough to make the movie great). We actually have no idea what the heck Lucy is even doing in Taiwan. We know she lives there and she appears to be a student, but that makes no sense because she doesn’t know a lick of Mandarin. Moreover, the antagonists in the movie are Korean. We don’t know what they’re doing in Taiwan either. They don’t speak English or Mandarin. It just makes the whole Taiwan setting extremely pointless.

I consider myself quite a careless viewer in that I don’t usually notice holes in movie storylines, but in Lucy they were jumping out at me because they was so obvious. For example, when Lucy goes into a Taipei hotel to look for a Mr Jang, the receptionist connects her over the phone and acts as a translator between the two. The problem is, the receptionist is speaking Mandarin to Mr Jang and/or his henchmen, and we find out later that they’re all Korean! Or when Lucy is in Taiwan and tells Morgan Freeman that she’ll be at his place in Paris in 12 hours — except a direct flight from Taipei to Paris is 12 hours and 35 minutes, and she’s not even at the airport! And I haven’t even talked about how Lucy apparently loses most of her teeth at one stage, only to have them apparently all grow back (so she’s got Wolverine powers too?) or how she kills a whole bunch of innocent people for trivial reasons (or no reason at all), and yet spares all the bad guys who are hell bent on tracking her down and annihilating her. Just really careless, sloppy stuff.

Having said all that, I didn’t loathe Lucy, or at least not as much as I think I should. The film actually started off relatively strong and was packed with a decent level of intrigue, but the further along it went the more preposterous and — pardon my “political correctlessness” — retarded it became. Apart from all the batshit insane stuff Lucy was doing, the film was filled with trite philosophical BS pretending to give meaning to the story, complete with Terrence Malick Tree of Life-style random snippets of micro-organisms, (copulating) animals and outer space. And if that’s not crazy enough for you, the Akira-esque ending almost makes Muholland Drive seem logical

All of the above combines to make Lucy a trippy, messy, cheesy experience where the enjoyment level is heavily dependent on how much nonsense you can stomach. If you go into it knowing you’re about to see the dumbest action movie of the year rather than the intelligent sci-fi it appeared on paper, you might even find the silliness endearingly fun. For me, however, Lucy was just one big clusterWTF that’s neither clever nor funny, rarely exciting, and only passably entertaining.

1.75 stars out of 5

Mr Onion (Taipei)

June 16, 2014 in Food, Reviews, Taiwan, Travel

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I’ve explained this story before, but essentially there was once a very popular family-run steak joint called Cafe Onion in Taipei’s Tianmu district. Success bred greed, and eventually there was a spat that led to a branching off that became Mr Onion.

I already tried Cafe Onion, supposedly the “original,” even though it was a mistake because I had planned to visit Mr Onion. That review is here, but in short it was a total disappointment. In fact, it was one of the worst dining experiences I’ve had in Taiwan.

But I still planned to visit Cafe Onion on account of the positive word-of-mouth reviews I’ve received, so I went to the one located on the underground floors of Q Square near Taipei Main Station.

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The interior was roughly the same as Cafe Onion in that it had this old-style feel to it, complete with the dim lighting that was popular probably about two decades ago. It didn’t have the best ambience, but I kept an open mind nonetheless.

Mr Onion appears to be better managed with more switched on staff, and they do have a better website that includes the full menu, so I don’t need to post all the menu photos. But here are a couple anyway, for reference:

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As you can see, they have an assortment of steaks, as well as pork, fish and chicken. They also have pizza and pasta, though if you’re going to a steak joint you really should try the steak. We went during lunch so we have the business lunch set (11:30-16:30), which includes house bread, a main course, a salad/soup/appetizer, and a choice of beverage as well as dessert. The prices depend on your main course and may range from about NT$400-$800.

Here’s what we got.

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Garlic bread. About as average as you can get.

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Onion soup, with cheese and fried onions. Not bad, but way too thick.

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Better than expected, though the seafood was not fresh and may have given my wife a stomach ailment

Next, the main courses.

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Felt like both steak and chicken, so we got the combo set that had the pan-fried chicken together with a blade steak covered in fresh garlic

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French duck breast with Italian seasoning

The waiter will give you an option of two sauces, the mushroom and the black pepper. As you can see from the photo I asked for both. The mushroom sauce goes very well with the steaks, and the black pepper is excellent for people who like a bit of a kick with their meats.

The main courses were actually pretty nice. The chicken had crispy shell and was juicy on the inside, and while the steak itself was not a the greatest quality, the fresh garlic on top made it a decent dish. The duck breast was firm on the teeth but still succulent and above average in flavours.

Lastly, dessert (didn’t bother with beverage pics):

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Chocolate mousse cake

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Vanilla ice cream crumble

I quite liked the desserts. They weren’t spectacular, but at least we had a selection to choose from and they were much better than your standard milk puddings. The chocolate was rich and sweet, and you can’t really go wrong with ice cream.

On the whole, while it’s not exactly a spectacular place to dine, Mr Onion is head and shoulders better than Cafe Onion. It’s a no contest. Everything is better, from the soups to the mains to the desserts. There are of course better steak restaurants around in Taiwan, though for this price Mr Onion is a worthwhile experience.

7.5/10

Details

Mr Onion

Website: http://www.mr-onion.com/

Address: Level B3, Q Square, No. 1, Section 1, Chengde Road, Datong district, Taipei (other outlets)

Phone: 02-25596686

Hours: 11am-9:30pm (10pm on Fridays and Saturdays)

Sit Down Please (Taipei)

May 6, 2014 in Food, Reviews, Taiwan, Travel

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Oh thank you, I will sit down, thank you very much.

Lame jokes aside, Sit Down Please is a pretty popular new Italian joint in Taipei’s Da’an district. We had heard some good things about it and decided to check it out.

It’s a cozy little joint with a lot of stone and wood in its decor and experienced waiters who don’t seem flustered even when they are being run off their feet. The menu has an assortment of appetizers, side dishes, soups, salads, “staple dishes” (like steak, fish and duck breast), pastas, risottos and of course desserts. Much of it seems pretty interesting and is at least semi-fusion. Asking for recommendations is a good idea.

Price-wise it really depends on what you order. Appetizers range from NT$120-240 while the pastas and risottos are roughly around NT$250-350, with only the staple dishes going as high as close to NT$1000. If you order liberally, with a main each, an appetizer or soup or two, and dessert, you’r probably looking at around NT$400-500 per head, conservatively speaking. There is apparently a business lunch set where you can choose from a limited number of dishes to go with soup, dessert, etc, but no one told us about it.

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First up, everyone gets bread. The bread itself is plain and crispy, almost crouton-like, but the two dips they provide — one sweet pepper and the other pineapple — go well with them.

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We ordered one appetizer, which  was the seared scallop and bacon roll. They recommended the grilled baby corn, but I am no fan of baby corn and they also didn’t have my other preference, the fried crab cakes. They also suggested the spicy chicken wings but I was worried they’d be too spicy. Still, I was satisfied with the decision. The scallops were scrumptious (not overcooked) and you can never go wrong with bacon! The little peppercorn on top was a little strange, but the sauce at the bottom (which looks but isn’t salty) was great.

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We felt like a soup and got the onion, with pumpkin cream being the only other option. It was fine, nothing spectacular but tasty enough to be devoured in a hurry.

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It wasn’t easy picking the main courses because the all seem a little unusual, from the Thai red curry pasta and beef short ribs pasta to the butter bacon egg pasta and mentaiko butter shrimp risotto. In the end, we went with one safe option and one riskier option. The safe option was the Clams Crab Pasta pesto, above, which was excellent. The pesto sauce was fresh and not that greenish artificial stuff, and the seafood was plentiful.

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For the riskier option we went with the Pasta with Matsusaka Pork, mustard green. It looks and sounds good, and was recommended by the waiter, but I have to say taking the risk didn’t pay off. It wasn’t bad, but this was kind of like an Asian noodle. The pork was fine but there wasn’t a whole lot of flavour and basically no sauce.

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Lastly the dessert. Initially we wanted to try their famed souffle, but it takes 40 minutes to prepare, so we went with the backup option, the tiramisu. They have a basic version and a “special” version that includes these black cherries and crunchy flakes on the side (for an extra NT$60 on top of the NT$160 price). As you can see in the photo, we went special. I’m glad we tried the special, but it wasn’t really needed. Either way, it was one of the best tiramisus I’ve had in Taiwan. Not too much liquor, not too sweet, a fantastic base and just the right amount of chocolate. Superb stuff and reason enough to go back again.

On the whole I had a great time at Sit Down Please. The food is high quality and innovative and the dessert is super. Some of the options might be a little hit and miss, but it’s still definitely one of the better Italian restaurants I’ve tried in Taipei.

8.5/10

Details

Sit Down Please (座味)

FB page: https://www.facebook.com/SDP.TPE

Address: No. 11, Lane 233, Sec. 1 Dunhua S. Road, Da’an district, Taipei (nearest MRT Zhongxiao Dunhua)

Phone: 02 2741 8555

Hours: Mon – Sun: 12:00 – 14:30, 18:00 – 22:00

SDP

Wendel’s German Bakery & Bistro (Taipei)

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

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The bakery section of Wendel’s German Bakery & Bistro

Tick another one off the list.

There aren’t many German restaurants in Taiwan. I had been wanting to visit Wendel’s German Bakery & Bistro for some time and finally found the opportunity a couple of weeks ago when we made the trip to the Da’an branch near Taipei’s Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall. It seems like a popular joint on weekends because of its brunch, though on the Saturday we went I’m sure they could have still squeezed out some tables for people without a reservation.

The branch we went to was kinda unusual because it was essentially two restaurants merged into one. I suspect it was so successful that they simply bought out its next door neighbour to double up the space. As a result, one side looks like a bakery/bistro, with brightly lit cabinets of fresh bread and cakes and pastry chefs doing their thing, while the other side looks like a regular western-style restaurant with dim lighting. We sat in the bakery section.

Wendel’s menu is extensive, and you can check it out at their website (see below). They have pizzas, pastas, salads, burgers, sandwiches, breakfast and brunch options, and of course traditional German cuisine like pork knuckles and schnitzels. Some of the stuff looked pretty enticing on the menu, but in the end we stuck with our guts and went for a pork knuckle and a pork schnitzel.

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Everyone gets some free house bread, and it’s an excellent variety, as you can see.

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Also provided with the main course is a salad, with tomato, cucumber, onions and olives. Not bad, quite refreshing considering we ordered all meat. However, we were fortunate to not have listened to the waitress, who recommended that we order a separate salad to balance out the meat. Now that would have been a wasted order.

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Pork knuckle, with sauerkraut, potato mash, gravy and mustard. I’m usually not crazy about pork knuckle, so I am going to admit that I was pleasantly surprised. Wendel’s pork knuckle is the real deal — succulent meat, crispy skin, full of flavour. The potato mash was creamy and the sauerkraut not too sour. And the mustard gave it an awesome kick. A must-try if pork knuckle is what you’re after.

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That’s a Swedish flag, by the way

Next up, the pork schnitzel. Personally, I prefer chicken, but they didn’t have that, so it was more pork for us. Nice crispy fries without too much salt, a wedge of lemon and a tub of tomato sauce. Not as good as the schnitzel I had in Germany, of course, but it’s not bad for Taiwan.

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Next it was time for dessert, and it was not easy to decide. The ones of the left hand side are all individual cakes, while the section on the far end are slices of a larger cake. You can go up to the dessert counter and tell them what you want, and they will take it to your table. I thought one dessert, then two, but in the end I went with three. Just in case.

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So, I chose a chocolate mousse cake (layers of chocolate cake and mousse), a strawberry tart, and a chocolate raspberry cake. The best one was probably the chocolate mousse cake; the strawberry tart was just OK, and the chocolate raspberry was not good — far too dry.

In all, Wendel’s is a commendable place to try some “German” food if you are so inclined. The atmosphere is great, the prices are reasonable (NT$300-$500 per head, roughly, depending on what you order) and the food is extremely solid, but I do have to complain a little about the service. They were busy, no doubt, but the waitresses forgot about us several times — when we asked for a baby seat, when we asked for the menus and when we asked to be served. It got better later when they weren’t as busy, but I think they need some more training.

8/10

Details

Wendel’s German Bakery & Bistro

Website: http://www.wendels-bakery.com/index.asp (Chinese, English, German)

Address: No. 28, Lane 260, GuangFu S. Rd, Da’an District, Taipei (nearest MRT Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall)

Phone: (02) 2711-8919

Hours: Bistro:08:00-22:00; Deli:09:00-22:00

PS: Other branches at Tianmu and Neihu

Wendels

 
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