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

Return to Second Floor Cafe (Taipei)

April 27, 2014 in Food, Reviews, Taiwan, Travel

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There’s always a line outside Second Floor Cafe at Taipei Main Station

One of the first food posts I did from Taiwan was this brunch place called Second Floor Cafe back in 2010. It was so-called because, uh, it’s situated on the second floor. You can read all about my first trip there here, which was an average experience explaining why I hadn’t been back until recently. That said, it’s not fair to compare the restaurant to what it is now, as it has evolved into one of the most popular cafes in Taipei. They’ve got a completely new menu and a total of five stores spread across town, so I decided it was time to give it another try.

I had actually wanted to go a few months ago ever since I saw one had opened at the Breeze food court on the second floor of Taipei Main Station, but it was impossible to get a seat without a booking or a long wait. So we finally made a booking one week and checked it out.

This is what it looks like inside: some booths, some long tables, a couple of TVs with sports playing.

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You can check out the menu here at the website (see below for link) but essentially they have a wide selection of everything — brunch, burgers, pasta, salads and steak. You name it.

We chose a Single Benny with Beef (eggs benedict brunch set), which comes with, strangely, a glass of milk and a refillable beverage (coffee, tea, juice, etc), and a Vietnam spicy mini calamari spaghetti, which comes with a soup of the day and a refillable beverage. Both were recommendations from the waitress. Price-wise you’re looking at about NT$200-$350 per head.

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The brunch set comes with a glass of milk

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Cream soup

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Single Benny with Beef

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Vietnamese Spicy Mini Calamari Spaghetti

Okay, here’s the deal. The milk was just strange. The soup was ordinary. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t a corn soup. It was just creamy, with some bacon bits and croutons.

The Single Benny was OK. The beef was mixed with herbs and tasted like a falafel, and I thought it was a little funny that it came with potato chips. Not fries, but what Americans would call crisps. The salad was nice with the honey mustard dressing and the processed meat was what it was, but it wasn’t a great mix of flavours.

As for the calamari spaghetti, it’s more of an Asian dish than a Western one. It’s a light, oil-based pasta with little sauce, so you’re mainly relying on the flavours of the calamari, the tomatoes and the herbs. It wasn’t bad, but in hindsight we probably should have gone with something else.

So basically, what I am saying is that Second Floor Cafe underwhelmed again. It’s not horrible by any means, but despite the new outlets, the upgrades and the expanded menu, the overall quality is more or less the same — sufficient but not much more than that.

7.5/10

Details

Second Floor Cafe

Website: http://www.secondfloorcafe.com/ (full menu, hours, store locations and numbers available)

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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