Exquisite French dining at Papillon (Taipei)

May 21, 2014 in Food, Reviews, Taiwan, Travel

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The San Want hotel in downtown Taipei is known for its convenient location, but also for its marvellous food. I’ve already reviewed their Chinese cuisine at Chao Ping Ji and their Japanese cuisine Sumie, and now it’s time to check out Papillon, their French fine dining restaurant.

Papillon is situated on the ground floor of the hotel and is in a bit of a strange spot as it shares its space with the hotel’s all-day buffet (I will have to leave that for another day). Both are part of Papillon and basically occupy the same room, but those going for the set courses rather than buffet will be ushered to a section with a few boothed tables behind a large curtain.  So in terms of ambiance it’s not the best, but for me, as always, it’s always about the food.

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Papillon’s menu is simple. There are four set courses of different price levels, from NT$1800 to NT$2500 to NT$3600 to NT$6000. This is what you get with each set.

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You really can’t go wrong with any of these, and in the end we went with what we liked best from the menu and chose the NT$2500 and NT$3600 sets. It’s quite expensive for Taiwan but not that bad by Australian standards for the type of quality you get (plus I got a 20% discount on the day).

As a start, some hot house bread, which looks average but was surprisingly good. A nice mix of textures and flavours. No dips but served with high quality butter.

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Before we got started, we were each given a little appetizer that’s not on the menu. A small piece of biscuit bread with a square of prosciutto, jelly and balsamic vinegar. A great way to kick things off.

 

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Next, the trio of fresh sea urchin, seared scallop and braised abalone from the NT$3600 set. I loved this dish. Three types of seafood each cooked a little differently and with different sauces and flavours. The scallops were seared to perfection and were my favourite, and the abalone had a light oil dressing that provided a sweet contrast. I’m not usually a sea urchin man but it was very good here.

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With the NT$2500 set we got the fresh seafood plate to start things off. This was cold and interesting, with an assortment of fresh seafood in a gooey, almost jelly-like sauce, together with fish roe. I didn’t like all the seafood they had in it but the ones I did like were excellent, and everything was fresh.

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The second course in the NT3600 set was sauteed duck fillet, foie gras with fig and port win sauce. The one in the NT2500 course was similar — also with foie gras — but there was no duck fillet and it was in a wild berry sauce. Both were magnificent, probably my favourite dishes of the entire lunch. The foie gras was some of the best I’ve ever had — literally melts in your mouth. Neither were too oily and the little berries, figs and so forth on the side provided a different taste with every bite. Incredible.

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Next, steamed lobster with lobster jus (NT$3600 set). I’ll just say wow and let the photo do the talking. Sublime stuff.

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Sauteed cod fish with Provencale vegetable ragout (NT$2500 set). This was a lighter dish, as they tend to be with cod, but still very nice. The cod was not overcooked and went well with the thick yellow sauce, with the surrounding vegetables adding some variety to the textures and flavours.

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Then it was time for soup. We got the pumpkin soup with oyster (NT$3600 set) and the clear tomato soup with mascapone tortellini (NT$2500). The pumpkin soup was a delight that had a superb oyster taste to it, and while the clear tomato soup was a little bland the delicious tortellini more than made up for it.

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The NT$3600 set had one extra course, the parma ham with asparagus and balsamic vinegar. This was an interesting choice after a soup but it did kind of help cleanse the palette before the main courses. I was surprised how nice the asparagus was.

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And now, time for the main courses, both of which in this case are steaks. The NT$3600 set comes with the grilled Australian Wagyu with chive and red wine sauce, while the NT$2500 set comes with US rib eye with red wine and Bearnaise sauce. The Wagyu is of course more tender, but I personally preferred the rib eye because of the Bearnaise sauce, which really added a thick, tangy flavour to it. The baby onions and tomatoes were great accompanying sides too. I wouldn’t say they are the best steaks I’ve had, but they’re pretty good.

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Lastly, the desserts. The NT$3600 set dessert was the Grand Marnier flavored with peach and mint sherbet (I’m sure there is a typo in the menu something), while the NT$2500 dessert was a green tea cake with nuts ice cream. Very interesting selections here, especially the first one, which is something I never had before. It’s more or less a minty jelly and ice dessert with a peach on top. Not the type I would normally order but it was refreshing and went well with the green tea cake and nut ice cream, which was much heavier but equally awesome. I loved the piece of chocolate coated crackle on the side and the fact that the middle layer of the cake was not red bean but chocolate. One of the best green tea cakes I’ve had.

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Good quality tea and coffee after that and that was about it.

Overall, Papillon is fantastic and one of the best dine fining restaurants I’ve been to in Taipei. The setting is not optimal because of it’s shared with the buffet diners, but if you’re after quality French cuisine you can’t go wrong here.

9/10

Details

Papillon (伯品廊)

Address: Level 1, San Want Hotel, No. 172, ZhongXiao East Rd, Sec. 4 (nearest MRT Zhongxiao Dunhua)

Phone: (02) 2781-7063

Hours: Lunch 11:30am-2pm; Dinner 6:30pm-9pm

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

VVG Bistro (Taipei)

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

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The VVG in VVG Bistro stands for very very good, and so it was necessary for me to confirm this. Located a short walk from the Zhongxiao Dunhua MRT station, VVG Bistro is just one of several joints in the VVG franchise (the others include the nearby VVG Table, as well as VVG BonBon and VVG Something). This one serves Western fusion with a French influence — main courses such as roast chicken, roast pork, grilled fish and sirloin steak, an assortment of casseroles, about eight types of creative pastas and a selection of salads and sandwiches. They also serve snacks such as french fries with white truffle oil, hot chicken wings and cheese platters.

The look of the restaurant is very bistro-like, with one outdoor table out front, a few sofa seats and a couple of tables, with an open kitchen where chefs are either busy cutting up vegetables or cooking on the hot stoves. The desserts are on display in a glass cabinet so you can check it out for yourself before making a selection.

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Price-wise it’s reasonable but relatively expensive, with the mains costing around NT$500, the casseroles NT$680, and the pastas and salads averaging around NT$400 each. The desserts are not cheap either, with the cheapest, the apple cinnamon roll, priced at NT$120 and cakes at NT$220 each. The chocolate fondant, which takes 30 minutes to prepare, is NT$280.

Anyway, we ended up going with recommendations from the waitress, who suggested a chicken stew casserole over the roast thyme-mustard chicken because it was more unusual, and the scallop and mushroom linguine with fried garlic and mentaiko (Japanese marinated cod roe sauce).

The casserole required a 20-minute wait, so in the meantime we were served some house bread with basil pesto (which came free
with the casserole). Noice.
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Next came the pasta, which was surprisingly good. It was a very Japanese-y dish, as the mentaiko sauce was tangy and had that roe texture to it and the scallops went well with the al dente linguine. I hadn’t anything quite like it before and I enjoyed it a lot.

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Then eventually the casserole came, along with a pumpkin soup and a salad. The soup was thick and creamy, and the pasta was fresh and served with a dressing that had a real zing to it. The casserole itself didn’t feel very heavy. The chicken was soft and juicy and the vegetables it was cooked with (a lot of onions, carrots and red peppers) provided a nice mix of flavours. And it smelled really good.

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Lastly, the dessert. We agonized over the chocolate fondant, but ended up going with what looked like a safe bet — the caramel cheese cake with kosher salt and caramel sauce. It was a rich cheese cake that didn’t taste too sweet because of the salt, and the added whipped cream on top with a dash of caramel sauce really hit the spot.

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On the whole, I’d say VVG Bistro is a nice place for a casual gathering with friends, as the setting is comfortable and meal selections are quite interesting and not what you would find elsewhere. That said, the food wasn’t extraordinary, nor was it very very good, though I admit it was pretty good. Taking into account the price, however, it might not be a place I’d go back to again in a hurry.

8/10

Details

VVG Bistro (好樣)

Blog: http://vvgvvg.blogspot.tw/ (Chinese)

Address: 20, Alley 40, Lane 181, Zhongxiao E Rd, Sec 4 (nearest MRT Zhongxiao Dunhua)

Phone: (02) 8773 3533

Hours: 12pm-11pm Weekdays, 11am-11pm Weekends

Vietnamese at Pho Hoa (Taipei)

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

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A pretty decent, fairly authentic Vietnamese joint in Taipei is Pho Hoa, situated in one of the alleys near Zhongxiao Fuxing/Dunhua MRT station. It’s usually very very busy and always packed out during peak hours, so we went early one day just as they opened up to ensure we’d get a seat.

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We ordered two noodle soups: the Signature Pho (NT$180), which has an aromatic, translucent (nearly opaque) broth with all kinds of different meat; and the spicy and sour fish rice noodle soup (NT$160), also one of the specials. The noodles come with the usual condiments — lemon, chili and basil — and there is also chili and hoisin sauce for the beef, just the way I like it.

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Their extensive menu has all sorts of other options, such as dry nice noodles, spring rolls and BBQ skewers, etc.

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The highly touted Signature Pho was good, but not as great as I had expected it to be. When I see a soup that thick, I anticipate a burst of flavour, but the broth was surprisingly light in taste. Not bland, just lacking a bit of a kick. That said, it’s still a nice hot bowl of Pho.

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The hot and spicy fish rice noodle is not something I usually have at Vietnamese restaurants, but it was nice to try something a little different. It wasn’t too spicy and the broth had some tang to it, and the fish was reasonably fresh. I still prefer pho but I didn’t mind giving it a go.

Pho Hoa is regarded as one of the best Vietnamese restaurants in Taipei, but for me it’s just one of the better ones. That said, I won’t mind going back there again if I’m in the area.

8/10

Details

Pho Hoa (美越牛肉粉)

Address: No. 43, Lane 190, Section 1 Dūnhuà South Road, Dà’ān District, Taipei (nearest MRT Zhongxiao Fuxing / Zhongxiao Dunhua)

Phone: 02 2751 5578

Hours: Mon-Sun 11:00-23:00

pho

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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