Sunday, September 30, 2012

Taipei 2012 - Lunch at Shiyang Culture Restaurant

Want to know a secret ? This is without a doubt the best fine-dining experience in Taipei - and It costs only around RM 150 per person. It is a culinary feast that you will not soon forget.

The restaurant is tucked in the mountains in the North-East of Taipei. To get there you need to drive for around 1 hour through some hilly but scenic country side. The restaurant itself is housed in a 2-storey building with a centre open-courtyard. The simple yet elegant design is heavily Japanese influenced. It has a Zen-like feel about it that harmonizes well with the natural surroundings. Most of the dining rooms look into the mountains, but some of the smaller dining rooms which are tucked into the hillside are also quite interesting - offering a cave-like ambiance sans the view.

The food is a multi-course set affair. You don’t get to choose the courses, and the only concession is they will ask before hand whether you are allergic to any particular food items - which they will try to avoid. There is no menu - so each course is a surprise.

It started with an amouse bouche - a vegetable soup topped with some fish roe that was deceptively simple - but packed with flavours.

Then course after course started to arrive. Outstanding is the only word to describe them - the freshness of ingredients, the skill of preparation, and the beauty in presentation were all top notch !

The Starter was a trio of vegetable tempura, tofu and a rolled sushi topped with salmon roe.

The next course was a very delicious Chawanmushi with scallop presented with a beautiful flower.

Next came this platter of shashimi and fresh vegetables. I just had to wonder how they brought such fresh seafood up into the mountains.

Palate cleansers are served in between some of the courses. These were pineapple juice spiked with passion fruits.

The next course looked really impressive - grilled big prawns with roasted pumpkin and an inari sushi filled with rice and a slice of white fish - probably kisu. Very tasty.

Steamed glutinous rice with ham and mushroom. Another well executed dish.

The famous chicken soup with blossoming lotus flower. Very theatrical - and tastes divine.

The most memorable dish was a toss-up between the shashimi platter, or the chicken soup. The soup was served as the last of the main courses - we were all stuffed to the brim, but still had to have 2nd or 3rd helpings. It was that good !

I would have to say that dessert is quite simple and probably not their forte - yam mochi and fresh fruits. But how can you complain after such an amazing meal.

On your next visit to Taipei, do yourself a favour and book a seat at Shiyang Culture Restaurant. It is guaranteed to be the highlight of your trip.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Taipei 2012 - Dongmen Market at Xinyi Road

While wondering around the Daan District I came across this small local market at the junction of Xinyi Road and Jingshan Road. It is called Dongmen Market, consisting of a couple of small alleyways squeezed among shophouses. Many locals were doing their early morning shopping.

It is not unusual to find a jewelry shop among all the market stalls.

Like other markets I visited in Taipei, there are many stalls selling cooked food for takeaway. I came across this stall selling smoked and grilled meat. They all looked very enticing, so I ordered a slice of the smoked ham. It was scrumptious !

At the entrance of the market I bumped into these 3 monks. For all the time I was there, they must have moved only a few inches !

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Taipei 2012 - Beitou Hot Spring Museum

The Japanese occupied Taiwan from 1895 to 1945 - a relatively long period of time, so it is not surprising to find many Japanese influences in Taiwanese culture. One of the Japanese traditions which is still very popular among locals is the spa culture. The presence of hot springs in many parts of Taiwan no doubt contribute to its popularity.

Beitou is an area to the North of Taipei which is very popular for its hot springs. This area was developed into a spa resort during the Japanese era. You can still find an old Japanese public bath building which has been converted into a museum. The building itself is a handsome red brick and timber structure, with indoor spa pools on the ground floor and rest areas on the upper floor.

The surrounding area around the Museum has been preserved and there is a distinct Japanese character.

There are lots of day spas in Beitou where you can enjoy water piped from the natural hot springs. A soak in the hot spring water is an experience not to be missed. The spas here are mostly upscale establishments and prices are relatively high - but the facilities are first class.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Taipei 2012 - Huashan Creative Park

Like most developing countries, Taiwan is trying hard to move up the value chain. You can only get so far being an IT manufacturing centre - the future is in service and the knowledge industry. You can see their efforts through the large number of creative parks that have been developed in Taipei City. Most of these are housed in readopted old buildings - which is a great way of putting the heritage buildings to use while at the same time preserving them.

One of the biggest of such parks is the Huashan Creative Park. Originally a Japanese wine factory, it was abandoned and rediscovered in the 90s. Since then it has been converted into a creative hub, with shops, galleries, restaurants, pubs and event spaces.

What's great about this place is that they have not go overboard with the restoration works. The buildings have been left more or less intact, and the time-worn ambiance of the whole complex is its biggest charm.

There are large spaces for events and exhibitions. When I visited there was a photo exhibition on rural Taiwan.

Definitely worth a visit if you like old buildings with character. Huashan Creative Park is on Bade Road in the Zhong Zhen District.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Taipei 2012 - Chingye Shinleyuan Taiwanese Buffet Restaurant

If you are the type that has problem choosing your dishes at a restaurant, you probably love buffets. The problem is most buffets are good on quantity but short on quality. In Taipei, you will be glad to know that there is one restaurant which offers both quantity and quality. It is Chingye Shinleyuan, a Taiwanese buffet restaurant managed by the popular Aoba restaurant group in Taipei.

Chingye Shinleyuan is located at the Huashan Creative Park, which is redeveloped from an old winery. The old buildings have been kept and restored to accommodate galleries, shops, cafes and restaurants.

The selection of food on offer is not huge by buffet standards, but they are all very carefully prepared and taste great. Many of the popular Taiwanese staples are offered here, and some are even better then their street cousins due to the better ingredients used. The pricing is also very reasonable - around RM70 per person.

Now to the food. The fresh seafood selection is quite limited but they are fresh.

The food is generally well prepared and tasty.