For so long, the culinary capitals of Hong Kong and Tokyo have been the go-to East Asian destinations for the hungry gastro tourists who travel to eat. But the keen-eyed with an appetite for innovative spots would soon find that it’s the restaurants in Taiwan that are about to pounce on the culinary map.
Yes, the country is better known for its bubble tea and street food; but brush past the facade, and polished fine dining temples come to the fore.
Chef Andre Chiang of Singapore’s acclaimed Restaurant Andre, for instance, has been operating Raw in Taipei for the past three years. The space is placed at number 24 on the prestigious Asia’s 50 Best List 2017 — the highest entry for the entire country. Still, not all the action happens in Taipei, for even Le Moût in Taichung has been making waves. The modern French restaurant is led by chef Lanshu Chen, who was crowned Asia’s best female chef back in 2014.
Part of the reason why restaurants in Taiwan are seeing such growing success — besides the calibre of its chefs — is the fact that the country itself has a reputation for growing quality produce. After all, 24 percent of the country, which is home to 20 micro-climates, is dedicated to farmland. It is surrounded by waters close to Japan (read: quality seafood), and plains from which cattle can graze are aplenty. Its experience under Japanese rule has also instilled infrastructural expertise and an ethos to nurture the best out of nature’s gifts.
“Small independent restaurants are starting to take Taiwanese local produce and doing it in a more international way, with both the cuisine and the design,” said Chiang in an interview with the South China Morning Post.
It’s little wonder then that all eyes are on this nation of 23 million as Asia’s next gourmet destination. Here are 5 restaurants in Taiwan to watch for.
Raw is the hottest spot in Taipei right now and travellers would be well advised to make their bookings as far ahead as possible. The 60-seater restaurant is the brainchild of Andre Chiang – the man behind Asia’s second best restaurant and two-Michelin-starred Restaurant Andre. Here, he leads the team with two others – chefs de cuisine Alain Huang and Zor Tan. The food is refined; think French contemporary but using seasonal Taiwanese produce served in an artfully designed space. Expect an eight-course menu with dishes that change fairly frequently as the chefs work within the 24 micro-seasons of Taiwan.
RAW, No. 301 Le Qun Third Road, Zhongshan District Taipei
Chef Lanshu Chen (pictured) has been running Le Mout in Taichung for nine years now. But it was only in 2014 when she was named Asia’s Best Female Chef that her restaurant (and her country) was catapulted into the gastronomic limelight. She has after all, trained in top French restaurants around the world like Les Ambassadeurs, Relais d’Auteuil and The French Laundry. Today, she still dishes up French classics with a touch of Taiwan like deboned pigeon stuffed with truffled pearl barley wrapped with fermented mustard leaves.
Le Mout, No. 59 Cunzhong Street, West District, Taichung
Nordic sensibilities meet the beauty of Taiwanese ingredients at Mume, headed by a trio of chefs Richie Lin, Long Xiong and Kai Ward. Each of them brings a distinctive flair to the kitchen; with the former two having trained at Noma. Named after Taiwan’s national flower, “Mume is a chance to discover what is unique and special about Taiwan, and to showcase it to the world,” said Lin in an interview with The New York Times. Rather than taking after Noma’s foraged approach to Nordic cuisine, the chefs showcase techniques of Scandinavia, which gives rise to palate pleasers like smoked beef fat butter.
Mume, No. 28 Siwei Road, Da’an District, Taipei
Singapore is short on local culinary talents, but that hasn’t stopped us from exporting our cuisine abroad. Over in Taichung, Singaporean chef Jimmy Lim has runs JL Studio, serving up flavours of home with new flair and of course using Taiwanese ingredients. He sharpened his knives at Le Mout for seven years, along with stints at Copenhagen’s Noma and Geranium, as well as New York’s Per Se. Expect beautifully plated renditions of Singaporean classics; the satay for instance is skewered with twigs and served over a small habachi (pictured) while the much loved kueh pie tee is made with mudan shrimp, Chinese turnips and carrots.
JL Studio, 408 Yifeng Road, Nantun District, Taichung
Taichung native chef Kai Ho’s Tairroir restaurant is a clever play on two words: Taiwan and terroir, which is also reflective of his training that’s equal parts French and Chinese cuisine. The chef trained in the now-defunct Guy Savoy in Singapore as well as alongside chef Julien Royer when he was at Jaan. Given such a background, the dishes that emerge out of the kitchen (in your choice of six or eight courses) sport a heavy French influence while retaining its Taiwanese soul. Foie gras, for instance, is served on a shallow broth of tie guan yin and topped with crispy rice puffs. The restaurant is located in the same building as Raw but offers a far more intimate experience with just eight tables.
Tairroir, 6 Floor, No. 299 Lequn 3rd Road, Zhongshan District, Taipei