Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Tetsuya's lookalike in Taipei


This post is not related to Shanghai

Tetsuya's is a French-Japanese fusion restaurant in Sydney, owned by Tetsuya Wakuda. I first heard about this restaurant sometime in 2000. I read about it in the SMH Good Food Guide book. I thought it sounded really good. Never got a a chance to go there though because:
1) the price for their degustation menu is something ridiculous like $180/head
2) it is so popular with yuppies you have to book at least 3 months in advance
3) I realised that the menu is mostly seafood and I don't even like seafood that much. Unlike most people I don't go gaga over prawns or raw fish!

But, you can get your Tetsuya fix in Taiwan for only $50/head! Amazing!

Taiwan is a foodie's dream come true. You can get all sorts of different Asian cuisines and European ones, catering for all price ranges. The foreign food there is cheaper than here in Shanghai! As well as that most restaurants are smoke-free and the staff are super friendly and polite. And despite me being paranoid about eating street food, I ate at Taiwan's famous night markets and didn't get sick. It is so cheap (approx. $1 a meal) and quick and tasty! How can I not promote Taiwan as an eating destination? ;)

Shortly before a recent trip to Taiwan, I was given a red-hot tip for a restaurant just outside the capital, Taipei. A colleague's friend had dined there last year and reckoned it was in the same league as Sydney's Tetsuya's but one-third of the price. It sounded like an ambitious claim. Last year Tetsuya's was named as the fifth best restaurant in the world by London's Restaurant Magazine, and was awarded the top accolade of three chefs hats by The Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide. It would be fair to say I was curious but sceptical.

Armed with a name - Da Shan Wu Jia - and an address, a group of us took the plunge and headed away from the bright lights and scuffle of Taipei. We hit the foothills that surround the city and followed a narrow, winding road to the restaurant. We were greeted by an elegant waitress dressed in black and ushered to a long wooden Japanese-style table.

It was one of only six such tables, each cordoned off by bamboo screens. The decoration was simple but striking. Japanese prints and mandolins on the walls; plants and decorative ornaments placed sparingly around the room. Candles and Chinese lanterns provided a flickering, intimate light while traditional Chinese music played softly in the background.

The staff spoke very little English and although we were accompanied by a Mandarin-speaking guide, it wasn't a necessity. There are no menus to labour over and only one option available to order: a 10-course set menu.

Ten minutes later a platter of beautifully sculpted white dishes arrived on an engraved wooden serving board. Each dish contained a cube of red wine jelly which, after exchanging quizzical glances, we slurped like an oyster. It was a deliciously sweet but potent palate cleanser.

Next up was a creamy square of tofu studded with wasabi and goji (a berry often used in Chinese medicine), together with a spoonful of succulent lobster garnished with white Japanese seaweed powder.

By now my initial scepticism had been replaced with bewildered astonishment. Each course that arrived set a fresh benchmark in terms of presentation and flavour.

Over the course of three hours we sampled 10 intricately prepared culinary treats. Highlights included a citrus salad topped with juicy chunks of tuna and salmon sashimi, whole shrimps with roasted pumpkin and eggplant and a steamed egg topped with grapefruit foam served with mountain potato and crabmeat.

Some courses were better than others, but they were never less than beautifully presented in an elaborate array of ceramic, stone and glass dishes.

With regard to the comparison with Tetsuya's, two of our group had dined there recently and said that Da Shan Wu Jia was definitely in the same league. In fact, the only area in which it let itself down was the bill, which came to a very un-Tetsuya's-like $50 a head, including wine.

The chef and owner of the restaurant, Mr Yo, joined us briefly at the end of the meal and through our guide we learned that despite the Japanese influences in his cooking, he's never been to Japan. The menu changes seasonally and he often experiments with new dishes to keep his regular clientele happy. He has no website, never advertises and relies purely on word of mouth for business.

So, if you ever find yourself in Taipei and fancy both a culinary and a cultural adventure, I know this great little restaurant you simply must try.

Da Shan Wu Jia (meaning Priceless Big Mountain) is an hour from the centre of Taipei:
No. 62 Sec. 3, Beiyi Road, Xiandian City, Taipei County.
Phone (+886) (0)2 2217 8891

(I think they have a typo in the address and it's supposed to be Xindian, not Xindan! I was staying in Xindian for some of my time in Taipei too!)

No comments: