Saturday, 21 November 2015

Taipei - RAW; the new breed of restaurant

For more than a few years, my best mate the Big Boy has been living and establishing a business in Taipei.  It's a long way to visit from Australia, but just a short flight from Hong Kong, so I've been able to get across to visit a few times.  As usual, when visiting any country, I try hit up the better restaurants, so I can check out the local dining scene. During my first visit, earlier in the year, we tried to get into Taipei's hottest restaurant RAW; but to no avail.  That place was hard to get into!

I decided there had to be another way, so for my most recent visit to Taipei, I did a little more research and realised that their might be another way.  RAW is Andre Chiang's first foray into his native homeland after establishing himself as one of Asia's top restaurant, Andre in Singapore (ranked #5 in Asia's top 50).  As luck would have it, I became mates with a guy who was a little bit connected in the Singaporean food scene and was well acquainted with Chef Andre.  Before too long, I'd secured a table on a Saturday night!  (Thanks EB!)

I was pretty excited to be honest, Taipei has a burgeoning food scene, largely being driven by the likes of Andre Chiang, and RAW was said to be the pick of the new breed of Taiwanese cuisine.

We arrived for our quite early reservation and I was surprised by how busy RAW already was. Rocking up to a restaurant at 6:30pm in Hong Kong means that you're pretty much the first to arrive, but the crowd wasn't the first thing I noticed.  RAW is an impressive looking restaurant, in what can only be described as super sleek and ultra modern.  The most impressive feature of RAW was the Kamel Richenberg designed interior that had taken around three years to build and weighed in at over 30 tons.  It was essentially a beautifully constructed timber piece that wrapped around the restaurant was was used as the bar and sitting area - as well as connecting the front of the dining area to the kitchen.

Once we were seated at our table, we were each shown a set of draws in our table that housed our cutlery for the evening, as well the daily tasting menu.  Taking minimalism to the next level, the menus were simply a list of ingredients, with each course noting only three ingredients, leaving much to the imagination.  Chef Andre has taken an interesting direction with RAW, serving a vibrant 'bistronomy' cuisine, a super contemporary style of cooking born in Paris where haute cuisine is offered at a reasonable price.  Blending the best of Taiwanese seasonal produce with innovative techniques, RAW was presenting something truly unique to Taipei.

There was no mucking around, no sooner had we been given a little towelette to freshen up with than a vibrant looking plate was placed on the table.  The share plate consisted of frozen grapes hidden amongst mint leaves, and once crunched on our mouths provided an interesting flavour and temperature contrast.

The pace continued with a lovely looking little amuse bouche of crispy chicken skin with a masala and cauliflower puree, resting on a bed of rice crisps.  The salty and crunchy chicken skin was packed with flavour, which was complimented with the slightly spicy masala flavour in the puree. I could already see the mind of a crafty chef at work, mixing textures and flavours designed to tantalise the tastebuds.

Our first course arrived in the frantic pace that we'd experienced to date.  The ingredients listed were Rye, Livers and Shallots, and the presentation was quite different from the pate that the ingredients had conjured to mind.  The stunning looking dish consisted of rye toast shaped like a wave, covered in a thick layer of duck liver then topped with milk powder and micro herbs and edible flowers.  The dish was a little difficult to eat without losing some of the delicately placed flowers, but it was worth the effort.  The smooth and sweet duck liver worked wonderfully with the earthiness of the rye, then the milk powder providing a creamy flavour that sat on the palate for a while.

Uni, Peas and Peanut Butter were the next set of astonishing ingredients to be combined.  I was again surprised by the composition of the dish, which consisted of green pea ice cream and fresh peas sitting atop a creamy peanut butter and finished off with textures of asparagus.  Hidden amongst the dish were delicate little strips of sea urchin.  I didn't think I'd like the dish, but the vastly different textures and flavours were pulled together in a way that somehow worked.  Who knew that green pea ice cream would work so well with peanut butter puree?  How could you conceptualise the slightly salty and nutty flavour of the peanuts marrying up so well with the super salty uni (sea urchin)?  Madness?  Genius?  Probably a mixture of both!

The stunning looking dishes continued with the Pork Ear, Kenya Bean and Leek being delivered. Designed to look like the shape of Taiwan (I didn't get the reference), the deep fried pigs ears were quite spicy with a quietly intense heat which was cooled by the acidity from some cherry tomato.  Rings of onion added a fresh quality and a dusting of leek powder gave the plating a wonderful look, contrasting with the earthy brown of the plate.  The Big Boy was a bit nervous about the pigs ear, but it was cut into strips and looked benign while at the same time, being the star of the dish.

We were starting to worry that we'd be finished our meal in record time as the dishes kept flying out of the kitchen.  I'd been a little nervous about the next course mainly because I wasn't a fan of Aubergine, one of the three ingredients listed for the dish.  The other two were Squid and Sago, and the dish was presented as a pan fried whole squid, filled with ratatouille, sitting atop a tapioca and aubergine puree and surrounded by shaved fennel.  I shouldn't have liked the dish, I hate aubergine and am not a fan of ratatouille, but somehow the chef again pulled it off.  The squid was caramelised nicely and helped mask some of the strong flavours of the ratatouille, while the fennel was the dominant flavour masking the aubergine.  I really liked the tapioca as part of the puree, it provided some interesting textures on the palate!

Thankfully things had started to slow down in the kitchen, and it took a little while for our next dish to arrive.  I'd high hopes for the Kaffir Lime, Kohlrabi and Scallop dish, but it turned out to be the weakest dish of the night and one that I didn't much enjoy.  Our bowls were place down with a pile of white that consisted of thinly sliced scallop and kohlrabi (a root vegetable), then covered with a piping hot broth poured over the top from a teapot.  I didn't really get much flavour or texture from the scallop, which was lost in the dish and for me, should have been the star.  The broth was a bit too spicy for my liking and completely overpowered the dish.

As it turned out, the scallop dish was not reflective of the whole meal, and we were back on track with the Spanish Mackerel, Carrot and Smoked dish.  The pan fried Mackerel was topped with a smoked carrot couscous, which had just the right level of smokiness to offset the fatty sweetness of the fish.  On the plate also were some great colour textures of carrot, pickled onion and a drizzle of smoked fish sauce.  It was an attractively presented plate of food that perfectly balanced the smokiness with fish and carrots.

The menu deviated for the main and instead of the three ingredients that we'd become accustomed to, there was only one ingredient listed - Short Rib.  With a million different directions the dish could have taken, we were presented with a perfectly slow cooked square of short rib covered with lightly toasted buckwheat and a egg yolk tuille, then finished off with a black garlic puree and a drizzling of a sticky sauce.  The tender beef had a lovely fatty vein that helped enrich the flavour of the meat.  I really liked the buckwheat that was quite earthy, and the sweet black garlic.  It was another dish where the parts came together to improve the overall flavour of the dish.

I wasn't so sure about the pre dessert mix of Granola and Potato, but the little cubes provided an interesting way to cleanse the palate and transition from savoury to sweet.  The cubes were cold and a little crunchy, but strangely, the combo did help move us from mains to dessert.

I'd been hoping for an amazing looking dessert, and it looked interesting, but just not in the way I'd expected.  Instead of an intricate dish containing Sangria, Herb Tea and Elderflower, we were presented with a dessert that looked just a little bit wrong (in a spandex kind of way).  We had some fruit pieces combined with elderflower ice cream all sitting under a thin almost clear layer of herb tea gelatine.  The flavours were interesting, but I found the dessert to be a little too savoury and a little too difficult to eat, especially with the gelatine holding the concoction together.  It looked pretty, but the eating of the dish wasn't considered and for me, it could have been a little sweeter.

Considering that Taiwan is not known as a culinary destination, there have been a few interesting restaurants opening in Taipei and I have to say that RAW is the best we'd tried to date.  The food was imaginative and very, very tasty.  More-so, the dining room was perhaps the most stunning I had ever seen, it was just so impressive, especially with the space age interior that looked like it belonged in Norway or Sweden.

Service had been excellent, with lots of smartly dressed wait staff buzzing around the dining room all night ensuring a smooth transition from kitchen to table.  I'd initially feared the the meal would be over too quickly, especially with the first handful of dishes coming out of the kitchen and breakneck speed, but thankfully things slowed down a tad.

With RAW as a base, and restaurants like Mume (post coming soon) I'm predicting that the Taiwan food scene will rapidly rise and with my best mate living in Taipei, I'm going to get a ringside seat.  

Lovely crusty warm bread!  Would have preferred some salted butter to the dip the came with it!
Just wonderful to look at
Olympic Rings?
Soothing tea at the end of the meal
That Amazing looking interior

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thanks very much for your comment, I really love and appreciate feedback and your thoughts


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...