It was serendipity.
Here I was in Taiwan for my final night and Kerrii emails me a restaurant review from that morning’s Sydney Morning Herald. It described a Japanese/Taiwanese restaurant high up in the mountains an hour out of central Taipei where the food reached the high standard of Tetsuya Wakuda yet cost a fraction of the price.
Armed with the address and phone number I quickly found my Taiwanese friend and host, Ilya, and gathered a group of the digital heritage folks who I was conferencing with. Ilya had never heard of the place but called the number and booked two tables, then rang the hotel and booked a minibus to take us there.
We drove through peak hour traffic singing along to what must have been the worst karaoke machine ever – an in-car karaoke running Linux and twisting a very small subset of the ‘international karaoke canon’ into squeaky MIDI files accompanied by soft-porn videos.
Situated in a wonderful Japanese-style house, the meal opened with an exquisite red wine jelly followed by handmade tofu with wasabi, pinenuts, lime and strawberry. The presentation was stunning and the taste combinations sublime. We moved on to a scallop and miso broth and an delicious sashimi salad. This was followed by another palate cleanser – and possibly the most unique taste of the night – date vinegar. tasting a little like umeshu (Japanese plum wine) it had a subtle smokey aftertaste. After a short pause a chicken broth with a separate sweetcorn broth appeared – possibly the most familiar of tastes. Then it was on to a green watercress chowder in which floated ‘fried soup’ – a cube with the texture of tofu which was in fact a cube of a thicker soup wrapped in a light batter. A tempura-style vegetable and prawn platter appeared with the some particularly delicious tempura-style purple eggplant then on to a mulberry wine palette cleanser. By this time we were expecting desserts but out came a ‘fried rice with fish roe’ dish infused with tiny shiitake mushrooms, and the ‘main course finale’ – a chicken and vegetable soup on top of which a lotus flower opened and blossomed with the rising heat. Desert finally came in the form of a light fruit platter and a sweet potato in ginger and brown sugar dish.
The tastes were delightful and the experience would rate in my top 5 restaurants. We were shocked to get the bill – AU$35 per head!
We talked to the chef and showed him the review from the Herald. He was delighted and modest – Da Shan Wu Jia is one of Taipei’s best kept secrets.