Taipei is up there amongst the places that I am desperate to visit. I don’t know a lot about it, but every single person I speak to, knowing I love food as much as I do, tells me I absolutely must go there… even if only for the food. So when new restaurant Check-In Taipei opened on Hollywood Road, I was very eager to see what it was all about.
Taipei is mainly known for its street food, where I hear vendors each specialise in one dish and one dish only. This means you can hop from vendor to vendor and taste an incredible selection of flavours. Check-In Taipei has brought all of these flavours together and uses the traditional street food of Taiwan as the basis for its menu, but presents it in a fun, modern and more sophisticated way.
The owners of the restaurant mostly come from a background in finance; they all wanted to do something more rewarding and noticed a gap in the market for Taiwanese food. They claim that traditional Taiwanese food tastes incredible but isn’t necessarily very photogenic. However, Check-In Taipei aims to make the food both tasty and beautiful, and we think they’ve nailed it!
Oysters, as I have admitted before, aren’t something I rave and shout about. I’ll eat them if they’re given to me, but I wouldn’t necessarily choose them. But the oyster duet at Check-In Taipei was delicious. Based on the idea of a traditional Taiwanese oyster pancake, this dish consists of an oyster croquette and a beautiful teacup of oyster soup. Both components were rich and comforting, without being overpowering, and set the standard high for the rest of the meal.
To follow came the mushroom forest, a bowl of assorted deep-fried and sautéed mushrooms mixed with truffle cream and topped with a 63 degree organic Japanese poached egg. Provided you like mushrooms, this dish is absolutely heavenly, particularly the crunchy deep-fried ones.
Check-In Taipei’s beef tacos are a modern take on the traditional Taiwanese beef pancake. Here, a small disc of green onion pancake is topped with a deliciously tender piece of beef shank, a fried quail’s egg and spiced pesto. We were advised to eat it all in one bite and then revel in the flavours. This might have been one of my favourite dishes of the day!
The moment I saw ‘chicken & waffles’ on the menu, I knew I needed them in my belly. Delicious Taiwanese-style crispy chicken is seasoned with garlic, ginger and five-spice powder and then served with pineapple chutney atop a fluffy homemade waffle, all drizzled with a maple glaze. The salty, sweet flavours worked together beautifully and showed how traditional flavours can be reinvented to make something spectacular. My only complaint is that I found the waffle to be a little on the soggy side.
The appropriately named ‘Ping Pong’ is based on the idea of Taiwan’s sweet potato balls. Here, these balls are stuffed with a gooey mochi and Parmesan filling and presented on a ping pong racquet. Again, the salty-sweet combination was spot on.
Lauren described the Fish ‘n’ squid as “like a sophisticated fish ball… stick.” Made with minced sole fillet and squid, they did indeed have the texture of fish balls, but with these, I felt that we at least knew what we were eating! They came served with chilli mayo and a sweet plum dip, both of which were delicious.
Last but not least came the C.I.T. Noodles. This is based on traditional braised pork rice, but presented instead as a sort of east-meets-west pasta version. Whilst the classic version apparently includes only fatty pork belly, this one also includes braised pork meat, whilst still carrying that distinctively sweet hint of cinnamon and star anise. The 63 degree poached egg brings all the flavours together.
Whilst we didn’t try any desserts, we did try a selection of both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, which might as well have been desserts. The refreshing Ai-yiu Lemon Tea is a must order, whilst we were also impressed by the Tofu of An-Ping, which cleverly brings together Baileys, red bean and tofu to create a sweet, comforting treat, to be washed down with a cup of Hometown High-Mountain Tea liqueur.
At the time of writing this review, the restaurant is still awaiting its liquor licence, so it was be BYO with no corkage fee… but now we here they’ve got it so it’s Prices range from about $98 to $168 per dish and they recommend sharing around 3-4 dishes between two; once they have a liquor licence, a meal with drinks is likely to cost around $400-500 a head for a fun, adventurous and certainly unique meal. If I can’t jump on a plane to Taipei anytime soon, then I’m definitely walking down the hill to Check-In Taipei as often as I can!
Check-In Taipei, G/F, 27 Hollywood Road, Central, Hong Kong, 2351 2622, www.facebook.com/ctaipei
Check out more from Ale on her fab blog, The Dim Sum Diaries!