Mume Taipei – a new dining scene
In Asian cuisines generally, seasonality plays a big role and as a concept it’s been elevated by some hip young chefs in the burgeoning international food scene in Taiwan, especially at Mume Taipei.
This is a small concrete and glass bunker on an unassuming side street in the Da’an district of Taipei. Signage is very understated so it’s easy to walk past.
When you front up at the unadorned dark door, you’re admitted to a tiny waiting area where a high table has the restaurant’s awards ready for all to see – #18 on this year’s list of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants (second only to Raw), plus its Michelin star.
The interior is also very dark – the restaurant has two sittings in the evening and we’d been warned not to be early for our second shift, starting at 8.30pm. It’s quite a small restaurant; decor is a bit unusual, featuring what can only be described as slightly like a fisherman’s hut but still it looks quite fun.
When you have chefs who’ve worked at Noma and Per Se, there’s a very solid expectation that this is going to be an exceptional dining experience. But sadly, Mume Taipei didn’t quite measure up.
There’s a lot to like about the experience. The meals are plated spectacularly and the staff seem very willing to engage (and have excellent English skills).
But the food, in terms of flavour, just falls a bit flat. Greedy Girl found herself wanting to reach for a salt shaker.
Generally Greedy Girl doesn’t like taking the second sitting in restaurants, not wishing to run the risk of the table’s previous occupant settling in. We were seated without delay but a bit nonplussed to find that the ‘seasonal tartlets’ on the menu had already sold out. Given the menu at Mume isn’t exactly comprehensive, it was a little disappointing.
There is a minimum spend of NT$1500 per person which isn’t hard to rack up. The restaurant, established in 2014, espouses ‘seasonality’, using the bounty of local produce, but the cuisine is more European than Asian. The three chefs heading up the kitchen describe it as ‘new Nordic’ meets Asian. It’s interesting that none of the chefs are Taiwanese – there’s one Australian (Kai Ward, who used to work at Sydney fine-diner Quay), one American (Long Xiong, formerly of Michelin-starred Per Se in NYC) and one from Hong Kong – Richie Lin who honed his skills at Noma in Copenhagen.
We’d already indulged in happy hour at the Marriott Taipei, so we were primed to get straight into the food. Even so, when a cocktail list was offered (the main dining room is dominated by a specatacularly-lit bar), Greedy Girl asked if it was possible to get a Cosmopolitan. Not a problem, came the cheery response.
And so we ordered food and waited, and waited, for the promised cocktail to appear. Getting the attention of the wait staff to enquire proved to be difficult, so when our first course arrived, it was the only opportunity. The very nice waitress furrowed her brow and went over to the barman. After a flurry of conversation (we didn’t have to understand the language to get the gist), the waitress returned to say a Cosmopolitan wasn’t possible.
That’s all fine but it shouldn’t take over half an hour to get to that point. Not wishing to experiment with another cocktail, Greedy Girl got stuck into her tucker. But, towards the end of the evening, this was brought out to us. It was made from watermelon and quite light and refreshing. Not a Cosmopolitan but a nice touch.
First up on the food front was absolutely the dish of the evening. This was a smooth and delectable chicken parfait, with lovely crunchy croutons, described on the menu as ‘Liver Brulee’ with seasonal herbs. This was slightly sweet, salty, savoury and a delight – the crispy layer on top was made with Shaoxing rice wine and a beautiful foil for the liver. Apologies for the quality of the images but the restaurant is very dark.
Next up is a Mume classic dish – wagyu tartare with clam mayo, confit egg yolk and preserved daikon. It’s a beautiful looking dish and the textures were excellent. It just needed a good pinch of salt in our humble opinion.
We then had an interesting combination – potato with creme fraiche and Taiwanese bacon. For Greedy Girl, the creme fraiche was too strong a flavour and most of this got left to gluttonous husband.
We then had a pork neck dish which was possibly the most unusual presentation of pork we’ve ever seen. This is how it came to the table.
The cabbage leaves opened to reveal this – the meat topped with a layer of sauce. It was more entertaining as a piece of theatre than as a dish. The meat was soft enough but the flavours didn’t work well. Again, Greedy Girl would have loved extra seasoning.
And then to finish we had our final piece of theatre. This is a raw prawn dish where ricotta snow is shaved over the top. It was a lovely presentation under the snow featuring shaved yam and a prawn head sauce but Greedy Girl was too slow with the camera. The picture at the top of this post shows a not unattractive pile but again, the flavour combination didn’t quite work for Greedy Girl.
Not being taken by any of the desserts on offer and the night getting on, we made the 10 minute trek back to the train station and off to our hotel.
There’s no doubt these chefs are clever and they clearly have a very good following in Taipei. After the delights of Raw (both restaurants apparently opened within weeks of each other), it was a bit of a let down. Our expectations were higher than the Taipei 101 building and we felt the meal didn’t really deliver.
28 Siwei Road, Da’an District, Taipei