Taipei Chef is located just up the hill from Artarmon Station and it serves up many Taiwanese dishes and snacks like the well-known Taiwanese Beef Noodle soup. We often pass by this restaurant on the slope and have always been temped by its offerings. Despite seeing mixed reviews about the service and food quality, we decided to visit Taipei Chef to see what all the fuss was about.
The service we received was not bad despite previous reviews and we were offered a choice of water or tea as soon as we were seated. While deciding on our dishes, we were moved to a smaller table. We ordered an entree of Deep-Fried King Oyster Mushrooms with Basil & Five Spice and a main course of Tofu in Sizzling Sanbei Sauce with Basil accompanied by Taiwanese Style Fried Vermicelli and a side of rice. It’s important to note that while we were ordering, we wanted to get a large serving of rice. The waitress told us that the vermicelli will go with the tofu hotpot nicely and that we only get a small serving of rice. This turned out to be the right choice and we appreciated her recommendation.
The first dish to come out was the Taiwanese Style Fried Vermicelli. To be honest, I probably would have passed it over if I hadn’t already seen the veritable noodle mountain it was that another customer had ordered. By nature of this dish’s simplicity, I wasn’t expecting much from it but what we got was a well balanced and not overly salty or oily noodle. This noodle would be a solid meal in and of itself.
While we were devouring the noodle, the Deep-Fried King Oyster Mushrooms with Basil & Five Spice came out smelling strongly of cinnamon! I thought I was smelling a fresh cinnamon doughnut! The dough of the mushrooms was very crispy and the oil tasted alright. The five spice on the mushrooms was evenly distributed, not being overpowering at all and complimented the crispy, fried basil perfectly. The only thing that let this dish down was the actual mushroom. My girlfriend and I agreed that the mushrooms felt slightly slimy and didn’t taste too fresh at all. I got up to look for some fresh cut chilli and soy sauce to pair with the mushrooms. After an unsuccessful search, the waitress hurried over as soon as I sat down and asked if she could help and I got my soy sauce and fresh cut chilli a couple of minutes later.
Soon afterwards came the Tofu in Sizzling Sanbei Sauce with Basil. The entrance was dramatic, to say the least! First, we heard the signature sizzle and sighted the steaming hotpot… then came the smell. The smell of sizzling plates are always a delight as the steam and heat make for an intense aroma.This one smelled strongly of ginger and basil and we were keen to dig in.
The tofu was deep fried and delicious. The sugar in the sauce was heavily caramelised and was a delight to eat. It also became apparent where the smell of ginger was coming from; there were huge slices of ginger in the hotpot! The hotpot was topped off with spring onions and holy basil. The waitress was right; the gutsy, sweet flavour of this hotpot matched the vermicelli perfectly, even better than the rice! We agreed that the noodle and this hotpot was definitely the star of the show tonight.
We thoroughly enjoyed our meal and even had a tiny bit left over that we took away. Overall, despite the negative reviews, our experience at Taipei Chef was very positive. This may have been because we attended the dinner service, rather than rush hour at lunch. We found the service to be just as good as other Asian restaurants we’ve been to. We will probably come back to this quirky, unassuming restaurant if the craving for a gutsy Taiwanese meal ever arises again.
This meal cost us $49. They accept cash and take card at dinner service with a $20 minimum.