Twenty quid doesn’t go too far in London, maybe two courses. Three if it’s a michelin-on-a-budget. On the otherhand, the Taiwanese have perfected the art of amazingly affordable fine dining on half a shoe string. Back in February, I was over in Taipei for my annual visit to see how my favourite cat (seriously) was doing. He turns ten this year, and time has made a roadmap of his furry belly. Taiwanese people very proudly boast about their excellent sushi, which is generally claimed that it is so good, that Japanese tourists cross over to the Beautiful Island to sample the Taiwanese rendition of their cuisine.
I can’t say I disagree. Even their middle-of-the-road sushi trains (the ‘real’ Yo! Sushi so to speak) will defeat anything from Kikuchi or even Shiori, or dare I say it, Sushi Hiro (pre-2010). Naturally I was intrigued with what a high nose establishment could turn out, and was recommended to try one of the Mitsui restaurants aka, the big boys. Supposedly, a favourite meeting place for politicians, celebrity and generally people who wield power and money, unafraid to swing one like Tiger.
Annoyingly however, it has a notorious reputation for snotty service, especially since I left my Zegna back in London. Hot weather you see. Pomposity aside, the restaurant looks the part obviously, we sat at the spot-lit sushi bar and were stuck with a waitress more interested in chatting with her colleague, than taking our order. Irritating. I interrupt their conversation as much as I could. Dammit woman, I just want the otoro, the chutoro and the otoro. The majority of their seafood (and their tuna) are sourced from Taiwan’s East Harbour apparently.
Naturally I went ala carte with the nigiri, that set me back £40, but the missus was a winner with her seven course, £20 set lunch. That’s it, £20.
Course 1: Sashimi Platter
You better believe it. Beautifully cut and presented, salmon, tuna, scallop, mackerel and a whole sweet prawn. Sweet.
Course 2: Crab Salad
Sweetcorn, apple, the dish had a faint whiff of rose water as well. This was bloody amazing. The crab itself, mineral, zingy and naturally salty. I was green with envy.
Course 3: Rib eye Steak.
The steak was peppery, I think it was a Prime USDA (they love that stuff in Taiwan), the glowing charcoal was still smoking the beef on the table, still sizzling away softly. Beautifully medium rare, not much in terms of bovine beefiness, but who cares. Look at the crusty exterior.
Course 4: Steamed fish.
Oh my gosh..! This was the real cracker… superbly steamed, gently silky, such delicate texture, I kept thinking, cream, cream and more cream. The broth was buttery, and the fish was stuffed with a variety of crunchy and chewy vegetables, broccoli perhaps, I forget. Just excellently steamed fish.
Course 5: Grilled tiger prawn.
Look at that monstrosity. It must have been grilled over charcoal, because I could taste the smoke, seasoned with rock salt… the better half showed her quality by offering this to me. And so, I broke it in half, and sucked it dry.
Course 6: Soup
Just soup right? But check out the presentation.
Course 7: Red bean soup
A comforting finish, baffling being served with kiwi, didn’t think the creaminess of red bean paired with the kiwi, but whatever.
Hands down the best £20 meal I’d ever witnessed.
Meanwhile… I had…
Fried durian!… £4
The smell of unwashed, overnight socks, sweat drying out the cotton, and blood perhaps from the gruelling hour long session working on the deltoids. The taste of a superiorly whipped egg custard… and soya sauce as a dip. Somehow, if you believe my ‘buds, this sweet-stinky-salty combo was successful as a starter.
Sushi Platter…. around £35quid
Not as amazing as I would have liked, if I’m being honest, however, it was still orgasmic, appetising and entirely pleasing. The rice was naturally amazing, sticky yet melts-in-the-mouth, just a gentle kick of vinegar, I would have wanted it to carry just a touch more warmth, but oh well. The fish however was excellent. Scallops were ridiculously sweet, so were the salmon (and belly), silky sea eel, the otoro disintegrated with a fragrant oiliness, mellow as opposed to just the taste of cold fat. Really accomplished stuff.
If you are in Taipei, I’d actually recommend just trying the cheaper sushi places like Hi Sushi, because it’s affordable and amazing, but if you have £20 to spare, pop into a Mitsui. As I said earlier, I think the Taiwanese have perfected the art of the set lunch. Nothing in London compares for the money, period.
The Gist of It
Japanese. Set Menu £20pp ; ala carte more than double..
No 30, Nong-an St., 1F Taipei City, Taiwan.
Tel : (02) 2594-3394