The Michelin Guide announced in November 2017 that it plans to release its first ever Michelin guide for Taiwan in the spring of 2018. I believe that Taiwan has always been an amazing destination for food (its casual eateries and incredible night markets are second-to-none). It will be quite interesting to see the Michelin inspectors' take on this island's rich diversity of food, and how it tries to capture it all. I do hope they give it justice!
More recently, Taiwan's fine dining restaurants have begun to receive global recognition. The reveal of this book will accelerate this, putting many Taiwanese restaurants squarely on the international map.
My experience with fine dining in Taiwan is limited, to say the least. In the past I've focused more on what Taiwan was best known for: casual eats like Taiwanese breakfast, famous noodle & dumpling shops, and the rich night market food scene. This past summer, however, my dad and I spontaneously decided to "go for it" and splurge on a fancy meal at Shin Yeh during one of our days out in Taipei. My dad, who has never had this type of Taiwanese fine dining in his life, even agreed to pay extra for access to a window table (totally worth it for the views!).
Shin Yeh is a well-known and established name in Taiwan. The original restaurant began forty years ago in a back alley where founder Madam Lee Xiu Ying started cooking traditional Taiwanese food for just eleven tables. Through the decades the restaurant has expanded to several locations, with the most upscale one located at the top of Taiwan's tallest building, Taipei 101.
We came on a weekday at lunch and were surprised that the place was pretty empty. Perhaps very few Taiwanese people want to spend this kind of money for lunch on a weekday. I think I'm used to trying (and usually failing) to reserve Michelin-starred places at the last minute. It was weird how easy it was to make a reservation at such a well-established and famous restaurant.
The menu at Shin Yeh is quite extensive. You could dine here multiple times and not get through their a la carte menu, which includes many traditional Taiwanese favorites like turnip omelet (菜脯蛋), pan fried rice noodles (炒米粉), braised pig's feet with peanuts (花生滷豬腳), and pork belly buns (刈包). There are four-course classic lunch sets that range from $980 NT ($33 USD) to $1680 ($57 USD). They also have several different levels of tasting menus (~8-9 courses), ranging in price from $1200 NT ($40 USD) to $3800 NT ($128 USD). We decided to get two different mid-range tasting menu at $1800 NT ($61 USD) each. My dad got the Formosa Set Menu" while I tried the "From the Farm" vegetarian tasting menu that showcased local and seasonal farm fresh ingredients.
My dad's Formosa Set Menu began by highlighting squid from Penghu Island (off the coast of Taiwan) together with artfully presented seasonal small bites.
My From the Farm set menu highlighted braised mushrooms and includes a variety of seasonal bites as well. The flavors were light and refined, delicate yet purposeful.
When my dad's steamed abalone soup came, I had twinge of slight regret as I enviously admired the gorgeous abalone, served with sea cucumber, pork rib, chicken, and vegetables (like bamboo pith!). The flavors were fantastic - thanks Baba for letting me try a sip!
My vegetarian soup, made with root vegetables and mushrooms, was light and flavorful (though I preferred the abalone one!).
The next course in the Formosa Set was steamed cod prepared in an "upscale" way (ha ha, meaning no fish head, fins, or bones!) together with soy sauce, Taiwanese pickled cummingcordia (a fermented tiny fruit kind of like a caper called "puo bu zi" 破布子), and stir-fried finely chopped preserved mustard greens.
My vegetarian version was a beautiful, intricately wrapped "package" of steamed cabbage filled with pumpkin, mushrooms, soy beans, and water chestnut. I loved the blend of textures and flavors from the farm-fresh vegetables.
The next course, my dad had a crispy fried salt and pepper king prawn served over a bed of shredded greens.
My intricately prepared course consisted of carrots and mushrooms (Matsutake and shiitake) wrapped with tiger lily flowers and served with a soy sauce based jus.
Next came a plate of stir fried seasonal vegetables topped with with tiny dried white bait herring.
I loved my From the Farm version - a light clear soup with loofah squash, goji berries, and lily buds.
Of course all Asian meals have to end with some sort of starch. My dad got beef filet fried rice and I got Chinese vermicelli (rice noodles) with cabbage, mushrooms, carrots, snow peas, and ginger.
Both were very good, filled with fresh ingredients and consisting of balanced flavors and textures.
I liked how the dessert was light - an assortment of fresh seasonal fruits (watermelon, pineapple, guava, and dragon fruit), together with a fantastic piece of freshly made mochi covered with ground peanuts and sugar.
Yum, loved this so much.
We ended with cappuccinos (made with Arabica coffee!) while enjoying the views out the window.
Since my dad grew up in Taipei, he knows the city well. As we stared out the window, he pointed at various neighborhoods and told me stories about the city, which was very cool. I still think it's amazing how you can see the mountains in the distance and the vast settlement in front of it.
General Thoughts - Shin Yeh Taipei 101
All in all, we had a pleasant meal at Shin Yeh. My dad loved it, and said it was some of the best food he's ever had. He was still a bit shocked at the price. After all, when you can get a really, really good meal in Taiwan for under $6USD, it's a bit hard to stomach paying ten times as much (even though $60 USD for an 8-course upscale tasting menu at the top of one of the tallest skyscrapers in the world is a steal in many countries).
Right now, I think high-end dining in Taiwan is an excellent value especially if you are coming as a foreigner from North America, Europe, Japan, or Hong Kong. Shin Yeh is no exception. We received excellent service, the views were awesome, and the food was very, very good. I like how the restaurant includes both reasonably priced a la carte dishes as well as more fancy tasting menus.
To be honest, part of me wants to hurry up and visit Taiwan again before the Michelin Guide comes out (before it becomes really difficult to get reservations at the best places). Ha ha, but then I know I'm being a bit selfish. In fact, I think it's great that Taiwan's rich and incredible food is finally getting the international recognition it has long deserved. I think Shin Yeh deserves some kind of recognition in the guide, and I do hope they are rewarded for the hard work that they've been doing for so many decades.
A Few Details
The restaurant is not super easy to find. Enter the office tower (not the mall) and take the escalator to the second floor. You will see some staff for the restaurant, who will escort you up to the 85th floor of the restaurant.
At least during lunch, if you wanted a window seat you had to be willing to spend a minimum. Our two $1800 NT tasting menus plus a single drink each was sufficient to meet the minimum.
Shin Yeh Taipei 101
85F-1, No. 7, Sec. 5,
Xinyi Rd., Xinyi Dist.,
Taipei City (Taipei 101)