Friday, January 20, 2017

RAW (Taipei, TAIWAN) ★★★★★

Like MUME, RAW opened its door in late 2014 to much fanfare and it didn't take long for the restaurant to soar to the top and became the most sought-after restaurant in Taipei. No one can deny that RAW's success can largely be tied to André Chiang (江振誠), the man behind Singapore's two Michelin starred André. Fine dining fans should of course be no strangers to André and his Octaphilosophy concept, the eight elements of gastronomy: salt, texture, memory, pure, terroir, south, artisan and unique.

Getting a table at RAW turned out to be a lot tougher than MUME. The restaurant only opens their online reservation system two weeks before the actual booking date during noon hour and I have tried that a couple of times without success. Finally, I got a helping hand from my buddy V who made things happen in the very last minute.

2016 has been a banner year for chef André. Not only has he captured two Michelin stars in the inaugural Singapore guide, both of his restaurants also ended up making Asia's Best 50 Restaurants (André - 3rd and RAW - 46th).

Everybody coming to RAW for the first time told me their first WOW didn't exactly come from its food menu but rather from its modern and artistic design which was considered very "Nordic". I have always loved wooden furniture and decorations so this is just right up my alley.

The food selection is pretty straight forward here whether you're coming for lunch or dinner. And that is largely because you have no choice other than their surprise menu. The only option is whether to go for the normal table or a more private chef's table right by the kitchen (for a little more of course).

Here's our 8-course tasting menu this afternoon.

Lunch officially kicked off with a couple of snacks, first a thick wedge made with kohlrabi which was slightly pan-fried for a bit of crunchy texture. It was nicely topped with some shredded kohlrabi and crab salad before they have it sprinkled all over with seaweed powder. Very impressive start.

Then there's this cup of cold rice water, or porridge as they called it, which tasted a bit milky.

Next up was a giant piece of charred corn on a skewer. At least that's how it looked like at first glance.

But turned out there were individual corn kernels placed around a baby corn in the middle. What a nice playful take on the Taiwanese style street corn.

Abalone and bamboo shoot with pesto sauce was one of my many favorite dishes on the afternoon. Didn't think diced abalone would mesh so well with pesto sauce, garlic chips, pine nuts and basil leaves but what do I know about cooking anyways? I thought the pesto complemented the sweetness of the abalone and bamboo shoot perfectly without actually overpowering them. That was a brilliant dish.

Next up was a beautiful dish of Japanese buri and white bamboo served with tiger juice. I love the well balanced sweetness and acidity from the tiger juice (primarily coconut and lemon) bringing life to the buri cubes, thinly sliced water bamboo, diced cucumber and cucumber jelly. Very refreshing and very very tasty.

A playful twist on another classic Taiwanese snack, this time it was the Taiwanese beef tongue cracker (牛舌餅) grabbing the honor. On top of the long flatbed-style cracker laid a number of thinly sliced beef tongues which have been sous vide and then sprinkled with chives and garlic.

And we're supposed to dip this into the egg yolk and Japanese vinaigrette underneath. This was seriously good although a bit more contrast in temperature by serving the beef tongue lukewarm might have yielded even better results.

André's modern take on the Taiwanese minced pork rice (滷肉飯) was next. On top of the fragrant rice was little pieces of savory pork belly, enoki mushrooms, nuts and black truffle shavings.

Not bad at all.

Squid noodle was the last starter before our main course. Somehow I managed to forget taking a picture of the thin sheets of squid noodles prior to our server pouring in the hot broth which was also made with squid.

The squid noodles instantly curled up as soon as they were met with the fragrant broth. I thought this was pretty nice. The intensity of the hot broth was spot on and working well with the squid and dried kombu.

Our main dish was red quinoa crusted beef served with a curried cabbage wafer, oyster bearnaise and wasabi foam. This was another superb dish from the talented kitchen. Love the way the red quinoa, oyster bearnaise and wasabi foam added contrasting flavors and textures to the beef.

Our one and only dessert was almond mochi served on top of toasted green beans and nuts. Our server quickly came over to put the finishing touch on by pouring in the sizzling thunder tea (擂茶) as well as adding a bit of bean curd shaving atop.

I must admit, I wasn't particularly impressed when I first saw almond mochi on the menu but that was not the ordinary mochi you get from a Japanese restaurant after dinner. This has wonderful depth of flavors coming from different sources, including the thunder tea (They said it's the Taiwanese version of green tea), bean curd and ice-cream mochi itself. And the toasted green beans and nuts added something a little crunchy and nutty to the mix. Just a very remarkable job designing this dessert.

There was no petite four but just a little palate cleanser with lemon sorbet and star fruit to wrap things up.

There's quite a substantial amount of food in this 8-course menu and the whole thing took almost 2 hours to complete. But everyone would agree that there's not a dull moment in these 2 hours and without question, it's THE most memorable meal we've ever had in Taipei.

Food Rating: 8/10
Price: $$$$
Address: No.301, Le Qun 3rd Road, Taipei, Taiwan
Closest Metro Station: Jiannan (Miramar)
Tel: +886 2-8501-5800
S. Pellegrino Asia's 50 Best Restaurants: 24th (2017)

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