Birthday Kaiseki Dinner at Shoun Ryugin Taipei (Taipei, Taiwan)
During the time I was traveling in Taipei, it was the week of my birthday. While researching the various restaurants I would like to have dinner during my stay, I didn’t realize that the 3* Michelin kaiseki restaurant in Tokyo, Nihonryori Ryugin has a sister restaurant Shoun Ryugin Taipei. I didn’t have the chance to make reservations at the mothership when I traveled to Tokyo then, I thought why not dine at its sister restaurant in Taipei?
I am aware the the restaurant isn’t exactly the same but at least uses Chef Seiji Yamamoto’s philosphy on seasonality and local Taiwan food products and the general kaiseki principles: a strong focus on seasonality; a somewhat regimented procession of courses that feature a variety of cooking methods; and layers of symbolism – in the ingredients, the presentations, and even the plates themselves. As a meal that endeavors to tell a story of the season.
When I arrived to the restaurant on the fifth floor, I walked down the pathway and open the sliding door to be greeted by the hostess. Waiting at the reception area, I was welcomed with a beautiful, delicate tea cup of cold brew green tea. Once I’ve taken a sip, I was shortly escorted to my table in the zen main dining room*.
Shoun Ryugin offers a no-choice seasonal menu (10 courses, 6500 TWD+10%) that highlights local Taiwanese produce in combination with ingredients flown daily from Japan. The creations are overseen by chef Yamamoto and prepared under the supervision of chef de cuisine Ryohei Hieda, who has worked with chef Yamamoto for many years in Japan. What is pretty neat on the back of the menu descriptions, there’s a map of Taiwan with the locations where the restaurant sources their products.
The cuisine can be paired with tea (+1600 TWD), wine, sake, or wine and sake (supplement charge of 2600 TWD). I went with the wine+sake option. The attention to both elegance and craft is on display even before any food arrives, as the server offers a choice of beautiful Edo Kiriko sake cups for each diner to select. Sake is decanted into a cut crystal carafe, nestled in a matching bowl filled with crushed ice. My favorite sake pairing was this above photo of a daiginjo sake made especially for Ryugin by Kokuryu, a famed sake brewery in Fukui, Japan. 60% of the outer rice layer has been polished away to make this daiginjo, resulting in an ultra smooth and elegant sake, with refreshing notes of apple and pear, perfect with the sashimi course.
The first course of clam, Taiwan basil, crown daisy (also known as chrysanthemum greens or in Chinese 皇帝菜) is a great starter to engage the senses visually and taste-wise. The gentle aromas of pungent herbs hitting my nose from the Taiwan basil tempura of crown daisy filled with diced clam (and the tempura is shaped like a clam). It’s gently herbaceous flavors with the fresh, sweet flavors of the clam.
Prawns, potato, kale flower is a delicious seafood dish that plays on textures of sweet, large prawns, crispy threads of local Taiwanese potatoes, and creamy gently herbal sauce that’s pooled on the bottom of this dish.
Harvest fish, mullet roe, maitake felt like a beautiful mix of Japanese and Taiwanese cuisines in a lacquer bowl. Both food cultures deeply care about flavorful, clean soups and both cultures consider mullet roe a delicacy. The prized Japanese maitake mushroom broth was incredibly flavorful with some yuzu peel flavored in it. It was a great backdrop to the firm, gently salted roe and flaky, delicately flavored, white fleshed fish.
The sashimi course of Japanese lobster, sailfish, grouper, squid was delicious. The interesting pairing was the sailfish (the fish has a similar texture to swordfish but it’s not as mild flavored) topped with a dot of spicy yellow mustard.
The eel, Chinese yam, plum course was very good. What I appreciate the most was the smokiness of the grilled, lean eel paired with fresh grated wasabi. The subtly crunchy yam added some texture and the edible blossoms added some floral, fresh element contrasting the smoke.
Sea urchin, crown daisy, nameko was a vibrant, cold dish of finely chopped, herbaceous chrysanthemum leaves with the sweet and creamy Hokkaido uni. The nameko mushrooms added a subtle nutty flavor.
Squab, fig, consomme was truly resonating the autumn season. The beautifully roast squab was incredibly tender and has a hint of smoke. The figs are locally grown and added a subtle sweetness. The consomme was incredible and I wished a larger bowl of this.
The last savory course of the evening was the koshi-hikari rice, sea perch, salmon roe. (In Asian food cultures, rice and/or noodles are the finale to a formal dinner, unlike a meat course for Western cultures.) This gingered rice dish was traditional Japanese and it’s presented and mixed table side. It’s served on a tray completed with sencha tea, mushroom broth and a bowl of pickled vegetables (daikon and Taiwanese zucchini) topped with bonito shavings. The mushroom broth had incredible depth of flavor. The subtly savory-sweet-sour pickles were a great pairing to the rice.
The first dessert was ruby grapefruit granita, persimmon, brandy. Persimmons are in season and it’s a very sweet, ripe fruit and it’s a great contrast with the sweet-tartness of the grapefruit granita and add a cold, crunchy element. The brandy was subtle but it rounded off the flavors of the fruit components nicely.
The final pairing was a delicious glass of 2007 Domdechant Werner Hochheimer Domdechaney Riesling Auslese. This Riesling was a very rich and full-bodied and not too sweet despite the fact it’s a dessert wine. The fruit forward wine was great by itself and with the desserts of the evening.
The second dessert was Hakka-Leicha, matcha, Shiratama was a tea-based dessert that plays on the grassy notes of both teas and the chewy shiratama mochi kind of played on the idea of an ice cream sundae since the matcha foam mimicked the light and airy texture of whipped cream.
What I didn’t anticipate was the bonus birthday dessert of passion fruit. It’s a passion fruit custard with homemade black tapioca shaped like the seeds of passion fruit with caramel (the latter two is found when dug deep into the passion fruit shell). It’s incredibly delicious and I loved the playful idea of recreating the textures of eating a fresh passion fruit and retaining the incredible flavors of this amazing fruit.
Shoun Ryugin Taipei was a thoroughly enjoyable dinner. Even though I haven’t mentioned much about the wine and sake pairings, they were perfectly done with the courses. Service was impeccable and despite my waiter was quite serious and professional with his work, we did have a few brief conversations about Taipei that makes it feel personable.
For more photos, please CLICK HERE for the complete set or see below:
Shoun Ryugin Taipei
5F, No.301, Le Qun 3rd Road, Taipei / 臺北市樂群三路301號5樓
Tel: (02) 8501 5808
Hours: Tuesday-Sunday 6:00-9:30pm (last order), closed on Monday
*The restaurant is serious with keeping the restaurant relatively quiet having hushed conversations and a no dSLR policy. To explain the latter, my waiter of the evening insisted me politely that I may not use my dSLR due to the clicks of my camera shutter and I am resorted to photographing this entire meal with my iPhone.