If crisp skin, succulent flesh and the lingering trail of smokiness in every mouthful is your idea of bliss, then Taiwanese-style smoked chicken is the flavour bomb your tastebuds have been waiting for. The chicken is cooked twice - first steamed and then smoked over a mixture of tea leaves and sugar until the skin takes on a golden glaze and becomes deliciously brittle. Trust us: this stuff is so addictive you’ll be reaching for your next piece before you’ve even finished the first.
Taipei Chef has all your Taiwanese favourites covered. You can’t miss the fluoro yellow signage out the front. There’s nothing fancy in the décor but the food is presented cleanly with the occasional considered garnish. Despite the modest size of the kitchen – which you can spy from the dining room – the menu has an impressive list of 56 dishes. Most selections come with photo clues but if you still need help, staff are patient and will happily provide recommendations.
The crowd is mostly a mix of chatty Taiwanese families and curious local passers-by. Kids are readily accommodated, provided with special melamine tableware (blue for boys and pink for girls) with character prints. You can linger over your meal, but be prepared to be kicked out at closing time. Loiterers are politely reminded to leave once service has ended.
Kick things off with an order of prawn dumplings ($12 for six) - plump parcels of prawn wrapped in translucent dumpling skins. They’re sweet and fragrant, packed with slivers of water chestnut, Chinese celery and finely chopped shallots. Keep the snacks going with deep-fried sweet potato ($4), dusted with a salty and sweet plum powder that is wickedly addictive.
Slow-cooked pork belly ($15) is meltingly soft, simmered in a heady stock of star anise, garlic, chilli and soy. Drizzle the sauce over plain white rice and you’ve got a bowl of comfort food that hugs you right back. Garlic lovers should get into the Tapei-style long beans ($12) – a jumble of squeaky fresh beans stir-fried with chicken mince, chilli, vinegar and a generous amount of garlic. Taiwanese-style pork mince on rice ($6) is saucy but disappointingly leaner than the traditional fatty version. There’s far greater satisfaction in the sticky rice ($6) – chewy grains of glutinous rice studded with curls of dried shrimp and fine slices of rehydrated shiitake mushroom.