When I visited Taipei earlier this month, I checked out EVA Air's famous Royal Laurel class from Singapore to Taipei and absolutely loved it - I am glad I chose it over the Singapore Airlines' Regional Business class! During my week-long stay in Taipei, I stayed at the Shangri-La’s Far Eastern Plaza Hotel, Taipei for three nights and took the opportunity to check out the highly-acclaimed Japanese restaurant within the hotel - ibuki by Takagi Kazuo.
Just for a little bit of background, ibuki by Takagi Kazuo is Taiwan's very first Japanese restaurant that is operated in concordance with Michelin standards - it follows and practices the culinary concepts of Consultant Chef Takagi Kazuo who heads Takagi (a two Michelin-star restaurant) in Japan. The restaurant does serve a comparatively affordable menu during lunch but I have decided to try the Utage Kaiseki (NT$ 2,580+) menu instead. The menu also comes with a glass of Yamatan Masamune Ginjo (you may also choose to purchase a bottle at a special price of NT$ 2,180+ instead of NT$2,580+). The first course of the menu was a Snapper with Kelp, Crab and Radish - the flavours were delicate and the sake which is made from the Matsuyama Mitsui rice from Ehime prefecture went really well with it.
The second course was the Soup with Glutinous Rice and Sakura Leaf served with Chef Takagi's Signature Soup. The soup was extremely delicate to showcase the individual flavours and characteristics of the ingredients - something that Chef Takagi is known to do.
It is also very difficult to go wrong with fresh sashimi and the Utage Kaiseki features five different kinds of sashimi. I was slightly surprised to see that a slice of calamansi was served with the fish but I chose to eat it on its own to savour the natural freshness and flavours without any added acidity.
Known to showcase seasonal ingredients and the best produce, the fourth course of the menu was Chef Kudo's Seasonal Inspiration which included the following ingredients: Grilled Amadai, Poached Asparagus rolled with U.S. Beef, Taro with Miso, Green Beans and Handmade Green Pea Tofu. The beef was my absolute favourite and this is because of a few things - most of the dishes served in the menu lean towards the lighter side of flavours so that explosive taste from the beef (which melts in your mouth) is something to behold. The amadai fish (known as 'guji' in Kyoto) is also a highly-prized ingredient that is commonly used in Kyoto and it is lightly grilled to showcase its unique flavours.
The fifth dish was the Giant Grouper with Bamboo Shoot and this was perhaps my least favourite course in the kaiseki menu. While the use of fresh ingredients were evident, I did not particularly like the inclusion of bamboo shoots (but this is definitely a personal preference issue).
The sea eel was chosen to showcase the tempura component of the dish - it was also served with some seasonal vegetables by the side along with a tempura dipping sauce which is traditionally made from mirin, soy sauce and the chef's special dashi stock (which is probably the most important component).
The final course before dessert was the Sashimi over Sushi Rice and Miso Soup - once again, this dish seem to hit all the right spots and honestly, you simply can't go wrong with fresh and quality fish. I love how the citrusy acidity from the calamondin (Singaporeans call it calamansi) helped to bring out a different dimension of flavours from the fish (particularly the ikura and salmon).
The final course of the kaiseki menu was the Strawberry and Condensed Milk Ice Cream with Matcha Sauce. While the condensed milk ice-cream was incredibly delicious, I did think that more could have been done to showcase the seasonal produce of Kyoto. Apart from the food, the service here at ibuki by Takagi Kazuo is definitely something to highlight - I love how attentive the restaurant staff are and the thoughtfulness is evident across all aspects of the dining experience.