Taipei Times' restaurant critiques are often accused of being less-than-critical, raising suspicion among readers that perhaps there really is such a thing as a free lunch. Among the reasons our reviews all too often lack punch is because the meals do as well; underwhelming cuisine begets underwhelming coverage.
It would be a shame for L'arche to suffer a similar fate, and a pity for the gourmets who pass it over. The restaurant has been impressing patrons for some seven years, first in Tienmu and now behind Le Petit Sherwood Hotel on Siwei Road, quietly building an ever-expanding, ever-loyal clientele.
Its success has little to do with the restaurant's atmosphere. Indeed, the first-floor space it occupies in an undistinguished apartment block leaves you feeling as though you're dining in a stranger's living room hastily filled with four-top tables, the children's toys shoved into the closet.
L' arche has instead built its reputation solely on succulent French cuisine. Wisely, the proprietors of L'arche have removed their French fare from atop the high pedestal on which it's often served and offered it at very approachable prices. This is best exemplified in L'arche's set meals. Baked fillet steak with goose liver and red wine sauce sounds like an odd mix of meats but is a wonderfully surprising combination. Alternatively you can order the same baked fillet in a red pepper and balsamic sauce -- perhaps the best fillet I've had in Taiwan and the impetus for this review.
Either fillet comes with soup (mine was a delicious potato and leek), salmon-topped greens, coffee or tea and dessert for NT$680. Similar lunch specials are available for NT$490.
Address: 11, Siwei Rd, Lane 76, 1F, Taipei (北市四維路76巷11號1樓)
Telephone: (02) 2706-3416
Open: 11am to 10pm
Average meal: NT$700 per person, not including wine
Details: Credit cards accepted. Menu in Chinese and English, 10 percent service charge
The a la carte menu presents some difficult choices: grilled tenderloin with goose liver and morel (NT$900), sauteed prawns with white wine and garlic and dill sauce (NT$680) or grilled lamb chops with chili (NT$580). I eventually chose the grilled rib eye with balsamic and chilli sauce on my second visit. Quite nice, but at NT$650 without soup or salad, the baked fillet set meals are a far better value. I'd already decided on the baked duck breast with honey and apple sauce (NT$620) on my next visit.
Perhaps by that time they'll have stopped asking patrons to sterilize their hands when they enter, but maybe that'll just become a personal peeve.