Opened as a private members' restaurant in September 2004, Tianmu 101 opened its doors to the masses six months ago. It does, however, retain a feel of exclusivity.
Designed by architect Wu Ching-yi (吳清義), the establishment won an ROC Association of Interior Design and Decoration award last year and is done out with more than a passing nod to Mediterranean aesthetic sensibilities.
The finesse is in the details. Great thought has been given to texture -- an antique leather sofa put together with velvet covered contemporary chairs, chunky wooden bar tops and solid brick walls. The salon prive on the second floor can sit up to eight. There is a minimum charge of NT$2,500 per person for the added privacy.
Having worked as head chef at several five-star hotels -- in Singapore, Beijing and Hong Kong -- Edward Song (宋國傑) has the credentials and expertise to justifiably charge patrons high prices for the set menus.
Song formerly worked at Le Petite Cuisine, which made it onto Taipei Times' list of top 10 restaurants of last year.
The lunch special at NT$580 excluding service charge is a bargain. Choices include Mesclun salad with smoked duck breast, squid tagliatelle with shellfish and tomato sauce, and braised ocean fish with mushroom sauce.
The soup of the day was served in an espresso cup and initial thoughts of gimmickry, or style over substance were soon dispelled. The seafood broth had such an intense flavor that a whole bowlful would not have been over the top.
Song takes advantage of Taiwan's plentiful supply of fresh fish and said seafood was his passion -- an example being the pan fried parrot fish served with butter and white wine sauce. Classic lobster thermidor is available on the special set menu.
The boldest dish was the pan-fried beef tenderloin served with char-grilled vegetables. The beef, imported from New Zealand, is smoked on the premises with a mixture of wood chips and Chinese tea leaves, which produces a taste sensation. Many chefs go to great pains to meld dishes of contrasting or complimentary flavors, but Song has been brave enough to let this dish stand on it's main constituent.