Fri, May 12, 2006 - Page 15 News List

Restaurant: Wu Chiao Chuan Ban 五角船板

Address: 8, Ln 32, Neihu Rd Sec 1, Taipei (台北市內湖路一段32巷8號)
Telephone: (02) 8501-1472
Open: Lunch 11am to 2pm; dinner 5pm to 9pm
Average meal: NT$500
Details: Credit card accepted; Chinese menu only

By Ian Bartholomew  /  STAFF REPORTER

In Neihu, Southern hospitality is big and brash.


Hsieh Li-hsiang (謝麗香) is nothing if not big on ambition, and her first Taipei restaurant has become a landmark almost as distinctive as the massive Ferris wheel in Neihu's Miramar complex, where it is located.

Almost two years in preparation, the restaurant opened for business three weeks ago.

The exterior, an abstract sculpture of two Tao aborigines performing a frenetic hair dance commands attention of all who pass it; this encloses a massive four-story space that can seat up to 850 diners in comfort, along with a huge collection of iron, driftwood and clay sculptures, and a host of rough stone antiques imported from China.

Hsieh sees herself primarily as an artist, and insists that the chain of restaurants she now runs, extending across the island, is an excuse to showcase her buildings and art. Fortunately, she has been lucky with her chefs, for the food, which is billed as innovative Taiwanese, is of sufficient quality and generously portioned to keep the punters coming back for more.

The banquet menu at NT$800 for 10 courses is an absolute bargain for big eaters. It is the kind of food you might expect to get at a traditional Taiwanese-style street-side banquet, though as everything is served on rustic crockery that has been designed by Hsieh and is made specifically for her restaurants, the effect is rather more sophisticated.

Display and atmosphere are an important part of the dining experience here, and for those looking to get their first taste of Taiwanese cuisine and social mores, Wu Chiao Chuan Ban is an excellent choice. While the quality of the food is not uniform, and some of the innovations may grate on the sensibilities of purists, the restaurant has established a strong reputation with locals through its outlets in southern Taiwan. Some dishes, such as the rice paste served for desert -- a variation on traditional mochi -- are wildly popular.

The food is certainly prepared with an eye for color and design, and the flavors are definitely robust -- very much in keeping with the rough and restless interior design.

In addition to the regular banquet menu (which requires at least four people), there is also a six-course vegetarian banquet, numerous seasonal specialties and a range of individual dishes that are offered for between NT$300 to NT$500, including a drink and desert.

Whatever else it may be, Wu Chiao Chuan Ban is likely to establish itself in Taipei as firmly as it has elsewhere on the island, and add to the variety of the culinary experience of Taipei's diners.

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