Long John Silver's took some flak from the blogosphere when the quick-service US seafood chain opened its first Taipei branch late last year. One poster on Forumosa.com wrote, "Even foreigners will not eat there more than once." Another: "I wouldn't go back if it were free." But I decided to check it out anyway. I had happy memories of eating there when I was a small child. It couldn't be that bad, could it?
My initial reaction was positive. Located catty-corner from the Nanjing East Road MRT station, this Long John Silver's looked like a slightly upscale version of KFC, which operates a branch two doors down. Inside, the undulating ceilings, fanciful fish designs and ornamental touches like ersatz ship's windows, gave the interior a vaguely underwater feel.
I placed my order - a Golden Yellow (金黃) number one set meal (NT$155), which came with a salad, drink, two battered and fried shrimp, one battered and fried fish fillet and one fried chicken strip - and was further impressed that Long John Silver's, at least this one, was doing its bit for the environment by using silverware and reusable glasses and plates.
Things went downhill from there. This wasn't entirely the restaurant's fault. In a nod to local tastes, the tartar sauce was heavily seasoned with black pepper. There was no vinegar. Instead of hush puppies, the fried breaded cornballs that are a staple at Long John Silvers in the US, there were seafood crackers, like the kind served in Thai restaurants. And the salad was not coleslaw but a mixture of lettuce and pineapple, with red cabbage shavings and a fruity dressing.
The main courses, however, were basically the same, and left much to be desired. The fish, a perfect trapezoid was definitely processed. That's no surprise, but the meat was dense and overly breaded. The shrimp looked real - they had tails - but you never know. The meal left a distinctly dry, peppery aftertaste.
Address: 218, Nanjing E Rd Sec 3, Taipei City (台北市南京東路三段218號)
Telephone: (08) 0903-6688
Open: Daily from 7:30am to 10:30pm; 11pm on weekends
Average meal: NT$155
Details: Chinese menu; credit cards not accepted
To be sure, this was a fast-food restaurant, where speed, uniformity and cheap ingredients are more important than taste. But a Long John Silver's meal costs around NT$180 with a side order of french fries. This isn't much cheaper than JB's, Bongo's, On Tap or any of the other Western pubs and restaurants that serve much better fare. Even accounting for the concessions made to suit the Taiwanese palette, the quality of the food had declined considerably since the last time I ate at a Long John Silver's, which was just before the chain was bought and reorganized by Yum! Brands, the company that owns Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and KFC.
Long John Silver's used to be a better alternative to McDonald's. Now it's only attraction is that it is an alternative to McDonald's.