Osmanthus Farm is located in one of the many nooks in the hills around Taipei that with a bend in the road seem to take you deep into the countryside. It is a scenic restaurant that allows visitors to sit on verandas and enjoy the view and the breeze during their meal, but it has the distinction of actually being an osmanthus farm, with food that draws heavily on its own produce.
The farm, which has a large orchard with over 700 mature osmanthus trees, serves up a menu of more than 20 dishes and 12 types of blended tea featuring osmanthus. This might seem rather monotonous, but in fact considerable ingenuity has been exercised in how the flower is used, creating a wide range of very different tasting dishes. Some of these are twists on conventional Taiwanese cuisine, while others were inspired flights of fancy. The most notable of the latter was the osmanthus honeyed tomatoes (桂花密番茄, NT$50), a single peeled tomato sweetened with osmanthus honey and topped with the preserved flower. The bitterness of the flower, the sweetness of the honey and the slight tartness of the tomato made a stunning combination. While the name of this dish had led me to expect something unusual, other items on the menu such as osmanthus drunken chicken (桂花醉雞, NT$250) seemed perfectly conventional, aside from the addition of osmanthus flowers as a topping.
It was delightful to discover that the drunken chicken, with the faintest hint of Shaoxing wine, was one of the best I had tasted in terms of tenderness and subtlety of flavor; the topping of flowers was not simply tokenism, but contributed to the unique qualities of the dish.
The osmanthus honey tea (桂花釀蜜茶, NT$150) had plenty of character, a herbal bitterness cutting sharply across the sweetness of the honey.
Address: 4 Sinsingkeng, Longsheng Village, Shihding Township, Taipei County (台北縣石碇鄉隆盛村新興坑4號)
Telephone: (02) 2663-4011
Open: 11am to 9pm
Average meal: NT$400
Details: Chinese menu; credit cards accepted
On the Net: www.osmanthus.biz
Osmanthus tofu wraps (桂花豆腐卷, NT$150) were most notable for their clever use of tofu, a specialty of Shihding Township. Tofu mixed with minced shrimp, chicken and fermented osmanthus, wrapped in tofu skin and deep-fried, these unusual spring rolls were another splendid discovery. There was much else on the menu that beckoned for further visits.
The main dining area is rather dingy, in the manner of many mountain chicken establishments (土雞城), but pushing through you come to terraced verandas out back of the restaurant, which overlook the hills of Shihding and Shenkeng (深坑) townships. This area, though simply furnished with rough wooden benches and sunshades, is extremely pleasant. Service was fast and unfussy, and presentation was invariably elegant, though the use of disposable paper rice bowls somewhat spoiled the effect of refined outdoor dinning.
Banquet menus are available, ranging from a “lover’s feast” at NT$780 for two, to a 12-person banquet for NT$4,500. A wide range of osmanthus products, from teas and chips to soap and perfume, all locally made, are available. If you are not up for a meal, it is an excellent location for afternoon tea, which can be served, need it be added, with various osmanthus-flavored tea snacks.