Tucked away in a side alley about a two blocks from the front of the Tamsui MRT station is a little restaurant that friends who live in the area had raved about for almost a year. Having finally made it to Kooks twice in the past six weeks, I am now a believer.
Kooks was opened 14 months ago by husband and wife Liam McDonagh and Emma Chen (陳佩君), who took a long, narrow space next door to an eel restaurant and across from a NT$99 special store, and opted for simple black chairs and tables that can be arranged to seat about 30 people, a pair of sofas out in front for the smoking area and a sampling of Liam’s original artwork on the walls.
They have kept the menu simple too, with a selection of wraps, sandwiches, burgers, salads and pastas, snacks, milkshakes and smoothies and a variety of black and herbal teas, plus a small selection of beers and cocktails.
Liam does the bulk of the cooking, which can mean a wait if Kooks is crowded, and the orders arrive piecemeal, but they are worth it. The best thing to do is order a collection of sandwiches, wraps or whatever and then share them as they come out of the kitchen.
All of the sauces — the marinades, salad dressings and dips — are made from scratch and they are delicious, which is another reason you don’t want to confine yourself to just one item per person. I found myself wondering if Paul Newman began his salad dressing empire this way.
The second time I went to Kooks I let a Tamsui regular order for our group and he insisted we sample each of the different flavors on offer: a “Lord of cheese” sandwich for the pesto, the Ultimate Veggie Burger for the tahini dip, a falafel wrap that came with two dips and then a tikka for the Indian spices. Although my friend loves the chicken tikka he asked for it to be made vegetarian so I could eat it and Liam was willing to oblige.
Address: 12, Lne 18, Renai St, Tamsui, Taipei County (台北縣淡水鎮仁愛街18巷12號)
Telephone: (02) 2625-6161
Average meal: NT$300 to NT$400 per person
Open: Tuesdays through Sundays from noon to midnight
Details: English and Chinese menus; credit cards not accepted
The pesto alone is enough to warrant a visit. The pesto and cheese sandwich, on a great ciabatta, just melts in the mouth. The veggie burger, which is made of minced mushroom meat, was flavorful enough on its own without the accompanying dips. The wraps are packed with your choice of beef, chicken, tuna or falafel, along with saffron rice, lettuce and tomato, and come cut in half with one end wrapped in foil to make it easier to pick up and eat.
There are 10 choices of wraps, pitas or rice dishes, running between NT$170 to NT$200. The 11 varieties of sandwiches average about the same, while the hamburgers range from NT$180 to NT$349 for a double-decker. All come with French fries. There are eight kinds of salads from NT$180 to NT$220 and a choice of two pastas, pesto chicken or meat sauce. For an additional NT$20 or NT$35 you can add a soda, tea or juice to your meal.
There are no desserts on offer — not yet, said Emma; not for a while said Liam — but both times I’ve visited, we’ve been too full for dessert anyway.