Barn Canteen (穀倉法炊) does refined rustic with a designer sensibility and blue-ribbon presentation. Located in an alley by SPOT — Taipei Film House (台北光點), the newly renovated three-story restaurant is still in its soft-opening phase (credit card facilities will be coming online “soon”), but even at this early stage, this is an establishment that intends to make a major splash on Taipei’s Western dining scene.
The simplicity of undressed wood, the mismatched chairs, the bales of fresh hay (all the way from Europe), placed with calculated casualness about the restaurant, the elegant crockery (mixed and matched with plenty of thought, ranging from thick farmhouse to fine bone China), all suggest vast quantities of time spent looking for just the right effect.
The service is friendly, but is not as sophisticated as the furnishings. Waitresses are a tad over attentive, and explanation of the dishes on offer (and these are the sort of dishes that cry out for the kind of added information such as provenance of the meats or composition of the sauce) could be more instructive.
I opted for the set with a main course of spring lamb with dauphinois potatoes and Chinese radish with mixed vegetables and Basque-style sausage (NT$880 with a starter and a mixed, non-alcoholic drink). The lamb itself was divine, and the dish came together with great finesse (the Chinese radish was a very subtle touch), without any silly flourishes. The appetizer, tripe and white beans stewed in dark beer, which is likely to appeal to anyone with a taste for offal, was a bold offering and very tasty, though slightly heavy for summer. The staff might have mentioned beforehand that the bread recommended for sopping up the rich gravy incurred an additional charge (NT$120), which seemed a little less than generous given the price of the set, and was more disappointing still for not having any particular wow factor. It was good pain ordinaire, but that’s as far as it went.
This was a minor blip, easily pushed aside to enjoy the greater delights of the main event.
I also tried the pan-fried wild sea bass with Rhone valley grapes, mushrooms and orange vinegar reduction (NT$580 with starter and drink). As with the lamb, presentation was five-star, but the vinegar reduction didn’t quite have enough sharpness to bring out the best in the otherwise delicious piece of fish. Once again, here was technical French cooking without the froufrou. It was also the sort of food that by its appearance and promise of exciting flavors invited you to sharpen your critical faculties as you tucked in. In the case of the fish, a few little tweaks and it would have been perfect.
Two drinks were offered, one lemon and the other grape, mixed with sparking mineral water, cucumber and, unfortunately, way too much sugar. These colorful mixed drinks didn’t taste bad for a poolside cooler; it just wasn’t something I imagine most people would want with their lunch.
Other dishes on the menu showed flair, and presentation provided a sense of occasion despite the simple furnishings. Barn Canteen has no need for leather upholstery or velveteen wallpaper to scream sophisticated dining.
According to the staff, both lunch and dinner menus are works in progress, but given what Barn Canteen is already offering, it would seem to be a place to check out sooner rather than later.
Address: 3, Ln 16, Zhongshan N Rd Sec 2, Taipei City (台北市中山北路二段16巷3號)
Telephone: (02) 2523-3277
Details: Chinese menu, credit cards currently not accepted
Open: 11:30am to 10pm Average meal: NT$1,000 (lunch), NT$1,500 (dinner)
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