Strangely enough, Tamsui Fisherman’s Wharf (淡水漁人碼頭) lacks restaurants serving the fresh catch of the day. Most of the shops along this scenic dock, a short ferry ride from Danshui MRT Station (淡水捷運站), are either newish-looking Western-style cafes serving pasta or outdoor stands offering night market fare such as fried chicken and oyster omelets.
For fresh seafood, you have to walk across Lover’s Bridge (情人橋), a pedestrian walkway that is the area’s main attraction, and head to Ocean King Palace (深海魚餐廳), located in a two-story building near the wharf’s parking lot.
With its large dining hall and round tables, Ocean King serves dishes suited for a traditional Taiwanese banquet meal, or pantoh (辦桌, from the Hoklo pronunciation, which literally means “setting up tables”). The restaurant would indeed be a fitting place for a wedding celebration, and the food, like a lot of traditional wedding or pantoh meals, can be hit or miss.
We ordered the wild ocean jumbo shrimp (野生海大蝦, NT$320 for two pieces) with our waiter’s recommendation, but came away disappointed. The steamed shrimp was rubbery and overcooked. This was a shame because it was served on a bed of Hakka-style flat rice noodles (客家板條) with a tasty dressing: freshly chopped scallions, smashed garlic and a soy broth sauce. Everything was right — except for the shrimp itself.
Humbler concoctions like the deep-fried oysters (炸蚵仔酥, NT$180) and deep-fried squid (酥炸鮮軟絲, NT$180) proved to be the favorites at our table. Beneath the crispy batter coating, you could taste how fresh the squid and the oysters were. Infused with basil and black pepper, in keeping with the classic Taiwanese deep-fry method, these dishes were melt-in-your-mouth delicious and go perfectly with either a bottle of Taiwan Beer (台灣啤酒, NT$60, per bottle) or Gold Medal Taiwan Beer (金牌台灣啤酒, NT$70).
Address: 2F, 201 Guanhai Rd, Tamsui Dist, New Taipei City (新北市淡水區觀海路201號2樓)
Telephone: (02) 2805-3699 Hours: Every day, 10am to 9pm
Average meal: NT$350 to NT$500 per person
Details: Credit cards accepted, 10 percent service charge added
Ocean King also offers a selection of sanbei (三杯) or “three cups” dishes, which are commonly cooked in an earthenware pot with a cup of rice wine, a cup of sesame oil and a cup of soy sauce. Our party enjoyed the three cups tender tofu (三杯嫩豆腐, NT$180), which lived up to its name. The tofu was creamy smooth with a light pan-fried crisp on the outside, and garnished with basil and garlic.
Other sanbei dishes include the “three cups chicken” (三杯燒土雞, NT$300) and “three cups eel” (三杯活錢鰻, NT$500).
I was unimpressed by the steamed king grouper (清蒸龍膽石斑魚, price changes daily), which was supposed to be one of the restaurant’s better choices for fresh fish. This turned out to be similar to the shrimp: a bit overcooked.
The meal can be rounded off with a fried rice or noodle dish, which are available in a variety of meat combinations that include pork, shrimp and beef, and cost NT$160 each. The portions are big enough for two. Or for something a little fancier, order the rice porridge with grouper fish and fresh seafood (石斑海鮮粥, NT$300), which the waitstaff says is better suited to larger parties. Fresh vegetable stir-fry dishes range from NT$120 to NT$160.
The first time I visited Ocean King Palace, I wished it were closer to the oceanside instead of being situated near the wharf’s parking lot. The restaurant is housed on the second floor of the Tamsui Fish Market (淡水魚市) building, which might actually look charming if it weren’t for the obnoxious, brightly lit sign for the Subway sandwich store also on the second floor.