Entering the Meowvelous Cafe and Restaurant (貓下去西餐快炒小館) feels like stumbling upon a well-kept secret. This intimate, cozy bistro serves French-style home cooking in an unlikely neighborhood, a quiet set of streets behind National Taiwan University Hospital, where little traffic passes through and lines of tall camphor trees stand, their leaves rustling gently on breezy days.
With its bright yellow neon sign, Meowvelous is one of the area’s few signs of life in the evenings, and on weekends it’s not uncommon to see a line of people outside waiting for a table, even in chilly winter weather. We showed up without reservations last Saturday and waited around 15 minutes, standing in a light, drizzling rain, and it was worth it. From start to finish, our meal was marvelous.
I had already been won over with the first sip of the restaurant’s soup of the day. The taste of this orange-red pureed concoction, which looked like a ho-hum cup of tomato soup, stopped us in our tracks. It was hearty with a complex mix of sweet and piquant flavors and a smoky aftertaste. The waiter almost seemed like he was waiting for us to ask him about the soup. He immediately smiled and rattled off the ingredients: apple, tomato paste, corn and a dash of Tabasco sauce.
We pondered this unusual but delightful alchemy while gazing at the half-dozen or so cooks working busily in the open kitchen. The restaurant, located in a long and narrow first-floor apartment, is divided into two halves, with diners lining one side and the kitchen and wait staff, all donning white shirts, on the other. The kitchen takes up half of the space, but the place feels cozy rather than claustrophobic. Meowvelous also sports a vague hipster vibe with indie rock and electronica piped through the house speakers, albeit at a reasonable volume.
Address: 38 Xuzhou Rd, Taipei City (台北市中正區徐州路38號)
Average Meal: NT$400 to 600 per person
Hours: 5:30pm to 10:30pm, closed Mondays; last orders from kitchen taken at 9pm
On the Net: On Facebook (search using the restaurant’s Chinese name) and at meowvelouscafe.blogspot.com
Telephone: (02) 2322-2364
Details: Credit cards not accepted; reservations limited to parties of four, bookings can be made starting at 3pm; menu online, in Chinese and English; closest MRT is either Shandao Temple MRT Station (善導寺捷運站), Exit 5 or NTU Hospital MRT Station (台大醫院捷運站), Exit 2
The menu is fairly simple, with a selection of appetizers that average NT$250 per plate and include dishes such as pan-fried calamari with anchovy mayonnaise and shrimp and green pea with scrambled egg on crostini (small slices of grilled bread).
For main courses, there’s a handful of pasta and risotto dishes, which run between NT$260 to NT$380. For bigger appetites, there are several meat main courses for NT$580, which include an 8oz grilled steak and fries, the restaurant’s nod to the classic French dish steak frites, and “pan roast free range chicken” with sauteed vegetables.
On our visit, I went for one of the daily specials, roast belly pork (烤豬五花) with curried potato dumplings and sauteed vegetables (NT$560), which was pure comfort on a plate. The pork was sumptuous while the perfectly chopped bits of broccoli, carrot, cauliflower and edamame beans had a buttery flavor. The potato dumplings had a sweet zing from the curry and a nice, chewy texture to offset the melt-in-your-mouth softness of the roast pork.
My dining companion ordered the carrot and apple risotto with mixed vegetables, bacon and hash brown (NT$300). From the few bites I had, I felt it was a tad bit too sweet, but the dish was prepared well. The risotto was cooked to a proper, creamy consistency, and although unusual, the crispy hash brown was a nice accompaniment.
Meowvelous does well with simple dishes such as the sauteed mushrooms (NT$120), a mix of fresh shitake and white button mushrooms cooked with fresh herbs and white wine. One item I’m looking forward to trying is the club sandwich with fries (NT$260). It looked scrumptious in photos posted on Meowvelous’ Facebook page, which happens to be a good place to get a glimpse of the beautiful presentation of its meals.