Kenmochiya House (劍持屋) is an unassuming sake bar-turned-fine dining nook tucked in a little residential alley on Jianguo North Road. The restaurant serves fusion-style Taiwanese-Japanese delicacies from sashimi to chicken feet in a decor with ample gray stone motifs, black curtains and dim lighting.
Whereas the floor-to-ceiling glass windows in the restaurant’s old location on Songjiang Road (松江路) gave it a more inviting feel, the giant sake bar in the middle of the new restaurant comes off as imposing rather than sleek. There are only a handful of individual rooms separated by curtains but such a layout encourages intimacy. The idea is to allow diners to chit-chat while slowly relishing every bite of their six-to-nine course meals.
The layout design helps to explain why Kenmochiya House is more of a low-key local scene than a bustling spot for foreigners. Despite the restaurant’s Japanese-sounding name, the dishes are more Taiwanese than Japanese and customers are mostly local.
Menus are only in Chinese but that doesn’t matter because there are no descriptions of what each set consists of. Instead, the menu simply lists the prices of the four dinner set choices, which are NT$1,000, NT$1,500, NT$2,000 and NT$2,500. Different delicacies are served every day and waitresses are more than happy to explain the ingredients used in each course. They will also swap certain dishes for other ones — if a customer has a preference for lobster over chicken feet for instance.
A typical NT$2,000 set includes an array of flavors that may initially seem like a random sampling of different cooking styles. At the meal’s end however, it becomes evident that the various flavors complement each other.
Address: 31, Ln 258, Jianguo N Rd, Sec 2, Taipei City (台北市建國北路二段258巷31號)
Telephone: (02) 2516-0951
Open: Daily from 11:30am to 2:30pm, 5:30pm to 10pm
Average meal: NT$1,000 to NT$2,500
Details: Chinese menu only, credit cards accepted, 10 percent service charge
Kenmochiya’s appetizers usually consist of a small selection of cuttlefish and scallop sashimi. The ends of the sashimi are slightly fire-glazed, giving it a zingy burnt taste without taking away from its overall freshness.
By contrast, the deep-fried “horse head fish” (馬頭魚) is cooked just right to produce a satisfyingly crispy taste that isn’t too dry either. The lime helps to add moisture to the textured layers of the fish.
The lobster tail soaked in Kenmochiya’s special house-made sweet fish sauce blends Taiwanese and Cantonese cooking styles. The tail is cut open, making the little bits of lobster meat easier to eat, while the sprinkled scallions help to counteract the sweetness of the sauce.
Next up is a delicately sliced beef dipped in a mild soup broth. The beef is shredded into thin layers such that it is reminiscent of Malaysian-style beef rendang (dry curry), whereas the broth adds a distinct Taiwanese touch.
Unlike the mild taste of the beef, the fresh abalone dribbled with cream of mushroom sauce introduces an array flavors to the diner’s taste buds. The sauce, which is normally used in pasta or risotto, enhances rather than competes with the abalone — a delicacy which is often savored on its own without added garnishing. The bits of fresh mushroom sprinkled in the sauce are what do the trick.
Despite which set you order, the final course is always Kenmochiya’s specialty, its eel rice (鰻魚飯) served with miso soup on the side. With slices of eel and shredded seaweed over white rice in a box, the presentation is nothing extravagant. The eel is fresh with a slightly burnt outer layer, adding a tinge of smokiness to an otherwise sweet flavor. The rice is a bit sticky and filling though, obviously catering to local tastes.