Sat, Jun 20, 2015 - Page 12 News List

Dining on the Tamsui River in a Mississippi boat

A buffet dinner on board the Great River Queen is a refreshing way to start the summer with decent food and spectacular views — just ignore the live music

By Dana Ter  /  Staff reporter

The Great River Queen, a replica of a Mississippi paddle boat, sits docked at the Tamsui River.

Photo: Dana Ter, Taipei Times

The lights from the wharf cast an iridescent glow upon the river, creating cascades of blue, green, orange and purple. Couples stroll by Lover’s Bridge (情人橋), marveling over its quaintness. Tourists with clunky cameras line up in front of street vendors to place their orders for fried squid on skewers. Further down Tamsui Old Street (淡水老街), ritzy restaurants and coffee shops line the wharf where fishermen’s dwellings once stood.

Centuries ago, this neighborhood in present-day New Taipei City bore the brunt of encroachment from various European powers. Remnants of what Tamsui District (淡水區) used to be can still be found in traces — notably in the busted walls and cracked bricks, refashioned to make way for nautical-themed watering holes serving Hoegaarden and other beers. Tourism has long replaced fishing as the main commercial activity in Tamsui, and now that summer is back, the riverside suburb can expect to see a surge of visitors seeking reprieve from the unbearable heat.

One way to enjoy the evening breeze while taking in the sights, hassle-free, is through a dinner cruise. Since its launch in 2007, the Great River Queen (大河之戀皇后號), a 40.5-meter long replica of a Mississippi paddle boat, has been offering luxury tours and hosting blues bashes along the Tamsui River (淡水河). This summer, the liner will be offering dinner cruises every Friday and Saturday night.

Trying to find information in both Chinese and English about the dinner cruise is like attempting to break the Da Vinci code. Ignore their archaic Web site, which is all in Chinese and tells you to fax them your reservation (who uses fax anymore?). Simply call and reserve your spot a few days in advance and pick up your tickets the day of the cruise at least 15 minutes prior to departure. Boarding starts at 6pm, the boat leaves the wharf at 6:30pm and returns at 8:30pm. The Great River Queen is docked at Sanqi Passenger Boat Wharf (三期客船碼頭) along the Old Street and is hard to miss — just look out for the three-story high white liner with lit lamps and off-white curtains that are visible through shiny windows.

Cruise Notes

What: Great River Queen dinner cruise

Where: Sanqi Passenger Boat Wharf (三期客船碼頭), along Tamsui Old Street (淡水老街)

When: Every Friday and Saturday, from 6pm to 8:30pm

Ticket: NT$1,500 for cruise and dinner buffet

Telephone: (02) 2622-8766, call ahead to make reservations


For the quality of the food and the views, the cruise is reasonably priced at NT$1,500 per person. The interior is ornate with blue-and-white striped chairs and glittering chandeliers. Out on the deck, the sound of the water lapping gently and the stillness of the surrounding mountain range has a calm, lulling effect.

ALL YOU CAN EAT

The buffet starts at 6:30pm and includes a decent selection of Taiwanese and Western-style food (seafood was sorely lacking on the menu, though). The smoked chicken breast was one of my favorites. Light, thinly sliced and tender, the meat has a savory flavor that dissipates slowly in your mouth, although it could have been crispier on the outside. It also could have benefited from a sprinkling of pepper.

The beef bourguignon is a close contender. Although it bears only a slight resemblance to the original French dish and the stew is a little too soggy, the small chunks of beef served with carrots and celery are nicely simmered to produce a tender, stringy texture that dissolves in your mouth. I’m not a fan of huge, chunky slabs of meat, so I liked the watery stew which softened the beef. Another delightful dish is the char siu (Cantonese-style barbecued pork). Lightly roasted on the outside, the meat has a mild, honeyed taste. Likewise, the chicken wings are nicely fried and tender, crispy on the outside and soft on the inside.

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