Sat, Sep 10, 2016 - Page 13 News List

Restaurant review: Hanabatake Ranch Hokkaido Farm Cafe 花畑牧場

By Han Cheung  /  Staff reporter

The Hokkaido egg tart, a popular dessert in Japan.

Photo: Han Cheung, Taipei Times

A half-rind of legendary Raclette cheese sits on a table In Hanabatake Ranch, the latest Japanese import to Taiwan launched in June at ATT4Fun. When someone orders a dish that contains the Hokkaido-based ranch’s signature product, a server turns on the metallic heat lamp and slices off generous globs directly onto the plate as the gooey goodness melts.

Run by Japanese TV host and celebrity Tanaka Yoshitake, the ranch’s Raclette was named Japan’s best cheese in 2011 at the All Japan Natural Cheese Contest. The variety has its origins in Switzerland and is used mostly as a melting cheese. The way it is served at the restaurant harkens back to the old days where Swiss cow herders would place the cheese next to the campfire and scrape off the softened parts to spread on bread or potatoes.

It’s a pleasant atmosphere with a polite and helpful staff, modern and colorful with a touch of Japanese cuteness (fairytale-like houses and animal decorations). The storefront sells a variety of snacks from the ranch, including milk chocolate potato chips and strawberry candy.

The menu is typical Japanese-style Western food, with burgers, pastas, pizzas, steak and the like. The “must-order” item here is the triple cheese pasta (NT$260), which is plain spaghetti in a Camembert and Gouda cheese sauce topped with the Raclette — and nothing else. Don’t spend too much time taking pictures of your food here — the cheese hardens quickly.

For starters, we ordered the Raclette warm salad (NT$280), which consisted of sliced carrots, potatoes, asparagus, broccoli and corn, drizzled with cream sauce and topped with thick, melted slices of Raclette. It’s probably a fancier variation of what the Swiss cow herders ate around the campfire.

Hanabatake Ranch Hokkaido Farm Cafe

Address: ATT4Fun, 4F, 12, Songshou Rd, Taipei City (台北市松壽路12號4樓)

Telephone: (02) 7737-8860

Open: Sunday to Thursdays from 8am to 11pm, Fridays and Saturdays from 8am to 11:30pm

Average meal: NT$300 to NT$800

Details: Menu in Chinese, Japanese and English, credit cards accepted

On the Net:

The cheese has a strong creamy aroma that can be sensed from several feet away. It melts at a similar consistency with Provolone, but the taste falls on the sharper and saltier side, flavorful but not too pungent. It’s a balanced product that is enjoyable, but not especially memorable. It complements the sweeter and milder sauce well.

The vegetables were simply boiled without flavor, and were a bit too soggy, the water mixing with the cheese when taking a bite. Maybe roasting them would have been a better idea.

Each main dish comes with a set meal at an additional charge. The basic set (NT$120) consists of bread, soup and a drink. The deluxe set (NT$180) is the same as the basic set plus a dessert under NT$120. As the vegetable soup and bread did not stand out, one may be better off ordering the desserts a la carte — as the ranch is also famous for its sweets.

The triple cheese pasta also filled the air with a rich, mouth-watering aroma upon arrival. The noodles are first cooked in the Camembert, then the Gouda is added. The sauce is rich and fondue-like with a bit of Japanese dairy product-style sweetness that balances out the sharper Raclette, which gradually melts into a soft stringiness that works well with the thinner sauce. The lack of toppings makes the dish a bit monotonous, though, and perhaps they could offer the customer some options (for the last few bites I took my friend’s diced bell peppers).

If you are sharing food, for the third dish you probably should order something that’s not creamy and without the cheese, as all the dairy is getting too much at this point. A burger (between NT$260 and NT$320) or Hokkaido pork rice bowl (NT$180) would be a good choice.

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