Sat, Jan 11, 2020 - Page 13 News List

Restaurant review: Impromptu by Paul Lee

By George Lee  /  Contributing reporter

The “snowman” dessert was a work of art.

Photo: George Lee

Impromptu — unrehearsed, unscripted, unprepared — such is the spirit of Paul Lee’s (李皞) eponymous restaurant. Tucked behind the luxury backdrop of the Regent Taipei Hotel (台北晶華酒店), Impromptu offers a clean swanky aesthetic.

Opened in August 2018, Impromptu quickly picked up one Michelin star. The secret behind its swift success is not only innovative cuisine, but the concept and holistic experience.

Impromptu first attraction is the open kitchen. Upon entering, every guest makes eye contact with the chef team. Without the kitchen-to-table separation, every guest can observe as the dishes come together, or on the rare occasion, fall apart. Whether it be rejoicing together at a perfectly executed dish or face-palming at an overcooked egg, chef and guest are allowed to truly bond. For this reason I highly recommend sitting at the bar.

Borrowed from the Japanese dining concept Omakase, Chef Lee’s vision entails a dining experience where guests give chefs complete creative freedom to design their meal. His restaurant has neither a menu, nor a wine list. It is this level of spontaneity that encapsulates the dining experience at Impromptu — you never know what new trick the chef will pull out of his hat.

For the full experience, I went with their Christmas tasting menu and cocktail pairing (prices vary depending on the season). The degustation begins with scallop and crown daisy wrapped in a thin daikon veil, topped with chorizo and altogether lie atop a bed of seashells and rocks. I picked it up with my fingers and ate it like it is a piece of sushi. The briny fragrance of the scallop coupled with the salty chorizo and daikon made the dish a little on the salty side; I would have preferred to eat each constituent ingredient on its own. I laud the effort to marry these salty ingredients though — they whetted my appetite.

Impromptu by Paul Lee

Address: B1, No. 3, Lane 39, Section 2, Zhongshan North Road, Zhongshan District, Taipei City

(台北市中山區中山北路二段39巷3號B1)

Telephone: (02) 2521-2518

Open: Daily from 5:30pm to 10pm; closed Mondays

Average meal: NT$3000

Details: Reservation recommended; No menu; 10 percent service charge

On the Net: www.impromptu.com.tw


Up next were bite-sized glutinous tapioca balls stuffed with porcini and salted pork. I sunk my teeth into its crunchy outer layer without much care, only to be surprised by the soft mochi-like interior. The contrasting textures really stood out to me; I chewed for a few extra seconds, puzzled by the salty and earthy flavors, which usually are not paired with the chewy, gummy dough. At the end of the one-biter I was only partially convinced that the combination worked.

Then came “Eric’s daily bao tang,” a velvety rich broth topped with various herbs. As I sipped the broth, I felt it travel down my throat and warming the rest of my body, making me feel oddly awake in the restaurant’s dimly lit ambiance. The silky and creamy broth reminded me of chicken concentrate my grandmother used to drink, almost forgetting that I was sitting in a Michelin-starred restaurant.

Things picked up with the next dish: a cloud of lemon verbena egg-white foam over slices of raw hamachi and strawberry. The consistency of the foam was light and airy; the hints of citrus and spice from magao, a mountain pepper, came together nicely. The bracing acidity and sweetness of the strawberry surprisingly elevated the mild buttery flavor of the fish. Traces of French influence is unambiguous here with the seafood-fruit pairing.

A kind of interlude was the house-made bread and whipped butter. Just the right amount of charring on the outside and delicate, flecked with grains on the inside — perfectly baked, but slightly boring.

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