Opened in July on a quiet alley off the busy, congested Keelung Road (基隆路), Le Bouchon Aux Vins has deservedly enjoyed a base of clientele attracted to its short, but gratifying menu of French country cooking that is also reasonably priced. The chef, known as Raven among fans, first hit the foody radar with the now defunct Le Bulli Bistro (鬥牛犬法式小館) in Sindian (新店) before re-opening his French business in downtown Taipei.
The new venue, located a stone’s throw away from the perennially bustling Tonghua Street (通化街) night market, feels like a world away from the nearby urban excitement, thanks to the well-chosen hidden location. The atmosphere is appropriately intimate and cozy, enhanced by an interior decorated in a warm palette of orange and wooden brown hues.
As in most of the city’s small dining establishments, the seating area is small and can be crowded when the snug restaurant is full. Diners who opt for space to maneuver can sit at the L-shaped bar around the open kitchen where the chef and his assistants serve out hearty, rustic dishes said to come from France’s culinary regions such as Lyon and Normandy.
From the starter menu, my dining companion and I tried a few entrees including tomate farcis (NT$150), or stuffed tomato with ground pork. Simply seasoned with salt and herbs, the meat was pleasantly light-flavored and made an aromatic, succulent pair with the tomato.
The huitres chaudes florentine (NT$350), which consists of four baked oysters on creamy spinach, was good but not impressive. For those who like their shellfish served raw, the restaurant offers French Gillardeau oysters (NT$400 for two or NT$220 each). Another signature offering is the Dutch soused herring (NT$350) noted for its tender, mild flesh.
The least rustic item on our dining table was definitely the escalope de foie gras de canard avec datte (NT$420, the most expensive entree). Slightly seared on the outside, the chunk of buttery delicacy melted on the tip of my tongue, though it became a bit cloying after a few bites despite the help of balsamic vinegar and lemon honey drizzled on top.
As our appetites were almost filled with the starters, we decided to keep things simple and share a main course. We ordered the risotto de petits pois avec crabe en mue frit (NT$480), or risotto served with soft-shell crab. Lusciously thick and creamy, the risotto showed off a rich mixture of flavors and textures with diced cubes of zucchini and baby corn and went well with the fried shellfish. The rice was also cooked to al dente perfection.
Other main courses include chicken (NT$580), lamb (NT$680) and steak (NT$700). For an extra NT$150, you can have the set meal, which includes baguette pieces, salad, soup and a choice of nonalcoholic drink or a glass of house wine.
Though the food is mostly rustic and the ambiance casual and relaxing, the small dining establishment takes the idea of service seriously. During our recent weekend visit, our plates were always promptly whisked away when emptied, and we never waited more than a few minutes before the next dish arrived.
Among the waitstaff, a young lady in a white uniform doubles as a wine waiter as Le Bouchon Aux Vins has a large selection of wines from France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Hungary, South Africa, Australia, Chile and the US, priced between NT$680 to NT$27,000 per bottle.
Words of warning: Business is brisk at Le Bouchon Aux Vins so reservations on weekends are strongly recommended.