The name of My Humble House Restaurant is ever so slightly disingenuous and self-satisfied, but false modesty is no sin, and this not so humble temple of “new Cantonese cuisine” has little it needs to be shy about. The first thing you notice as you run through the menu is that it has vast ambitions to span ancient heritage and modern culinary trends. Many dishes, from main meat dishes such as roast duck down to tiny little dumplings, seek to mediate classic techniques and flavors through an understanding of contemporary gastronomy and Western fine dining, providing guests with something unexpected at every turn.
The restaurant is located on the second floor of Le Meridien Hotel in Taipei’s swank East District. The decor, with its sleek minimalist finish and its luxurious black and red color scheme, might be described as “contemporary oriental luxury,” and while it has plenty of sophistication, it does not provide much in the way of surprises. It would not be out of place as a Chinese restaurant in any five-star international hotel.
But as stated above, the food is quite another matter. There are pleasant surprises at every turn. The roast duck is a fine example. This is a Cantonese dish that is boringly familiar to most regular visitors to Chinese restaurants, and it is often indifferently prepared. What particularly distinguished the dish at My Humble House Restaurant is the use of “cherry ducks” (宜蘭櫻桃鴨) from Yilan, a small but high quality bird with delicious meat. Served under the label of chef’s special spice marinated roasted duck (貝琵琶鴨仔, NT$1,500), the dish has many attractions. There is of course the contrast between the firm yet tender meat and the crisp skin, but the surprise was in the subtle flavors of the flesh, hinting at a wide range of Chinese medicinal herbs and spices but with the base note flavor of the duck never in danger of being overwhelmed. The neck, which is something of an acquired taste, and which is often removed, can be served separately on request. If you have the time, and the meal is not a formal one, there is nothing better than picking through the flavorsome morsels.
With the roast duck, the surprise comes with the choice of bird which provides a vehicle for the chef’s skill. In other instances on the menu, the restaurant tries to offer attempts at various east-meets-west dishes. Its high level of success is due to a willingness to hold firm to authentic Cantonese techniques, so that dishes rarely if ever wander off into the mishmash of undefinable fusion cuisine found elsewhere. A fine example is the wok-fried beef with cilantro and goose liver (香根拌鵝肝和牛粒, NT$1,080), which is really nothing more than a beef stir-fry, but through the use of prime US beef and rich foie gras, the dish becomes something unique, while remaining immediately recognizable.
Abalone is often regarded as a banquet dish, but at My Humble House Restaurant, it is served, unusually for a Chinese restaurant, as an individual portion. Fried abalone tossed with crispy minced garlic (蒜香南非活鮑, NT$680 per person) presents the diner with a single whole South African abalone, lightly deep fried and then seasoned with garlic, chili and salt. Nothing could be simpler; nothing could be more difficult to get just exactly right.
Even with the dim sum dishes, which start at around NT$150 a plate, there is plenty of innovation. Most eye catching of all is the steamed herb and mushroom dumplings (香草素菌蒸粉果, NT$150) with a kind of taichi black-and-white coloration. Although the lightness of texture, which for me at least is the critical element of such dishes, wasn’t blow-you-away amazing, the use of ingredients such as squid ink to color the casing, and clever presentation as well as the unusual flavor of herbs and mushrooms was more than enough to make up for this.
This was only the tip of the iceberg for a very interesting menu at a restaurant where even the side dishes are memorable. My Humble House Restaurant makes it all look simple, but even before you start your meal, you will probably be noting down dishes to try on your next visit.