A British creation that weds a bar with a restaurant, the concept of gastropub has officially taken root in Taipei with the arrival of Eieio Gastropub, a tastefully decorated drinking and dining establishment that opened in June and has been packed with diners ever since. Judging from the couple of visits we made over the past month, Eieio indeed lives up to the name of its British cousin where the food is as important as the drink, while creating a comfortable environment for causal drinkers and serious foodies alike.
With vintage furniture and the interior in warm tones of gray and wooden brown, the gastropub has a chic, refined atmosphere, but devoid of the snobbish ambience of the city’s many fancy lounge bars where you feel underdressed in plain jeans. Evidently well-trained, the young wait staff are adept at helping patrons, whether they are beer drinkers, wine lovers or committed tipplers, picking alcoholic potions from the extensive drink menu composed of high-end beer (NT$220 to NT$650 per bottle) and red and white wine (NT$180 to NT$360 by the glass, NT$900 to NT$2,950 by the bottle) as well as a long list of spirits including bourbon, whiskey, tequila, gin and vodka. Eieio’s bar seems to specialize in American bourbons, which come in a substantial selection priced between NT$180 and NT$1,800 per glass or NT$2,900 and NT$4,200 per bottle.
When not insanely busy, members of the wait staff also make an effort to chat with diners, making the service more personal but at a polite distance.
As for the food, Eieio elevates pub grub to the level of fine dining and adds a decidedly American accent to its offerings. For example, the establishment’s signature fried chicken (香草炸雞, NT$460) is a world apart from the common bar snack. Marinated in buttermilk and brine, the meat is said to first go through the preparation using sous-vide, a cooking method that seals food in a plastic bag in a water bath for long hours, before deep-frying. As a result, the meat is much juicier and tender, while the skin remains delightfully crispy. It’s accompanied by grilled lemon and roasted garlic.
Equally impressive, the grand cru burger (Eieio漢堡, NT$480) is formed with an eight oz patty of ground prime beef and spiced up with caramelized onion and arugula. Glazed with a shimmery layer of grease, the burger is deliciously messy and soul-satisfying. For burger enthusiasts, bacon, egg and cheese are available for an extra charge.
Meant to be shared by a group rather than lone diners, the massive pork chop (戰斧豬排, NT$820) contains several slices of two-inch thick meat flavored with brown sugar, herbs and garlic. The ample mustard seeds also give a much welcomed poignant punch.
Drinkers looking for something to nibble on should not be intimated by the gigantic main courses as the gastropub also offers a fine selection of appetizers. Among them, the devil on horseback (魔鬼騎馬, NT$160) is a well-balanced, harmonious composition featuring sweet, plump dates wrapped in smoked bacon and blue cheese. With a misleading name, the duck confit (油封鴨, NT$380) is actually a hors d’oeuvre consisting of bread slices smeared with a paste made from duck confit, mustard and cranberry sauce.
Meanwhile, the disco fries (迪斯可叔叔, NT$260) is a deluxe version of the usual chips, upgraded with stewed beef and mushroom gravy, with shredded mozzarella and scallions sprinkled on top.
Though not on the menu, cocktails can be concocted on order. On our first visit, I had a glass of sangria that came recommended, but was disappointed by its insipid taste.
Last words of reminder: making reservations is a must, especially on weekends, while Sunday seems to be the slowest day of the week.