Lin Huei-Yi president of the Kaohsiung-based Daba Restaurant Group, believes Chinese restaurant dining in Taiwan has hit an impasse. He acknowledges that many fine restaurants exist throughout the island, but points out they are typically several decades old. Some of the best of those restaurants date back much farther – to the mid-20th century.
“Young people today are more interested in opening Western restaurants,” he says. “If things continue this way, some of the finest Chinese cooking traditions may eventually disappear from Taiwan.”
With a passion for Chinese gastronomy, Lin does not want to see that happen, and is determined to reinvigorate the local dining scene. At the crux of that effort is the aptly-named Taipei 47 restaurant, located on the 47th floor of the Cathay Landmark Building next to the Breeze Center in the Taiwan capital’s posh Xinyi district.
Taipei 47 is the Daba Group’s first foray into Taipei – the group has 11 restaurants in total – and in that sense, an auspicious debut. Tucked away on a dedicated floor of the building high above Taipei’s urban din, the restaurant has the feel of a stylish private-dining venue. Furnishings are plush but largely muted. The restaurant offers sweeping city views extending north to the Songshan Airport and Yangming Mountain. From a private function room guests enjoy a dramatic vista of the Taipei 101 skyscraper.
In those comfortable environs, Taipei 47 prepares some of Taiwan’s most exquisite Chinese cuisine. “We combine ancient Chinese cooking methods with contemporary presentation,” Lin explains. “We add some flair to the plating so that the food looks as good as it tastes.”
Driving Taipei 47’s creative approach to Chinese cuisine is Chef Huang Ching-biao. A native of Yilan, Huang began cooking at the age of 13 and has more than 50 years of culinary experience. In his early career, he worked as an apprentice under several eminent chefs of Hunan cuisine in Taiwan. He later moved to Singapore where he worked for four decades. Huang earned a gold medal at the 1984 IKA Hoga Culinary Olympics in Frankfurt, and went on to become a celebrity chef in Singapore, hosting cooking shows, authoring cookbooks and serving as the executive chef at the Jin Shan Lou restaurant in the city-state’s prestigious Marina Bay Sands Hotel.
Huang returned to Taiwan to take up the position of master chef at Taipei 47. Among his signature dishes is the “Tan Family Feast,” a group of dishes using a rich chicken essence as a base. The broth contains ingredients like Jinhua ham, cabbage, tofu, dried scallop, chicken feet, chicken leg, duck, and lean pork. The “Tan Family Feast” is named for Tan Yankai, the first premier of the Republic of China and a renowned gourmand. Tan regularly held elaborate feasts at his home or at a restaurant he owned, entertaining political and literary luminaries of the era. The epic meals eventually became known as “Tan Family Feasts.”
Preparing the famed chicken soup, Huangmen Tang or “Tan’s Golden Soup,” is a laborious task but is well worth the extensive preparation, Huang says. First, fresh chicken, duck, chicken feet, and lean pork are simmered in chicken broth for six hours. Next, fresh red-radish juice is added to the broth, which cooks for two more hours until the soup has thickened and has a natural savory sweetness. Huang notes: “It is essential to cook the soup at a high temperature to ensure it thickens properly, and you have to stir it constantly to prevent the broth from sticking to the pot. To avoid the oil separating from the broth, it’s also necessary to cool the soup rapidly in the freezer.”
Another signature dish is the imperial Manchurian dish Steamed Luxury Duck, which must be ordered 48 hours in advance as preparation is complex. First, the duck is deboned and cured in salt for a day. It is then stir-fried. Next it is stuffed with eight different ingredients – duck, shark’s fin, abalone, scallop, mushroom, cabbage, bamboo, and fish skin (the number eight chosen to represent the eight administrative divisions of Chinese society under the Qing dynasty). Once it is stuffed and shaped, the duck is deep-fried, and then finally steamed for six hours.
Daba Group’s Lin looks forward to establishing Taipei 47 as one of the city’s premier Chinese restaurants. “Our roots are in Kaohsiung, but it was time for us to expand our enterprise to the nation’s capital,” he says. “There is a lot of competition in Taipei, but the market is also hungry for something fresh. It’s a big opportunity for us.”
Lin adds: “We hope to raise the bar for Chinese restaurants throughout Taiwan, and to spur a renaissance in Taiwan’s Chinese dining scene.”