Tried & Tested

Restaurant review: Impromptu by Paul Lee, Taipei

21 Feb 2019 by Michael Allen

Background

Impromptu, headed by chef Paul Lee, offers up a fusion cuisine marriage of “classic French cuisine and the multiculturalism of the United States”.

Using bar seating and an open kitchen design, the restaurant aims to create a “casual fine dining” atmosphere where “things just harmoniously come together”. Impromptu wants diners’ interactions between their dining environment and the chef to “become one”, thus breaking with the “traditionally serious and formal fine dining atmosphere”.

Where is it?

In the basement of The Regent Taipei hotel. You can take an elevator from the hotel down to the luxury mall in which Improptu is located.

What's it like?

The open-plan kitchen certainly breaks down the barrier between food consumer and food creator, with several of the chefs eyeing us as we came in. The eponymous Paul Lee was working in the open kitchen and explained each dish to us.

We were offered a cocktail or wine pairing with the meal. I chose the cocktail pairing. The first dish was the mud crab taco, jicama tortilla and pickled young ginger. The striking thing about this dish was that most of the things on the “plate” were not actually edible, and the edible part was very small. Clearly, presentation plays as much of a role as the food itself. What food there was on the plate was tasty; I could have eaten five or six of these mini tortillas.

Next up was the sunchoke soup, dukkah, burnt milk and hazelnut, which was creamy and delicious…

Followed by the sweetbread yakitori, bergamot and sesame leaf gremolata, which had a nice zesty kick…

Then it came to the quail, gailan, fermented mustard leaf and chimichurri. I must say I didn’t enjoy this dish. First of all, the presentation was rather creepy, with the poor bird’s wizened foot curving out the top like a tiny witch’s hand.  The meat was difficult to cut off and I just found the whole dish a bit of a sorry affair. Quail lovers may rejoice, but it’s not one for me.

Then we had the red mullet with nest fern, shaoxing wine and fermented black bean, which tasted good, but was a little small…

The next dish was aged pork loin with black pudding, aubergine and kale, which was nice, but, again, a little on the small side…

Then we had the fried steam bun “bahn mi” with pate, which was an interesting take on the classic Vietnamese sub…

The desserts were probably the most creative part of the whole meal. I would never in a million years opt to incorporate foie gras into a dessert, but Paul Lee does so with his white chocolate bread pudding with nitro foie gras. Done incorrectly, this dish could risk being truly disgusting, but I actually liked it. It’s one of those dishes that, upon first tasting it, you decide you love it and hate it multiple times in the space of a few seconds, before finally concluding that it’s actually quite tasty. Of course, foie gras isn’t the most uncontroversial ingredient and one of our party declined to eat this dish.

The next dessert was equally inventive, a strawberry with Sichuan peppers and lemmon marigold. Again, I was wondering how on earth this taste combination would work, but actually it does, the sweetness of the strawberry combining addictively with the numbing spice of the Sichuan pepper.

Verdict

The culinary innovation on display, particularly with the desserts, is impressive. My dislike of the quail was not enough to mar the overall meal experience. A fun place to eat. If you’re staying in The Regent Taipei, it would be worth popping downstairs to check it out.

Fact file

Hours: 5.30pm-10pm Tuesday to Sunday. Closed on Mondays.

Price: NT$2200 (US$71.39) for the tasting menu. Add NT$1480 (US$48.02) for the wine pairing and NT$980 (US$31.80) for the cocktail pairing. Corkage fees are NT$500 (US$16.22) per bottle (750ML) of red wine, white wine, sparking wine and champagne. NT$1,000 (US$32.44) per bottle of any wine bottle size over 750ml and all other spirits.

Location: B1, No.3, Ln. 39, Sec. 2, Zhongshan N. Rd., Taipei City, Taiwan (Regent Hotel)

Contact: Impromptu accepts reservations up to 30 days in advance. You can make a reservation by calling +886 2 2521 2518 Tuesday-Sunday between 2pm to 5pm. You can also reserve online. For party sizes over 4, you must reserve by phone.

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Business Traveller UK March 2019 edition
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