A few months ago at the end of 2018, I had the opportunity to exquisitely dine at the Westin Taipei – once at the Elite Cafe, standard Western cuisine, for a full five-course meal, and another at Liu Yuan, Shanghaiese fusion cuisine, for an impressive nine-course meal. The experience I’m writing about here is my five-course lunch at Elite Cafe.
I went on a Friday afternoon, after 1PM where usually people have already finished eating, so most people there were having tall-decked tea cake stands for high tea, and I was enjoying my five-course lunch set. Once I ordered my main course – the rest of the menu was set – I enjoyed myself in a comfortable, relaxing environment. There was calming music (live classical piano at one point!), a comfy green armchair, and a view of a serene, placid fountain pond outside, with maple leaves drifting upon the surface. It was really rejuvenating to sit there, writing, contemplating, and reflecting on my feelings about what had been in 2018, and what was coming ahead for me in 2019.
The first dish that arrived was the garden salad on a bed of lightly fried crab cake, embellished with fresh pink grapefruit and a sparkling vinaigrette dressing. I loved the way the crab cake was so lightly fried that it was just crispy enough at the edges, but still light and refreshing to go along with the salad and grapefruit slices. I was initially a little dubious about the dressing – it had sparkles in it – but it added to the visual experience of a dancing, fresh appetiser to open your meal. It was a classic, delicious vinaigrette dressing, with sparkles, which I truly adored and finished every drop.
Those have lived with me know that I love cooking with pumpkin, and I make some really delicious pumpkin dishes. However, I don’t cook in Taiwan, so to be served a hearty, well-made pumpkin soup is always nostalgic and very soothing to my soul. I hardly ever have a great pumpkin soup because I don’t visit these restaurants so often, and this was a deliciously pumpkin-creamy and light soup, with crisp water chestnut pieces and roasty flavors to complement the beautiful, naturally rich taste of creamed, blended pumpkin.
The next dish, a risotto, I was intially also dubious about, just because I don’t take to cheeses so well. Having grown up in Taiwan where cheese is not particularly popular, the quality of cheese is not great, and you end up with a bad stomach. In 2012, I had risotto in Italy, for the first time after a nightmare risotto in a Taiwanese restaurant serving “Italian” food over a decade prior. I realized from living in Italy that when the produce is high quality, it won’t upset your stomach, and it tastes amazing. Italy truly has the best food produce in any country I’ve been to.
Anyways, as for the dish, it was fantastic as well. The braised scallop juices melt onto the risotto, sitting upon a fresh marinara sauce. It was like having a classic seafood tomato pasta dish, but with much more class and elegance. The plating was amazing on every dish – and I completely and thoroughly ate through all of it with pleasurable appreciation.
Coming into the main, I knew it would be an amazing dish – and it was. First of all, I love a good steak, and veal always adds this additional quality of tenderness to a classic rump steak – it’s soft, velvety, and naturally has the delicious flavors of a perfectly done pink-hued steak. It tastes like a steak being cooked rare without being undercooked – perfect for those of us who are irrationally paranoid about the myoglobin in muscle tissue.
The veal was exactly as I hoped it would be – tender, juicy, delicious, perfectly paired with outer encrusting of dijon mustard breadcrumbs. The fried bread on the side was a perfect complement – rather than a creamy mash that fills you up too much, a fluffy, crispy lightly buttered bread tasted perfect with the veal. I truly savored and devoured this dish with great appreciation.
At the end of the meal, there was a chocolate dessert cake – they actually didn’t tell me what it was, but it had a core of what tasted like a thick honeyed chestnut cake, covered by classic thick chocolate cake dusted with dark cacao powder and marron glacé at the top. It was a typical cake – nothing particularly spectacular I have to say – but I always enjoy having something sweet – and best yet when it’s chocolate – to end a beautiful meal and let me know it’s time to go.
Living in Taiwan, you end up accepting that when it comes to Western restaurants, you never know what to expect (and you rely heavily on TripAdvisor). I would say Elite Cafe is not a high-end Western dining experience, but it really hits the spot for when you want a solid, classic Western five-course meal, and can expect the dishes to be well done, produce to be well-sourced, and enjoy a relaxed, calm dining experience where you can also sit and chat easily. I also have to say the service was definitely spot-on – they were always attentive, and I truly felt welcomed. It was clear that all their staff want their guests to have a great dining experience, and I really appreciated that level of service.
I am eager return to Elite Cafe, and would take people I do business with or just friends for a lunch out to enjoy. It’s great to know there’s places we can rely on to go to in Taipei for well-done, well-managed, delicious dining experiences.