For most updated thoughts scroll to the bottom.
[Modified] Original Post:
This winter, Taipei saw the opening of two brand new restaurants serving multi-course haute cuisine. One is Mume, the other is Raw. Both have similar concepts in crafting fine dishes from local Taiwanese ingredients. Bringing the concepts of haute cuisine and michelin level fine dining to Taipei in a casual and comfortable atmosphere at consumer friendly prices. Raw has been getting a lot of media attention because of its owner and michelin chef, Andre Chiang, owner of Singapore’s Restaurant Andre (#6 in Asia) while Mume has not been getting a lot of media hype right off the bat as they have been cautious in their early opening days. Both opened within 2 weeks of each other in December, 2014. And having gone to both, in my opinion, Raw is way overrated and Mume is way underrated.
For many years now, there have been restaurants, both international and domestic, that have been trying to bring the fine dining experience to Taiwan. Former El Bulli chef Daniel Negreira introduced molecular gastronomy to Taiwan and runs DN Innovacion, Joel Robuchon opened his L’Atelier chain and one of Asia’s top female chefs, Lanshu Chen, owns Le Mout in Taichung. All of these are good, but not quite at the level of similar places such as Bouley, 8 e Mezzo Bombana, Jean Georges, Brooklyn Fare, 11 Madison Park, Le Bernardin, Robuchon Tokyo…etc (in price and gastronomic skill/art). In fact, L’Atelier Taipei simply doesnt live up to the other L’Ateliers around the world, and DN Innovacion is quite the splurge for decent at best food. Le Mout is decently priced, but we were not in awe at the food.
When I heard that michelin star chef Andre Chiang, who has his roots in Taiwan, was returning to his homeland to open a restaurant, I naturally got excited. He opened RAW. Raw offers haute cuisine at affordable prices in a casual environment with a mission to bring the new interpretation of Taiwanese flavors and ingredients to the table by highlighting beautiful seasonal Taiwanese produce. But getting a reservation was more or less impossible. They only do online reservations and open up bookings 2 weeks to the date. Once it opened I checked at exactly 12AM Taipei time for new openings, yet the moment I went on the website the restaurant was fully booked. I tried emailing them to book for a party of 10 (parties of 9 or more can email), and no one responded for at least a week! I basically gave up, until a relative swung by in person and booked us a table. In short, it seems unless you are well connected to the restaurant, you may just have to go to the restaurant yourself. Although I did finally get a response to my email and was provided a contact number.
Regardless, we finally had the chance to eat at Raw for lunch. The interior is really quite nice. Its got a very Scandinavian/ Nordic feel with lots of wood, metal, and fine curved designs. The two main bars are fully crafted wood by Taiwanese artisans. The restaurant is spacious, comfortable and casual. The wait staff, though plenty, didnt seem to be all that attentive, which even for a casual haute cuisine establishment, attention should be given! The menu itself is presented like that of 11 Madison Park, in which only key ingredients of each course is listed in a grid, and the way in which those ingredients will be cooked/ prepared and paired is a mystery. There is a separate drink menu, with wines, beers, coffee/tea, and crafted cocktails. I ordered a Ginger Sencha Whiskey Sour, quite tasty. The meal itself was average. Most courses tasted fine and presented well. Even though there was one course in which each person’s proportions and presentation lacked consistency. The abalone, and paella dishes were a big let down with the abalone overcooked and despite it being a deconstructed paella, no crucial paella flavors or textures were present. The steak though was pretty darn good.
Then again at $58 for 8 courses, who can really complain all that much. Its super affordable for what you get. And it achieves its goal to bring haute cuisine at affordable prices in a comfortable and casual environment. My only issue is that the food didn’t quite live up to all the hype, then again I was blown away by Mume two nights before I tried Raw, so that may have skewed my opinion. But from what I’ve heard, Andre is using Raw as a testbed to introduce this dining experience to the mass Taiwanese, before he opens a full service restaurant (I could be completely wrong on this front). Despite the let down in taste, the food was still better than what I’ve had at the other aforementioned haute cuisine establishments in Taipei. I didnt really take that many pictures at Raw because I was a bit let down by the food but below are a few shots.
Mume on the other hand was far more under the radar. We only heard about it because a relative walked by it and inquired about it/ came across their Facebook page. Mume is run by Adrian who hails from Hong Kong. He brings with him his team of co-owner chefs. The chefs have had experiences at places like Per Se, 11 Madison Park in NYC, Quay in Sydney and the current world’s #1 restaurant Noma in Copenhagen. With such a diverse and high-profile portfolio its interesting that its not gotten as much attention as Raw (of course Raw has a direct link to a michelin starred chef, but these guys have quite a combined portfolio). They also have a similar mission and concept to Raw. Their tagline is a casual fine dining restaurant in the heart of Taipei city. Mume is the name of a Taiwanese flower, and the restaurant aims to use local seasonal ingredients and bring out new and innovative flavors and way to cook/ pair these ingredients.
The restaurant itself has a more modern/ chic and rustic feel. It seems more a lounge/ borderline modern speakeasy than restaurant. But it is nonetheless comfortable and casual. The space is much smaller than Raw (which can seat 50 people), Mume can only seat around 30 people on the main floor with a private dining cellar in the basement to seat up to 12 or so people. Mume’s 6 course menu (not including amuse bouche) is slightly pricer than Raw, at $78/person +10% service; with drinks our meal came down to around $90/person, still rather affordable for what you get. But in my opinion more worth it than Raw. Each dish was quite sophisticated, and everything was cooked just right. The flavors were all evident and well balanced, and some odd pairings ended up working quite well! But for me, the most exciting dish was the steak. 24 hour slow cooked short rib that is then slightly baked then slightly seared with roasted baby carrots, charred onion, nasturtium flowers, and caramelized onion puree. The steak melted in your mouth filled with the smokey, beefy goodness of a tasty piece of steak. For drinks we ordered Inedit Damm Beer, created by Chef Ferran Adria, of the once #1 El Bulli, which was quite good and smooth, and the spices infused in the malt+wheat brew could be noted. I also ordered cocktail called the Pomme Pomme which was Apple Brandy with apple liquor (i think), cinnamon and cider; this too was delicious.
If you couldnt tell by now, I was really quite impressed with Mume. Each dish was finely crafted and tasted as good as they looked and quite frankly the over all experience surpassed my expectations (well having been let down by three other haute cuisine establishments in Taiwan, I was ready to be let down again). I think there was also an added bonus that not many people had heard of this restaurant and as such it felt very much underrated. For now Mume is dinner only and set menu only, once trial and opening period is over they will likely introduce an a la carte menu with completely different items than the pre-fixe. Anyways, please find below the images of my experience at Mume.
Next time you are in Taipei, I’d recommend you try these two places out. They are both affordable, casual and despite the let down at Raw, I will say that both have finally successfully brought haute cuisine to Taipei. They are both worth the price and journey, though not sure Raw is worth the crazy effort to get a reservation, perhaps once the hype has simmered down, it will become easier to do.
UPDATES (APRIL 2015):
Mume launched their a la carte menu.
According to multiple family and friends who have since returned to RAW, their current Spring Menu is amazing. In fact, the same people who I went to both Mume and RAW seem to agree that the tables have flipped suddenly and RAW is inching forward to overtake Mume.
But like I said, both are impressive, and both taste good and definitely worth your effort and buck. And more importantly, both have helped put Taiwan on the gastronomic/ haute cuisine radar, though not fully into the map just yet.
UPDATE (JUNE 2015)
Mume no longer offers set menus and in fact only has a la carte. From what I have heard from multiple sources, the quality of the food has gone done quite a bit, especially the steak. Which is such a shame.
I will be dining at Raw again later this week and will be back with another update.
(Updated 2016), I recently went to another new Haute Cuisine place that I think has great value for the overall package (food, atmosphere, service, and value): Ephernite. I also just had a great dinner at Raw. The first time, which is summarized below, was a complete let down. But upon being convinced by family and friends I gave the place a second try, and the summer menu was very much on point and quickly surpassed my initial thoughts on Mume. The dishes at dinner were memorable, creative, well-balanced, and well-presented. If one can get a reservation, Raw is actually worth checking out. The service improved too! One of my favorites this time was the second course which featured Sea Urchin, Kenya Bean, Split Pea, Leek, Asparagus, and Peanut Butter. Combining warm, cold, salty, and sweet. [updated with more photos from that June meal]
I have since been to RAW for a total of 3-4 times, and each time it has consistently gotten better and better and is quite deserving of its title for best restaurant in Taipei, even in Taiwan, and the highest ranked of all Taiwanese restaurants on Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants lists. There will be times when a dish or two may not be the best, but because it seasonal and experimental at the same time, that is to be expected. Overall however. RAW truly is the new standard in Taipei.
When I return to Taipei next, I will return to Mume and give it another go, as they have revamped their menu quite a bit since I went when they first opened.
[Updated November 2017] I returned to Mume for the first time since January 2015 when they first opened. I have to say much has improved and it feels far more worth the pricetag now. Furthermore the food is over all much better and from start to finish everything tasted great, granted a few dishes that fell a bit flat but nonetheless offered something tasty. Unless you are a large party of 7 or more and occupy the private dining room, all parties are now offered the A La Carte menu only, which has a minimum NTD$1500 (USD$50) +10% service charge per person charge. Each menu item from food to beverage ranged from NTD $300 ($10) to NTD$1280 (USD $42), so you can easily hit your minimum. With 4 people we basically ordered the entire menu, we ordered th3/5 snack plates, 4 of 6 appetizers, 4/4 main courses and 3/3 desserts. The cocktails are as good as they were when Mume first opened, the wine list is short, simple but offers a nice selection of European wines. The service is friendly, attentive, and professional.
I think the new a la carte concept makes far more sense for Mume than their tasting menu when they first started. It creates better value and over all experience for diners. Further, I think it allows larger parties to taste and experience all that the stellar team of chefs have to offer. The key is that it was consistently good from start to finish. Whereas Raw is often hit or miss these days, and other than perhaps my first meal there, most meals at Raw have seen multiple dishes fall short, granted that is the nature of experimental seasonal cuisine but still.
Both Raw and Mume are still both delicious, both are still worth checking out. Mume is definitely more intimate and with a la carte more worth the value these days. Raw’s seasonal Taiwan focused menus offer interesting creative dining experiences in a large dining room and unfortunately at a ever increasing (but still valuable) price tag. Mume is easier to book and has a much better online reservation system, Raw is a hot mess when it comes to booking and if you get on the waiting list you can forget about it. However, I do have high hopes that Raw will get better as Andre Chiang returns to his homeland to devote his time and energy to Raw after closing Andre in Singapore next year.
The two restaurants are to be strong contestants for Michelin when they come next Spring, however I suspect Andre Chiang will reject Michelin as he returned his stars in Singapore.
Lunch: Wednesdays- Sunday 11:30AM-2:30PM
Dinner: Tuesday- Sunday 6:00PM- 10PM
Reservations: online only, good luck! You can also try your luck and patience with firstname.lastname@example.org
Dinners only: 6PM-11PM, last order at 9:30PM, two sittings.
Reservations: you can go to their website/ FB page for contact or email email@example.com