As mentioned in my previous post on AKAME in Pingtung, Taiwan, on this trip back home I have traveled outside of Taipei to dine at a few restaurants. Another one is a full destination restaurant: Sinasera 24. What I mean by that is that you go there for the meal but you also stay at the hotel right above the restaurant. Much like AKAME, Sinasera 24 has in recent years received a lot of attention and hype.
NOTE: I went to Sinasera 24 in April 2020. My below opinions are that of when I went, not in retrospect in comparison to AKAME (visited June 2020) or JL Studio (in Taichung, visited May 2020).
Does it live up to the hype and attention? Mostly yes. It has so much potential and you can feel and see Chef Nick Yang’s hard work and soul being poured into every dish. A lot of the dishes of the night feel a wee bit short, some ingredients overpowering others and some flavors just not quite working together. However, a handful of dishes really shined through and thats where I tasted and experienced the potential. Further, it has excellent wines and staffed by locals who provide on par if not better service than many restaurants in Taipei. But a minor minor hiccup in the service and communication with the hotel staff afterwards also did not bode too well.
So, would I recommend you make the effort? Yes.
Sinasera 24 is still absolutely worth making the effort and trip down to Taitung for this meal. As it does over all offer a unique dining experience, from the setting to the dishes and ingredients from surrounding areas to the dine and stay concept not often seen in Taiwan. The menu changes often with seasonality and produce available. From the frequent diners I know, they have said it can be hit or miss but over all one thing is consistent, Chef Nick’s efforts, creativity and passion.
The Sinasera 24 Story
What on Earth is the word Sinasera? It is definitely not English nor is it from a romance language. Sinasera means the great Earth or great land in the Amis language of the Amis people/tribe in Taiwan, one of the Indigenous groups. 24 refers to the 24 festivals that the Amis people celebrate throughout the year. This as such reflects the mission of Sinasera 24, to create a refined and unique way to present the produce and ingredients of the Huadong area of Taiwan (East Coast). One of the main tribes in Taitung is the Amis. And in accordance with the restaurant’s seasonality and focus on freshest available ingredients from primarily the east coast, and mainly Taitung, it also revolves around the 24 festivities.
Sinasera 24 is headed by Chef Nick Yang. He is in his 30s I believe and has been cultivating his culinary skills and passion since the age of 15. While he did train at two French Michelin starred restaurants, La Bonne Etape and Le Petit Nice – Gérald Passedat, his first influence in Changbin was before he set off for France (he was the first Asian ever to stage at the latter restaurant). He served his mandatory conscription service doing the alternate service by serving at the local middle school in Changbin. During his 11 months there he lead a team of local Changbin middle schoolers to receive the Bronze medal at the first annual International Culinary Competition and started a culinary summer camp at the middle school. Through these programs he helped cultivate an interest and develop skills in these young Changbin locals for the service and culinary industries. Opening up another door for these students, who given their more rural education and upbringing often dont have access to as many opportunities as kids in larger cities. After his service he headed to France. Following years of continued growth and learning, he decided to bring his new found skills back to Taiwan. Being away from the saturated Taipei food scene means that Chef Nick is able to have the space and bandwidth to be creative, experiment, and really let his skills and Sinasera 24 shine in its own spotlight in Southern Taiwan.
Booking and Getting There
You cannot book the restaurant and hotel together online, or it seems the website you can book the package at is currently unavailable or has been taken down. You make reservations separately. However, priority for restaurant reservations is given to those who have a booking with the hotel. From the looks of playing around with the system, it appears that the hotel is harder to score a reservation than the restaurant. So book you accommodation first, then book the restaurant and I would include your confirmation number in the booking additional information section. Better yet, call them.
Their reservation system is with inline, the hotel reservation website is available in English, Mandarin and Japanese. There are about 16 rooms, each of varying sizes, including a few family rooms. Price is around USD$100++/night and includes breakfast, parking and wifi. The hotel itself is comfortable, basic appointments. Nice views. But nicely stocked amenities.
There are 4 types of menus priced at per person (course count includes courses + dessert): Kid’s meal at NT$399, 5 course The 24 Solar Menu NT$1800 (the only one that can be tailored to Vegetarians), 8 course Sinasera Tasting NT$2800 and Chef’s Tasting NT$3800 all +10% service. Corkage is NT1000/750ml bottle, with a maximum of 8 glasses provided per bottle, any additional glass is NT$150/glass, but they have a rather extensive wine list that is quite good and very reasonably priced. A 20% deposit is requested at reservation which they ask that you make it at least 3 days prior to dining. Groups larger than 6 people must cancel within 5 days, smaller than 6 within 3 days, if not you forfeit your deposit. There is a private dining room that can seat up to 8-10 people.
Now that you have decided which menu to book, as well as booked your accommodation, you can figure out how you want to get there/ plan your trip around the dinner.
Changbin is located just shy of the northernmost tip Taitung which itself is a very long and narrow county. There are a few options on how to get here. However, all options require a car. I recommend renting one and driving, it is quite easy to drive around Taitung. If not, you can hire a car as well. Again, there are barely or any public transport to get you here. Personally, what I recommend is to either fly into Taitung Airport or take the train (Puyuma or Taroko express) to Taitung. Then rent a car. you can then choose to spend the first half of your trip in the Rift Valley of Taitung and stopping at places like Luyeh (鹿野）, Guanshan （關山） and Chishang（池上） before cutting across the mountain to Changbin, overnight and dine, then spend the second half along the Taitung coast drivng back down towards Taitung city stopping along at places like Chenggong （成功）, Sanxiantai （三仙台）, Donghe（東河）, and Dulan （都蘭). That can either be a 2 full day trip, or it can easily be 3-4 days, with stays along the way. If that is too much I’d recommend just choosing either the Rift Valley or the Coast. If all you want to do is travel down south then eat and sleep and leave, then your closest train station is either Yuli (玉里, a Puyuma and Taroko express stop）or Dongli （東里）from which you can rent a car and cut through the mountain to Changbin, not a drive I recommend in the dark or during a thunderstorm. Domestic flight from Taipei one-way is around NTD$2200, while Puyuma (fastest East Coast train), if you can get a seat (one of the hardest train tickets I have ever booked) is around NTD$700 one-way from Taipei Main Station.
When your reservation time arrives you must wait outside the restaurant in the hotel lobby. They will come out and call your party’s name and escort you in. The doors open up to a rather expansive but cosy dining room with floor to ceiling windows for guests to enjoy the sea views. The back wall has a wine cellar as well as the semi-open kitchen.
You are offered still or sparkling water. Hot towels. Beverage list. Then once you are seated and settled in with drinks and water, the meal begins.
Changbin rice cracker, Changbin salted pork, fern
Yongfu Beetroot, Hualien Strawberry, Marigold
Bashan village snail, seaweed, cauliflower, trout roe
Nanxi bitter tea oil, sesame oil, sesame/date bread, Macadamia nut Chishang purple rice bread
Chenggong Marlin, Donggang Sakura Shrimp, Hsinchu rainbow tomatoes, sweet peppers
Chenggong Grouper, tomatoes, parsley, basil, bell pepper
Taitung Goose, Pingtung bamboo shoot, hazelnuts, pandan leaves, Taitung pineapples. Unfortunately the pineapple was way too overpowering
Sweet shrimp Amaebi, asparagus, asparagus ice cream, fish roe, shallots.
Without a doubt the best dish of the night. This achieved that beautiful balance of textures and flavors. Each bite revealing a little something different with each ingredients coming through and then all coming together for the finale fireworks. It tasted as it was intended to, Spring.
Shrimp, Octopus, Fish, seafood broth
Chiayi Pigeon, Nanzhu Lake Roselle, black garlic, Magao (mountain pepper) leaf, cape gooseberry, Quail testicles
This dish was also quite good. Smokey, tender, juicy and an interesting combination of ingredients that worked to create some balance. I also like how they made you think the pigeon leg was like frog leg given the presentation placement and the use of the large water lily style leaf (no idea what leaf was used).
Hida Takaya beef round, pumpkin, celery head
Hsinchu almond mushroom, Luoshan fermented tofu, soy bean milk, caramelized corn. Excellent dessert. Again this was where the pastry chef achieved that nice balance and subtlety but still able to showcase the spectrum of tofu and soy bean flavors and textures.
Petit fours: Honey Black tea chocolate, Toroko Gorge magao cream puff, honey almond cake, rosemary pollen cocktail with Hualien sweet potato custard
At the end of the meal, a signed menu was provided, but I later found out upon organizing photos, that the menu was inconsistent with what we actually had. 3 courses were missing from the menu I received. Even if these were special items added to our particular dinner, include it or add it by writing in the menu. Chef Nick had said he would be able to provide an English menu for me and would leave it with the front desk of Dawn Resort. Upon check out I asked and the staff said they had not received anything. I am not 100% who dropped the ball, while not the end of the world since we have Google Translate and I was able to self-translate most of the words, its still not great when you dont deliver on a request you had agreed to.
Dawn Resort & Sinasera 24
96242, #26 Nan Zhu Hu, Changbin Township, Taitung, Taiwan; 96242台東縣長濱鄉南竹湖26-3號
Dinners: Wed – Mon. 18:00-21:00
Lunch: Sat/Sun 12:00 – 14:00
Dress Code: Smart casual or above, no flip flops, sleeveless.
Depending on how you want to go about your trip, closest train station is either Yuli 玉里）or Dongli （東里）(cut across the mountain to Changbin), or take a flight or the train directly to Taitung and drive up the coast to Changbin.