Review: JL Studio, Modern Singaporean Cuisine in Taichung, Taiwan

Intro

As mentioned in my prior two posts, this trip back to Taiwan has been a massive culinary adventure. While AKAME may be my #1 now, another restaurant not in Taipei is high up on my list and may be #2 but definitely top 5. That is JL Studio in Taichung, Taiwan.

I had read about and heard about JL Studio before this trip. Especially when in 2019 it was ranked #26 of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants (2nd highest Taiwanese restaurant after MUME), and awarded the Miele One to Watch recognition. But I previously never had a chance to go because with limited time I only really stuck around Taipei. But this time, having heard from multiple people that it truly is deserving of all its accolades, I decided to book and head down.

What food is it? Modern Singaporean Cuisine, it really is. A lot of the dishes are deconstructed Singaporean/ South China Sea region classics, its like you are dining in an ultra-luxe hawker center.

Worth it? Absolutely.

Worth the easy and relatively short commute to Taichung and worth the price tag. The food is beautifully presented, and tastes even better. There is balance, complexity and subtlety, and each bite does indeed transport you to Singapore and brings to me the classics of eating in the humid outdoors at a Hawker Center. But it reimagines the classic dishes and combines the base ingredients in ways you may never have thought of. Oh, the non-alcoholic pairing is also a star on its own, perfectly complimenting the dishes they pair with and bringing out the full flavor profile of the dish, it completes the dish. Also the service, for the most part, is quite good.

Further, much like AKAME, it is rather unique in Taiwan. The saturated scene in Taipei has plenty of good restaurants but upon trying many of them, their styles, menus and concepts all blur together. JL Studio manages to carve its own arena and really put itself on the map. Definitely helps that they are in Taichung where the fees are lower and Chef Jimmy has the space (literally and figuratively) to create and reimagine without too much competition and noise.

JL Studio Background

Chef Jimmy Lim, the initials form JL forming the name, hails from Singapore. I think his quote  below as printed on the menu summarizes the entire experience as well as his mission and concept well. There is more detail on the website, but Jimmy himself sums it up quite well here.

“Welcome to JL Studio. A space that is inspired by the traditional flavors and cultures of Singapore and the amazing produce of Taiwan. Of which both are very close to my heart. Through my food [and memories and roots], I hope to recompose, reinterpret and reimagine them into modern sensibilities for the modern palette and enjoyment. Sit back, relax and allow my team and I to give you a pleasant evening of my love, my memories and my roots. Selamat Makan.” – Singaporean Head Chef, Jimmy Lim Tyan Yaw

Booking and Getting There

Making a reservation is very straight forward and easy with JL Studio. The online system is on their website, it is responsive and easy to use. When I went to book, there seemed to be plenty of close-in openings, and this was the same case when I checked as I write this post. You would think that given its accolades and rankings that it would be extremely difficult to book, but that is not the case here.

The main dining room seats around 26 people over 6-7 tables. There are 2 private dining rooms, each with a slightly different capacity. Both seat over 6 people. One is within the main dining room with windows facing the main street. The other is the Kitchen Private Dining room, with direct views into the open kitchen.

Lunch is offered on Saturdays and Sundays only and the menu is NT$2800 +10% (USD$95), while dinner is offered Tuesdays to Sundays at NT$3800 + 10% (USD$122). Wine pairings are available but the true star here is the non-alcoholic pairing at NT$1500 for 5 glasses. This pairing is a combination of hot and cold beverages, from teas to soups to ciders. Absolutely worth getting.

Getting there is very easy. From Taipei take the high speed rail express and you get to Taichung in about 40 minutes. It is about a 10 minute taxi ride from THSR Taichung station to the restaurant. The total journey time is about the same or even less than certain commutes in Taipei during rush hour. This dinner is easily doable as a roundtrip on the evening of your meal. Or if on a weekend you are traveling somewhere south and Taichung is on the way, pop in for a lunch. We left the house at around 4:20PM for a 6PM dinner, and were back before 10PM.

The Meal

The restaurant is located on the 2nd floor of a 2 story complex. The main entrance is shared with an Italian restaurant, Pinococo. Dont worry and dont be confused. Just walk in and they will ask if you are for Pinococo or JL Studio. If you are for JL, they will ask you to wait a moment for a JL staff to come down and escort your through Pinococo to the elevators and up to JL Studio.

Immediately coming off the elevator you walk past the open kitchen before turning left into the dining room. It is very open and very spacious, the perks of Taichung is the ample space and cheaper rent. Walls are grey tones with wooden flooring. Minimalist understated refined luxury.

Once seated, watered towels are served. Followed by checking on food allergies and explaining the menu. Then they ask still or sparkling water and if we want any sparkling wine to start. They dont offer the wine list right away, but they do kindly provide upon inquiry. They also dont offer the non-alcoholic pairing right off the bat either, which is something I think they need to promote. We learned about the non-alcoholic pairing when someone in our group asked if all they had was alcoholic pairing. I ordered a glass of Chilean sparkling wine to start before the non-alcoholic pairing. Also, want to note that they provide both English and Mandarin menus, separate ones (drink list is all together in one menu), but nonetheless English was readily available when I asked for a copy of it as well.

As mentioned, the service over all is quite good. The staff are attentive, explain well and are patient. From the hints I caught, they also do know enough English. The one thing I found odd was that in requesting for a detailed write up on some of the dishes that lacked the explanation on the menu, they seemed very protective and said no, but then were more than happy to explain again slowly so I could take my own notes. Again a wee bit odd, as in my past experience even world’s #1 restaurants are more than happy to do this. Otherwise for the most part, great service for a restaurant of this caliber in Taiwan.

Then the show began.

S.E.A (South East Asia) Herb Infusion Tea. Very subtle and refreshing.

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Kueh Pie Tee: local rose shrimp, cuttlefish, carrot, radish

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Rose Kueh: charcoal, turmeric, lemongrass. Fantastic. Smokey, spiced/herbal, and sweet and zesty, the lemongrass cream explodes.

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Begedil: potato, cumin, shallot. Loved the crunch in this.

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Otak Otak: Mahi mahi, galangal, chili. The galangal really aromatic here.

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Fermented Mushroom/ Chinese Pear/ Smoke. A cold soup, beautifully smokey laced with the sweetness of the pear and earthy mild tartness of mushroom.

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Bah Chor Mee: gongliao abalone, xingse shitake, foie gras

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The coolest part of this dish is the below image. The candle that is at first burned for ambiance at the table is actually made from pig fat oil 豬油. It melts throughout the meal, when this dish is served they mix on aged vinegar and that is the sauce for the dish.

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The Forgotten Blossom: Penghu jumbo prawn, banana blossom, fermented banana curry. So good. One of the best dishes of the night, especially that sweet, spiced, savory and zesty all at once fermented banana curry.

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Silken Chicken/ Grass Jelly/ Pandan, served hot. Like drinking a Chinese herbal chicken broth

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“Tyan Tyan Hainanese Chicken Rice”: Silkie breast and leg, Ginger sauce, soy, chili, Black sesame sauce , chicken stock with chicken oil, Cucumber, pickled gourd, Rice in spring roll wrap, black date
Crispy Pie: chicken innards, phyllo puff pastry

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Together with nonalcoholic pairing which completed this dish, this was the best dish of the night. Fully deconstructed Hainan Chicken Rice and yet together every component brought out that one Hainan Chicken Rice aroma and flavors that you would get with one bite of regular chicken rice.

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Fermented Pineapple/ Green Chili/ Torched ginger. Like drinking a ginger spiced pineapple cider.

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Ikan Assam Pedas: daily fish, tamarind, chili, pineapple

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Pangang: fish sauce caramel, 36 hour slow cooked then grilled Angus beef short rib, jicama. Meant to evoke traditional honey char siu bbq flavors and textures but with beef instead of the usual pork. Did it achieve that? Yes.

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Palette cleanser: (Apologies as I forget the exact fruit used) Either pineapple or passion fruit sherbet.

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“Singapore Chili Crab”: rice, egg yolk, crab, chili crab sauce. Fantastic as well, gets all the flavors, without the mess of the crab. Lets be honest, I eat chili crab for the sauce dipped with fried buns anyways, and this achieves that in a refined and delicious manner. Did I then ask them to leave the extra sauce on the table and drown my rice in it? Maybe.

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“Yaw Kun”: frozen kaya, burnt toast, salted butter. A modern take on Kaya Toast. Managed to not only get the flavors of Kaya toast, but also most of the textures from the crunch to the creaminess as well as hint of that coffee that usually pairs with Kaya for a Singaporean/Malay breakfast.

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Refresh: Watermelon, pumpkin, passionfruit. A dish that sort of fell flat, literally just sliced watermelon.

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Bandung: Puli organic rose, white chocolate, attap seed. Wonderfully aromatic and refreshing.

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Black Glutinous Rice/ Lemon/ Coconut. Surprisingly not too sweet, paired perfectly with the main dessert.

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Pulut Hitam: black rice, purple sweet potato, coconut. Fantastic. 100% the taste of Singapore and the South China Sea. The coconut of South East Asia, the black sticky rice and purple sweet potato more commonly used in cuisines of Northeast Asia. This is what Singaporean food is about, the mix of these Asian cuisines and heritages.

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Conclusion

Fantastic meal. Chef Jimmy achieves what he claims to set out to do. It is modern Singaporean cuisine using local Taiwanese produce and ingredients. He takes you on a journey through Singapore’s culinary profile from breakfast to late night snacks. Not only does he showcase the Chinese/ Northeast Asian influence Singaporean dishes, he also brings out the South Asian and Southeast Asian inspired Singaporean dishes. Through deconstructing the dishes he is able to let us experience the various layers and ingredients on their own before they come together to create that flavor that is familiar to those who have tried Singaporean food.

100% worth your time, money and minor effort to get here if living and visiting Taipei.

 

Information

JL STUDIO

ADDRESS
2nd F, No. 689, Yifeng Road, Section 4, Nantun District, Taichung City, Taiwan

Online reservations via their website

LUNCH
Saturdays and Sundays Only
11:30 – 14:30(L.O. 13:00)
DINNER
Tuesday – Sunday
18:00 – 22:30(L.O. 20:00)

Lunch Menu “Discovery Menu”
9 or 10 dishes (including snacks and sweets)
NTD $2800 + 10%
Dinner Menu “Experience Menu”
15 or 16 dishes (including snacks and sweets)
NTD $3800 + 10%

Non-Alcoholic Pairing 5 Glasses: NTD$1500 + 10%

Wine Pairing
3 glass
NTD $1700
4 glass
NTD $2100
5 glass
NTD $2500

 

Selamat Makan (Bahasa for Bon Appetit),

TheGastronomicTraveler

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