This review of a Taiwan restaurant is a break from The Picky Glutton’s usual London-based coverage
Taipei is full of interesting places to eat, but when you’re stumbling around the city’s confusingly named streets while basting yourself in your own sweat then you sometimes need to settle on whatever is closest to your hotel. Templeton Peck, Chip Butty and I were in need of somewhere to entertain our associate Private Pyle and his jet lagged sidekick, so we settled on a Sichuanese restaurant called Kiki.
We turned up at random on a weekday evening to find the dimly lit minimalist two-floor dining space filled to the rafters, but were able to snag a table after only 10 minutes of waiting. Reservations would be a good idea in future. The staff don’t speak much English, but the rather long menu is available in English.
Although there was five of us, in the end Templeton Peck and I did most of the eating. Chip Butty was true to form and refused to touch any of the interesting dishes that the two of us had chosen. She did eat a textureless mush of beef that had been boiled to death and then entombed in a coffin of ginger. It was quite easily the worst food to pass through my mouth during my entire time in Taipei.
Private Pyle and his jet lagged assistant were also incredibly unadventurous and stuck to sharing a bland plate of chicken. Although the poultry had allegedly been cooked with Sichuanese pepper, the numbing heat normally associated with that spice was completely missing here. The uncanny ability of parochial Karl Pilkington-types to find dramatically tasteless dishes from a menu full of possibilities is nothing if not impressive.
I’m used to eating chicken feet as they’re served steamed in black bean sauce in Dim Sum restaurants. Here they were covered in batter and deep-fried. The dry, garlicky heat wasn’t very strong but was oddly reminiscent of Jamaican jerk chicken or Indian pork coorgi. Not bad, but a rather tame and sedate dish.
Chinese sausage and barbecued pork are more commonly associated with Cantonese food rather than Sichuanese food. It initially seemed unnecessary to have two types of pork side-by-side in the same dish, but this turned out to be a genius idea. The smoky, fatty pancetta-like chunks of pork were complimented well by the fatty but sweeter slices of sausage.
Given the childish squeamishness of everyone else at the table Templeton Peck and I had to divide up the large pot of congealed duck’s blood and tripe between ourselves. The smooth, taut and dimpled tripe tasted just as one would expect, while the chunks of duck’s blood tasted mildly tangy with a smooth surface and a squidgy texture similar to tofu. Both the tripe and blood were served in a moderately spicy broth which barely had any Sichuanese pepper in it.
You can’t go far in Taipei without catching a whiff of stinky tofu, a local specialty. ‘Stinky’ hardly does the stuff justice – the odor of Kiki’s version of this dish is incredibly pungent and reminded me of elephant dung. Templeton Peck barely managed a few mouthfuls before backing away slowly from the bubbling cauldron. If you can get past the putrid smell then you’ll be rewarded with solid, milky chunks of tofu that pack a powerful spicy kick that will numb the tongue and give you a case of the sweats in short order. Kiki’s stinky tofu is a dish worth having at least once, if only to say that you’ve had it, but I don’t think I could bring myself to have it again – purely because of the smell.
Bitter melon served with salty bits of egg sounds unpleasant, but this dish is not only tasty in its own right. It’s also surprisingly refreshing when eaten after a mouthful of one of the more spicy dishes.
Templeton Peck’s poison of choice was the imaginatively-named ‘Taiwan Beer’. He wasn’t terribly impressed with this light wheat beer though – it was flat without much bite, although at least it wasn’t too harsh on the palate.
Since I don’t drink I settled on the honey and egg juice which wasn’t nearly as interesting as its intriguing name would suggest. The smooth, mildly thick liquid tasted mostly of honey.
Putting aside the special case of the stinky tofu, the food at Kiki was a little disappointing. Although some of the dishes we had were tasty, most of them were underwhelming in terms of spiciness which is a let down for what is supposed to be a Sichuanese restaurant. This could be down to us inadvertently choosing the duff dishes, but finding the good ones could be a struggle given the length of the menu (which appears to be the norm rather than the exception in Taipei). Kiki isn’t awful, but I’d be surprised if it was the best Sichuanese restaurant in Taipei.
Branch tried: No. 28, Fuxing South Road Sec 1, Taipei, Taiwan
Phone: 00 886 (2) 2752 2781
Web: http://www.kiki1991.com/ (in traditional Chinese only)
Opening Hours: Monday-Saturday 11.50-15.00 and 17.15-23.00. Sunday 11.50-15.00 and 17.15-22.00.
Reservations: highly recommended
Total cost for one person including drinks when shared between five people: NT$494 (approx. £11 at time of writing)