I have a confession: I generally dislike ‘organic’ restaurants as I find them too full of themselves. However, I decided to keep an open mind when I signed up to attend the recent Tastes of Taipei event at NonZero. (For those not in the know, Tastes of Taipei is a monthly event organised by the Community Services Centre. Ten percent of the dinner expense is donated by the restaurants to the Community Services Centre.)
And I was pleasantly surprised. NonZero welcomes you with its cosy, wooden tables and eclectic, quirky style that mixes mismatched chairs and interesting food memorabilia. It has recently reopened following a refurbishment, but still preserves its familiar, eating-together-at-the-kitchen-bench feel. While separate dining options are available, NonZero encourages communal dining so that total strangers can meet and mingle. Owner Chu Ping attributes his inspiration for NonZero to Mahatma Gandi’s ‘ripple effect’. A somewhat eccentric humanitarian, he believes in promoting conscious living, and unsurprisingly the restaurant’s website carries as its mantra:
We are what we do
We are what we eat
We are what we buy
NonZero uses seasonal produce, and its menu changes accordingly. Our meal started off with fresh bread paired with citrusy Dandaragan extra virgin olive oil from Australia and balsamic vinegar for dunking. The starter, a simple, peasant-style vegetable soup, was served artfully in homely provincial French folk-art saucepans. A chorizo and cheese salad followed. I thought this dish could have benefitted from a few more slivers of chorizo, but the feta was just sufficient to balance the salad. The final appetiser was shrimp with a generous side of olive-oil infused mushrooms. I felt perfectly sated after this dish but yet more was to come. Luckily, my main meal, locally caught market fish of the day, was sweet and tender yet flavoursome enough without being too filling. In contrast, my partner’s choice, pork stew with red wine, was sinfully rich and tender, its flesh falling away effortlessly from the bone: a Taiwanese interpretation of lamb shank casserole, perhaps? We did not stay for dessert, but later enjoyed the simple, non-baked cheesecake with biscuit crust, which reminded me of childhood sessions in the kitchen.
Overall, I found the food to be simple but very good: it was not fussy, nor did it try to be clever, and the fresh produce was treated with the respect that it deserved. However, NonZero’s ‘slow food’ is somewhat out of kilter with the brisk paced urban Taipei lifestyle. Service was a bit slow, and fulfilling our plan to make a hasty exit with dessert to go was frustratingly difficult. And NT $1,200 for the set meal, while worth it as a novelty, is not for everyday dining. Still it would be fun to come again when I had more time to linger, perhaps over a European-style long lunch with good friends and witty conversation. Isn’t this afterall how good food should be enjoyed?
Addresss: NonZero (非零餐廳), No 5, Alley 5, Lane 27, Sec 4, Ren’ai Road, Da’an District (in a lane behind Sogo on Zhongxiao East Road). Phone: 02-27721 630
Opening hours: 11.30am to 9.30pm on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, and 11.00am to 9.00am on Saturday.