Behind the neon lights and shopping malls on Zhongxiao East Road Section 4 are alleyways teaming with hidden restaurants vying for business. Hong Tong Tong (紅通通韓風辣味) burst onto the scene six months ago, and despite being a newcomer on the block, has been doing roaring business ever since. And it is easy to see why: good food, great value, friendly service and a good vibe.
The moment we entered the warm embrace of the restaurant the cold Taipei winter’s night seemed to vanish. Once seated, I looked around and realized that everyone was talking and laughing. And I mean everyone – even the wait staff looked happy (our waitress later told us how much she enjoyed working there and we could tell she meant it). Perhaps this is because Hong Tong Tong is a labor of love: the owners left careers in IT to follow their passion, and their personal touch (and presence) is evident everywhere.
Hong Tong Tong is a Korean-style restaurant specializing in cook-at-the-table chafing dishes for two. It is incredibly good value. A standard chicken or pork meal for two people costs NTD$658 (that’s NTD$329 each), and includes homemade chicken soup (served in a stylish white teapot), four side dishes (fiery kim chi, bean sprouts, seaweed salad and potato/carrot), rice, a simple lettuce salad and the main meal – a generous serve of meat surrounded by thick rice noodle discs, cabbage, onions, capsicum, tofu strips, mushroom, yam, and other vegetables. Beef or seafood options cost slightly more, and there are cheaper options with less traditional ingredients.
The friendly wait staff can help you cook your chafing dish, but they are not over bearing or pompous – nor do they hover any longer than needed. We tried the chicken option, which I thought was more than adequate for two. But if you are still hungry the side dishes can be replenished for free. All dishes can be cooked with or without Korean chili sauce (we opted for it to be served separately.)
Hong Tong Tong has a young, hip feel to it, augmented by the at-times comical Korean boy-band antics on the TV screen overhead. It would be a fun place to go on a date before heading out to a movie. Or else in a group: it caters for parties of up to eight. But don’t come alone as the menu is designed to be shared by two (unless you have a huge appetite!) And stay away if you are hoping to wax philosophical on the meaning of life: the restaurant is too noisy for quality conversation and I suspect the tempo would increase later in the evening as more Korean liquor is consumed.
Hong Tong Tong is at No 7, Lane 10, Alley 223 Zhongxiao Road Section 4 (台北市忠孝東路四段223巷10弄7號 ). Ring (02)8773-9449 for reservations. There are no English menus, but there are plenty of pictures to guide and essentially the only choice you need to make is the type of meat.