Late last year I ate at one of the AoBa creative modern Taiwanese-themed restaurants, where I picked up a pamphlet for a new buffet-style restaurant opened by the same owners in the Huashan Creative Park. It sounded interesting, but somehow I never got around to checking it out. Until last week, when I was looking for a Taiwanese-themed casual dining restaurant in a central location. And no sooner had I discovered it than it seemed like everyone had: a visiting friend from Australia told me last night that she visited there with her tailor-made small tour group. It seems like the secret is out!
Chingye-Shinleyuan (青葉新樂園) offers a high quality buffet experience in a stylish setting. I hate the feeling of having to sharpen elbows in the stampede to the buffet salad bar, only to find that most things are less than fresh, deep-fried or out of a can. You won’t see much panic overeating at Chingye-Shinleyuan, despite the fact that what is on offer is on offer is exceptionally good quality and excellent value for the price (NT$550 for lunch and NT$650 for dinner on weekdays, and NT$650 for lunch and NT$680 for dinner on weekends).
As soon as I stepped into the restaurant, I felt relaxed. The heritage style restaurant, with white-washed walls, dark wood trimmings and high ceilings, hints at nostalgia for the Japanese colonial era. I visited on a warm Autumn day, but I would love to revisit in summer to while away an afternoon eating and drinking in the company of good friends. Their website vaunts their ‘refined taste’, and I could see that they were aiming for a more discerning audience than the average buffet.
My dining companion, who arrived slightly before me, read the menu at our table while he was waiting and suggested we order some dishes to go with the buffet. I am glad he took the initiative, as I would not have realised that there were additional dishes besides the buffet. We choose Taiwanese style deep-fried oysters with Thai basil, which were slightly unhealthy but deliciously soft. We also ordered a plate of sweet and sour fish, which was a little oily for my taste but also nicely done. Thankfully, the servings were small which allowed us to still indulge at the buffet.
Then we marched off in search of the buffet offerings. The main buffet area was set in a small room in the heritage style building. Everything was fresh and high quality: according to the restaurant’s promotional literature they use local ingredients including organic vegetables and pigs reared in a stress-free environment (I am not sure what this means, but presumably it is similar to free-range pigs). There were stock-standard staples on the buffet that everyone could enjoy (fried rice, steamed fish), but also several Taiwanese specialties including fried pork spareribs, stewed pig trotters and pork liver. (On the offal issue, I tried and enjoyed the pork liver served at Chingye-Shinleyuan. It was very tender and surprisingly good — definitely the standout dish for me. I never liked offal before I visited Taiwan.)
Having finished my plate and snacked on our pre-ordered dishes, I headed back to the buffet for a second round. Then I discovered the snack (xiao chi) station set up near the entrance, which served a gourmet selection of night market and street food offerings. We ordered an oyster omelette, which was crammed full of freshly shucked oysters and so generous we had to divide it in two to share between us.
While we were waiting for the omelets to be divided into two, I spied some people coming away with plates of sashimi. So I ordered a plate of enough sashimi for two people, which included fresh shrimps (prawns), calamari, salmon, fish roe (this is the yellow fish on the left), and a white-fleshed fish that I did not recognise. I especially liked the bed of thick daikon on which it was served. The sashimi had a Taiwanese sensibility about it that harked back to the fifty years era of Japanese rule. And it was impeccably fresh.
So far I was digesting all the offerings at Chingye Shingleyuan. But where, I wondered, could I get a drink to wash it all down? I called over our waitress, who explained that drinks were in another alcove. So then I discovered a third buffet area: a snack bar with seafood platters, a drinks area including cans of Taiwan beer, and a desert display. I passed on the prawns and mussels, but tried a small plate of fresh green salad and refreshing jellyfish salad. Most of the salads were Asian-influenced, but fresh and vibrant.
Trying to be healthy, I stocked up on fruit including artistically carved grapefruit and bright purple grapes. But I couldn’t resist trying a piece of short-cake like pineapple cake and some chocolate cake.
Chingye Shinleyuan is situated in central building number 7 in the Huashan Creative Park, within walking distance of exit 1 of the Zhongxiao Xinsheng MRT station. It’s street address is No 1, Section 1 Bade Road (八德路一 段一號). Chingye Shinleyuan would be a good venue to take visitors, allowing them to sample traditional Taiwanese food in an up-market yet casual setting.