Woolloomooloo. Just the name intrigues. Pronounced wool-la-mar-loo, it harkens to a trendy inner-Sydney suburb home to several European style cafes. It is also a popular hangout for antipodean and other expats in Taipei.
Owner Jimmy Yang, a Taiwanese-Australian architect, has brought the best of Aussie fusion to Taipei in his understated inner-warehouse style restaurant. You won’t find tacky icons like stuffed koalas here, although you might notice the Australian cultural guide books and even the funky Sydney Opera House lamp. And if you look closely, there are quirky design features. Like the lampshades made from drinking glasses (photo below). And the chains hanging from the roof near the newspapers on the first floor: these are not torture devices but rather a way of hanging bicycles to encourage sustainable commuting.
Nor will you find stereotypical Australian food at Woolloomooloo – witness no steaks, pavlovas or lamingtons, although vegemite can be served subject availability. (Vegemite is a black salty yeast spread made from beer byproduct, which President Obama described as ‘horrible’. I often have it on hot buttered toast for breakfast, and Taiwanxifu toddler also loves it — vegemite was one of his first words.) Rather, the dishes on the menu reflect Australia’s multicultural fusion heritage. A Canadian friend I dined with on my first visit felt it was just as representative of food culture in Vancouver.
But more than anything, Woolloomooloo recreates the vibe of the relaxed yet hip urban Australian lifestyle. This is typified by Woolloomooloo’s brunch specials, including its famous brunch plate (NT$280) consisting of stir-fried onions and mushies (mushrooms), hash browns, sausage, tomato, eggs and home-baked sour dough bread with avocado served with freshly squeezed orange juice. (I looked down our long communal table and noticed that nearly everyone had ordered the brunch plate. They also do a smaller version if you are not too hungry.) The bread is the real deal: slightly chewy and full of irregular shaped holes, and not at all sweet. I haven’t tasted bread like this since I was in Australia.
Also delicious is their fluffy classic pancakes and fruit, which came with a generous slab of butter on top and honey for drizzling. The butter was a bit much for me, but it was easy enough to scrap off to one side. (And then spread on again, when I decided that maybe I wouldn’t mind a little bit more.) And don’t visit without ordering coffee: Woolloomooloo prides itself on the quality of its caffeine.
My second visit was for dinner. We were still waiting for a late-comer, so I ordered some antipasti of anchovy and tomato bruschetta. You won’t find it called that on the menu (it is there, but sort of hidden) but ask for some bread for starters and they will recommend it. My friends thought this was one of the best parts of the meal.
We had trouble deciding on what to order so decided to order a selection of pizzas and some other dishes to go with it. We started with two of their thinly crusted pizzas (pesto and mushroom, spinach and ricotta).
The pizzas were then followed by a caesar salad. It was not a true caesar salad, but it was fresh and nicely augmented by the fried bacon pieces.
The first main dish to arrive was the mushroom risotto (served slightly al dente, i.e. slightly underdone and chewy). The flavour combination was subtle and well-balanced, but I thought this was a fairly meagre serving for something that was essentially peasant-style rice and mushrooms. Or maybe I just serve too much when I make it at home.
Then came a spicy chicken fettuccine, which disappeared quickly around the table. The chillis were Asian style, so in a sense this dish had fusion influences.
The final dish was thick pappardelle pasta with prawns in a rich tomato sauce. Service was a little slow, so we had to remind them to send this dish. But it was worth the wait.
We washed our meal down with some Australian Hahn Light beers (first we had seen since coming to Taipei), before our congenial group moved onto a bottle of Aussie red (Chapel Hill, Parson’s Nose Shiraz) from their ample wine list. Then we finished the meal with scoops of semi-freddo (read slightly melted) homemade ice-cream, served with a drizzling of berry sauce. I felt like a kid at a birthday party.
Woolloomooloo has been operating in Fujin Street,near the Songshan airport for some time, but has now recently opened a new, two-story restaurant at 379 Xinyi Road Section 4 (not far from the Taipei World Trade Center). The new cafe opens daily from 7.00am to 11.00pm midnight, phone 8789 0128 for reservations.
And trendy parents can bring along their youngsters, with a balcony on the second floor equipped with play equipment and a small tent for playing hide and seek. Just the perfect venue for a leisurely all-day brekkie with friends.