Some readers may have observed my obsession with a Taiwan soap opera called ‘Inborn Pair’. I am currently experiencing listlessness similar to withdrawal symptoms, with the final of the 84-episode series having aired on Monday night. (The series was extended by four episodes due to high ratings.) But I was able to indulge my soapy fantasies somewhat through a recent visit to the African Safari-themed Leofoo Resort Guanshi, site of many of scenes from the television soap including the long anticipated — and surprisingly intimate — union of the One True Pair.
Unfortunately, my trip to Leofoo Resort did not entirely live up to expectations. it is always hard to reconcile the collision between reality and fantasy. The main characters in the soapie were too busy being glamorous to deal with check-in delays, loud neighbours or toddlers who would not go down to sleep. Nor did they encounter bad weather as we did. But one thing that actually surpassed my expectation was the meal at the Cape of Good Hope Deli situated in the resort.
Arriving at the resort and sitting in the cafe was one of those ‘ooh ahh’ moments for me. We got to the cafe just before the lunchtime crowds descended and secured a prime location next to the window with a view of the enclosure containing 13 species of African animals (including giraffes, rhinoceros, lemurs, flamingos, tortoises and African goats). It was so relaxing sitting watching the creatures roam around their enclosure — the giraffes, in particular, were incredibly graceful. And for a brief moment, I could imagine myself being transported into the world of the soap opera drama. Perhaps the handsome General Manager of the Resort in the series might just happen to wander in (or maybe not).
And the food was high quality, featuring ‘toxin free’ produce from local suppliers. Information about the local farmers who provided the produce, was also provided (albeit in Chinese). I loved the visual displays of bright coloured vegetables, which helped make me feel connected with the food on the plate.
Lunch consisted of an unwritten, multi-course set menu with four main meal choices (NT$680 plus 10% VAT). The deli described itself as ‘African’, but I was unconvinced that their Western-Asian fusion multi-course meals truly fitted the theme. Notwithstanding this, the quality of the food was good enough for me to overlook this minor detail.
Our meal started with a shot-glass of sweet, ruby-red strawberry vinegar. Fruit vinegars are popular in Taiwan, where they are consumed in the hotter summer months and prized as an aid for digestion. I thought this was slightly too-sweet, but definitely drinkable. In fact, I finished Mr Taiwanxifu’s vinegar as well.
The next course was two thinly sliced pieces of crisp garlic bread. It was not too garlicy, nor overly saturated with butter. Actually, if it wasn’t for the high calories in garlic bread I would have polished these off quickly. As it was, I nibbled on one piece in guilty enjoyment.
The obligatory soup course was carrot. Not being a fan of any type of orange vegetable, I expected to hate this but actually it was quite good. It had been processed in a mouli (or something similar) that retained a satisfying hint of coarseness. And the flavour was slightly sweet without being too cloying.
The salad was loosely based on a Caesar salad, but with lashings of dried fruit. It didn’t expect to like it, but it was actually not too bad.
I ordered a main course dish of salmon. The fried fillet was large by Taiwan standards, and accompanied by a sweet, yellow sauce. At first I thought it was hollandaise, but it was in fact a kumquat-based sauce. Kumquat sauces are often used in Hakka cuisine, especially to accompany boiled poultry dishes. Leofoo Resort is in an area with a large Hakka community, and it was good to see the deli incorporating local flavours. Still, I think the sweet sauce would have been a better match for chicken than salmon.
The stand-out dish was Mr Taiwanxifu’s roasted duck. When it first arrived, I thought he had ordered lamb because the large fillets were unusually thick. Duck can sometimes be fatty or bony, but this dish was tender and decadent. (Luckily for me, he let me share some.) The duck was served simply with a drizzling of caramalized soy sauce and some locally grown rosemary on the side.
There were limited menu choices for children, despite the deli ‘s location in a resort popular with families. The only suitable option was fried rice, made with ham, shallots and eggs. It was a bit too peppery and firm for our toddler, although we did not waste any because Mr Taiwanxifu did a good job of polishing off leftovers. Oh, and I helped a bit more than I should admit … it was good.
Instead of the more usual tea and coffee, the set menu included freshly made kiwi fruit puree. I have never been entirely sure why many upper-end and/or ‘health’ conscious restaurants in Taiwan serve kiwi fruit juice, but I can only assume it must be exceptionally healthy. But Mr Taiwanxifu would have preferred coffee, had he been given the option.
As we were rushing for our scheduled zoo tour, we asked the staff to hurry with our dessert — a plate of fresh fruit and a slice of tiramisu cake. The waitstaff were friendly, but perhaps a bit more relaxed and less responsive than we are used to in Taipei. Rarely for Taiwan, the cake used real cream. I was glad it was only a medium-sized slice as it would otherwise have been very rich.
Having thus overeaten, we waddled out for our bus tour. The deli was an unexpectedly good find, and obviously had a high commitment to quality. But on reflection, I thought it was an odd fit for the resort. Most people were, like us, travelling with young children and looking for a simple — and inexpensive — cafe lunch to tide them over until check-in (or before they dashed off to a tour or back to the theme park). I doubt many people had travelled to the outskirts of Hsinchu county just to sample the gourmet delights of the deli (although perhaps they should). Still, I would visit again if only to sample the delicious roast duck.