Australia is home to a sizeable Vietnamese community, and consequently certain areas have become meccas for reasonably priced and accessible Vietnamese food. Despite the considerable Vietnamese presence in Taiwan (both through immigration and foreign workers), I am always surprised not to find more Vietnamese restaurants. There are some (and the number is growing), but they generally only serve bland curry or have been so altered to suit local tastes that the keen freshness and vibrancy of Vietnamese cuisine is hard to identify. And with some notable exceptions, many of them are grubby, whole-in-the wall shops that dish up half-decent food, but aren’t really that appealing (or in locations easily accessible to expats).
So I was happy to be introduced to my friend Mike’s favourite restaurant, a small Vietnamese eatery tucked between Carnegies and The Diner near the Far Eastern Hotel along Dunhua South Road Section 2. The name of the restaurant is Yue Yuan (越苑), but it also adopts the English name ‘Savoy’ on its business card. My friend refers to it simply as that ‘pho’ (Vietnamese beef soup) place with the yellow sign.
Mike dines there often (he joked he has only been there once this week) so we relied on his recommendations for choices. Without needing to look at the menu, he ordered the emerald green curry chicken with bread (NT$160). While I didn’t order this, it looked and smelt amazing. I wished I had what he was having; next time. And his wife was keen to share as soon as it arrived, which is usually a good indication of something being pretty good.
Mr Taiwanxifu took Mike’s advice and ordered the rare steak beef noodle soup (pho NT$150, pronounced like fur in Vietnamese). The pho arrived in a large bowl of thick rice vermicelli noodles, topped with thinly sliced raw beef, shaved onion slices, shallots and plenty of tasty broth served with a plate of fresh herbal and salad accompaniments. Mr Taiwanxifu (who is somewhat of a pho connoisseur) declared the soup was ‘not too bad’ — which must mean it was pretty good.
Mr Taiwanxifu was much more impressed with the additional BBQ pork chop he ordered as a snack(NT$90). I also managed to sneak a sample and was impressed with how tender and tasty it was. Mike’s wife ordered the rather generous grilled pork chop set with egg roll, steamed egg and rice (NT$150) as a main meal, which she and her husband shared (without any complaints, or for that matter leftovers, once again a sign it was pretty good).
Being pregnant I was reluctant to try the pho on account of the rare meat, and likewise avoided Savoy’s fresh spring rolls (usually a must have when we dine Vietnamese). I instead opted for a ‘safe’ option of seafood combination noodle soup (NT$180). The soup was nicely balanced, and clearly not laced with MSG as some restaurant versions can be. But I thought there could perhaps have been slightly more non-noodle items in the soup (namely seafood). And there was a fried wonton/prawn thing that was difficult to eat as the prawn had not been shelled beforehand; and the fried pastry went soggy once it had been in the soup.
It is hard to resist sweet iced Vietnamese coffee (NT$80), especially when it is freshly brewed in authentic Vietnamese aluminium drip filters as it is at Savoy. But beware it is only for coffee diehards; it may taste deceptively sweet, but there is a lot of caffeine in each serve. Knowing that I would be up half the night if I indulged, I instead bucked the trend at our table and ordered a tall class of iced honey lemon (NT$70). This was basically a refreshing home-made lemonade, which was a delicious accompaniment to my soup and would be heavenly in hot weather. And it looked so inviting, that it provoked some beverage envy at the table.
Savoy is cheap, clean and cheerful. It will not break your wallet, although compared with more ‘local’ Vietnamese restaurants in Taipei it is a little on the expensive side. This is largely due to their upmarket locations and squeaky clean, expatriate friendly interior and set up. We dined at their Anhe shop at No 8, Lane 103, Dunhua South Road Section 2 (台北市敦化南路二段103巷8號, phone 2701 2523), but they also have restaurants on Dunhua North Road (12, Ln 155, Dunhua N Rd, Taipei City 台北市敦化北路155巷12號, phone 2718-0660) and Zhongxiao East Road Section 4 (No 10, Ally 32, Lane 216, 忠孝東路4段216巷32弄10號 phone 2731 9597).