Meet me at the Taipei Main Railway Station! Sounds like an obvious meeting place, but the station is a contorted maze. However once you negotiate your way, there are some surprisingly good restaurants in the central atrium run by the Breeze Center. Including the popular Second Floor Cafe.
My friend Ann suggested we meet at the Second Floor Cafe for a ladies lunch date. Although she gave me helpful directions to get from the MRT, I got lost somewhere down the bottom of the Eslite food court. It took me around ten minutes to locate an information desk, and when I did they told me to go up three escalators. I went up one level, but couldn’t see any other escalators. I texted Ann: ‘Help, I’m lost!’ And I really did think I would be lost down there forever, in the concrete realm without natural sunlight. Eventually, I found another escalator hidden behind a wall. Then I made my way to the central atrium, but again there were no user-friendly maps at hand. Thankfully, Taiwanese people are friendly and happy to help lost foreigners. So I got there in the end — albeit a little late.
My experience of getting lost in the Taipei Main Station is not unique. According to a recent report in the Taipei Times, the average newbie to the Taipei Main Station spends 14 minutes trying to find his or her way. And this is despite the Taiwan Railway Administration spending NT$23 million to improve signage. Pity the wheel-chair bound traveler, who can spend one hour and 17 minutes finding their way.
But once I sat down at my seat at the Second Floor Cafe, I relaxed and launched straight into gossip with my friends. ‘Hey, this isn’t so hard to find when you know where to go,’ I declared as I looked around the cosy Halloween-decorated restaurant, which like other restaurants in the complex was doing brisk trade.
And actually, once you know where to go, the Taipei Main Station is a choice dining venue. The Breeze Center took over management of the shopping area in the atrium area a few years ago (completing renovations a year ago), bringing their expertise — and brand — to revamp the tired inner facade of the landmark building. There is a smart assortment of shops and food restaurants that rivals that of any luxury shopping mall. Just standing in the Taipei Main Station atrium, I felt as if I was in the foyer of a five-star hotel.
My friend tried to make a booking for lunch the day before, but the Second Floor Cafe was fully booked. But my friends went early and waited. We were not able to get our own table, but we managed the corner of a communal table. The atmosphere was loud and at times it was hard to hear each other talk, but it was still lots of fun.
The menu at Second Floor Cafe is ‘Amerian’, with Asian-inspired Western choices. I chose one of the Business Lunch set menus, which offered good value for the food provided.
The pasta dish that I chose was NT$200, but for an additional NT$290 you receive a bowl of soup (soup of the day was cream of sweet corn) plus a bottomless cup of beverage. The best part of the beverage deal was that you can refill each time with a different beverage. So you could start with juice and end with coffee, which is pretty much what we did.
My beef meat ball conghiglie with marinara sauce was, like most of the meals, generous in its proportions. Although there were only five meatballs (yes, I did count), the tomato-based marinara sauce also included some additional beef mince. The meatballs were soft and clearly made from premium lean beef. I struggled to finish this dish, but I enjoyed every bite.
Although I was satisfied with my choice, I was slightly envious of the spicy baby anchovy angel hair pasta with pan fried garlic that both of my friends ordered. I managed to sneak a bite; it had a definite spicy kick and a nice balance of flavours that was neither too salty nor overpowering. It used local style anchovies rather than the more expensive imported ones, but the quality was still good. Despite the large size, one of my friends finished it in record time. Unlike me, she has a whispish, attractive figure. Maybe she knew what to expect so starved herself beforehand. Or maybe she has good genes or just exercises a lot.
Second Floor Cafe specializes in American style brunch, lunch, pasta, burgers — and cheesecake. It has a page in its menu devoted to vegetarian options, and if their large serves on most meals are not enough you can order one of their big plate dishes. The Second Floor Cafe has four branches in Taipei, including the restaurant I visited at level 2 of the Breeze Center at Taipei Main Station (phone 02 2361 0861). It is open daily from 10.00am to 10.00pm.