Many Taiwanese are either full-time vegetarians, or ‘part-time’ vegetarians who abstain from meat on the first and the fifteenth of the lunar month. It is not uncommon to dine out where at least one person in the group is vegetarian, or is vegetarian on that certain day. And consequently, Taiwan does vegetarian food well, mostly Chinese style incorporating fake meat products. I was pleased to be introduced to a vegetarian food chain that does Milanese style vegetarian food well.
Sufood (舒果) is part of the Wowprime chain of restaurants. Readers might have picked up that I am a fan of the Wowprime chain, having previously dined at the French teppanyaki Chamonix and the Japanese influenced Tokiya. (In fact, I redined at Chamonix only the other night for a family celebration — Wowprime does special events really well.) The group is consistently ranked amongst the favourite place to work by graduates, and this despite the fact that they are not allowed to accept more than NT$100 (around US$3) in tips. Still, the group rewards its staff in other ways and you can sense that its waiters must be happy because they are so attentive.
I dined at the Nanjing East Road store, in an area of Taiwan that was once the vibrant commercial hub of the city. Most of that role has now moved to the Xinyi District, but still Nanjing East Road has a faded upmarket glitz about it. And some fairly good restaurants.
On this occasion, Mr Taiwanxifu and I were taken out to dinner by a friend who was a strict vegetarian. I hadn’t been to Sufood before and didn’t realise at first from its name that it was part of the Wowprime group. Once I did, I noticed that it had also adopted the Wowprime group’s unique streamlined ordering system. Basically, each order comes with a set number of dishes (in this case seven plus beverage). Some choices are fixed, but with most there are several choices.
The entrée amuse bouche was one of the ‘fixed’ dishes. The jelly was slightly sour and had tomatoes in it; much nicer than it sounds. The middle dish was called ‘white water snowflake’: I am not exactly sure what it is, but it was mildly flavoured and topped with a Japanese style sesame dressing. I liked the final little dish the best of all; towers of Japanese mountain yam with a blueberry sauce, which I found to be a surprisingly good combination.
Mr Taiwanxifu is not much of a green salad fan, so he chose fresh fruit salad with fruity yoghurt. I didn’t expect him to like the yoghurt sauce, but reflective of Sufood’s quality, he actually enjoyed it.
My mushroom salad with vinegar sauce was more mushroom than salad, but in a good way. I would have preferred some more salad greens to reflect the hot weather, but still this was a satisfying dish.
Soup a Chinese style burdock with lotus root and nuts. My dining companions were a little worried that I would not like it, but I am a fan of healthy style Chinese soups. I found this wholesome and satisfying.
Most Wowprime set meals include a rice dish, and here it was a healthy Chinese style brown rice with asparagus. I enjoyed this, but felt a bit like it was the token healthy effort (especially when compared with the appetiser and dessert options).
For my main course (referred to as ‘appetisers’ on the menu) I had pizza Quattro Formaggi with spinach (four cheeses with spinach). This was different to what I expected, but not in a bad way. The dough was puffy and soft, kind of like a freshly cooked baguette. The cheese was in a good proportion, and not too heavy. On top were deep-fried potato shreds that kind of looked like trendy worms. This was good, but once again, not quite what I expected. I guess I had in mind a traditional style flat-based, round pizza with mozzarella baked on the top. Perhaps I should just let go of a preconceived image of what a pizza should be; all in all, both Mr Taiwanxifunand I agreed that this was a good choice.
Mr Taiwanxifu had the pesto spaghetti. I liked the fact that it was not too creamy; often pesto is inundated with unnecessary cream. This was good, but I liked the pizza better.
Mr Taiwanxifu’s dessert was a black forest cake. I stole a bite and was a little disappointed; not quite the rustic, homemade, healthy end to a vegetarian wholesome meal I was expecting. The main issue was the fake cream. Perhaps once again it was a victim of my fixed expectations … all in all, as a slice of cake to end the meal it was fine, but nothing spectacular.
My lemon apple pie was solidly good. It was only a small piece, as you can see from comparing with the scale of the teaspoon, but it was rich so this was about all I needed. I liked how the lemon brought out the tartness of the apple, and the short crust pie case was rich and buttery.
The Sufood set menu is NT$398, which is an amazing deal for the quality of the service, decor and food. The Wowprime experience is slick and sometimes it is so slick that I feel it is a little mass-managed — witness the survey forms at the end. But staff appeared very genuine in their desire to please and to do their best to make the meal an experience to remember. The Wowprime restaurants may follow a model, but it is a good one.
There are currently sixteen branches of Sufood in Taiwan. I dined at No 65, Section 2, Nanjing East Road, Zhongshan District, Taipei (phone 2541 2511).