Did anyone else in Taipei love the beautiful late Autumn, sunny weather? Perfect for venturing out and about, and for catching up with friends.
So it was that I took Taiwanxifu Preschooler with me on a lunch date with some Rotarinas: female friends of the Rotary Club of Taipei. It was a lunch with purpose, to work on a cookbook for our club. And the perfect venue for a casual, layback Saturday: Good Cho’s (好丘) restaurant in Tienmu.
Good Cho’s was recommended to me by one of my fellow classmates at a Dale Carnegie course that I recently completed. Always on the lookout for new things, I promised him that I would visit his new bagel shop and blog about it as a favour because he was a nice guy. But honestly I did not expect to like it as much as I did. It is a really unique dining experience that has a distinct Taiwanese feel without trying (yes, even with the staple being bagels!). I will definitely be back again, and next time I will take the whole family.
Good Cho’s in Tienmu is the second Good Cho’s restaurant, and is brand new having only opened doors in September. The first is a quirky shop at the former veteran’s village a block away from Taipei 101. That cafe has been open for over three years, and business is so brisk that you need to get a reservation early in order to get a seat. Those in the know really know about it, and I am embarrassed to admit that it has taken me so long to hear about it. Mr Taiwanxifu knew about it the moment that I mentioned the name Good Cho’s!
I was a bit frazzled when I arrived at Good Cho’s. We had trekked across town on the new Elephant Mountain MRT line, through our usual naptime, and Taiwanxifu Prechooler was tired, bored and over the adventure of being away from home. But you should have seen his eyes light up when his Kid’s Favourite Meal (NT$170) arrived! He loved it so much that he would not want to wait to let me take photos.
And it was a thoughtful meal. The mini fried eggs and bacon went down the hatch within minutes. I thought for one second that he might be tempted by the broccoli propped up on a star-shaped cutter, or perhaps the baby sweet corn, but even the cool presentation could not entice. He loved, loved, loved the zoo animal shaped biscuits that were scattered around his platter. And he quite liked the thick sweet corn soup (served in a cute miniature saucepan, which was also practical as it prevented spilling and kept it warm) and his bagel-without-a-hole-roll. Actually, I liked the soup and bread better: I was the one who ended up sopping up the leftovers. I hate waste.
Seated on the outdoor verandah amongst the greenery of multiple pot plants and listening to calming mood music (the company that runs Good Cho’s also produces albums, including a ‘Simple Life’ compilation that encourages simplicity), I started to relax. And even join in on the conversation with my friend, while my son played with his meal. Almost a leisurely ladies lunch. My carrot and lemon drink (NT$170) arrived.
It was spectacular, splendidly refreshing and healthy. Actually, I had expected some kind of overly sweet soda thingy, and was surprised to find that it incorporated freshly squeezed carrot juice with a layer of yoghurt at the bottom (Matthew’s Choice yoghurt, which is available for sale at the deli). I felt myself almost sinking into the mindfulness moment of enjoying each sip, feeling as if my body was being rejuvenated by the experience. It was a revelation for me that a ‘healthy’ drink could also taste so nice, and create an almost spiritual effect as well. I had not realised how thirsty and wound up I had been.
My friend ordered a chicken salad. While I did not try it, I was impressed the vibrancy of the colours. For a light lunch, that would be a good choice. But I think I made the right choice for me.
I chose the set meal ‘B’ option, which meant that for an additional NT$200 you got an entrée, bagel platter, drink and dessert. The bagel platters varied in price between NT$170 and NT$200. Since I had already ordered a drink that cost NT$170 on its own, this was a good value set for me. The bagels in the platters can be served oven baked or fried; I went for oven baked and they came out toasty warm. For an additional NT$250, I could have ordered a soup as well in the ‘C’ set. The ‘A’ set was also good value at an additional NT$150, which included the rusk appetizers, coffee/tea, and a seasonal soup (excluding corn, which costs NT$50 extra).
Confused? Actually, I was a little bit at first. But it is not too hard once you get a hang of it. They have an English summary that helps. And you can still order individual dishes without choosing a set meal.
Entrée reminded me of the sort of dish you might get in multi-cultural Australia: bagel rusks (basically oven-dried bagel chips) served with a choice of three dips. I chose the eggplant and fennel. It was a bright auburn colour and I could not really distinguish the eggplant flavour. No matter, my friends and I polished off every last bit. The four bright-green bagel pieces were pretty good too. And yes, they also sell bagel rusks in their deli.
After some hesitation, I chose the pork tenderloin and Chinese broccoli bagel. It was a generous serving, with two servings of pan-fried pork tenderloin. I am not usually a huge pork fan, but this was good: kind of like Taiwanese fried chicken breast, but with pork. An added touch with this was the provision of large paper triangles. They looked a bit like party hats, but they were actually designed so that you could put your bagel in them to avoid getting your hands dirty.
One of my friends ordered the pan-fried duck breast bagel sandwich. It looked almost as good as my pork tenderloin. I’m sure it tasted pretty good, too, but I wasn’t swapping.
For dessert, I chose the honey carrot cake. To be honest, I would not have ordered a dessert but for the fact that it was economical on my meal set. I almost told the staff not to bother. But, OMG, I must say that it was the best carrot cake that I have ever eaten. Better even than the carrot and pineapple loaf that Mr Taiwanxifu liked so much that he once rang me at work to tell me that it was the best lunchbox I had ever made him. Better even than my Nana’s carrot cake. Or the Jewish Italian carrot cake with almonds that I used to show off at afternoon tea parties.
What was so good about it? It was only a small cup-cake sized desert, served simply with a dob of cream cheese and a sprinkling of something green (pistachios?) on top. When I spooned into it, the cake was warm, sweet without being cloying and caused me to stop mid-conversation and just reflect on the deliciousness of the moment. And I am embarrassed to recall while writing this that it was so good I didn’t even offer my dining companions a single bite.
Good Cho’s new Tienmu restaurant is next to Haagen Daaz, a stone throw away from the roundabout (where the markets are) on Chungshan North Road (No 38, Tian Yu St — 台北市士林區天玉街38巷16弄2號, phone 02 2873 5889). From the outside it looks like an ecclectic professor’s house; follow the ramp on the right hand side past a hedge of fragrant Osmanthus plants to get to the entrance.
Walk through the delicatessen (see if you can manage not to come away with supplies from the providore section, or at least some of their many flavoured bagels), and then wait to be seated.
It is best to make a reservation, especially on weekends. Several diners before us were on a waitlist and were lingering anxiously for confirmation that they could get in. There are lots of nooks and crannies in the restaurant; it is not a conventional rectangular shape. I really loved our outdoor table, which reminded me of Aussie style outdoors al fresco dining. But next time I want to come and sit on the tatami mats. I noticed that this was a big favourite with families.
It was regrettable that after an hour and a half of talking and eating, my Preschooler was close to melt down so we hurried away without venturing upstairs. If I had explored up there, I would have discovered an interesting art space. Accordingly to my friend from the Dale Carnegie course, Good Cho’s is all about showcasing Taiwanese food, art and culture. But this is done in an innovative, non-touristy way. And with bagels! Strangely, it all works.