The Joys of Eclecticism
TEXT / RICK CHARETTE
PHOTOS / ASKA CHI
Spend any time partaking of central Taichung’s theme-design cafés and restaurants and we’re sure you’ll come to agree with this Travel in Taiwan opinion: The Taichung core’s collective of zestfully design-quirky cafés and restaurants is the design-quirkiest in all the land. We make our case with a limited-edition catwalk parade of some of our fave spots below.
A sizable corps of Taichung café and restaurant owners possessing unusual esprit seem to revel in the joys of bursting forth, chrysalis-like, from the straitjacket of conformity. They reject any traditional-cum-mainstream views on what the personality of a café or an eatery should be. As with the city’s creators of stylish boutique hotels (see our second Taichung article in this issue), they are birthing destinations where the premises themselves are a form of aesthetic entertainment.
Taichung is growing quickly, and many of these operations are inposh new architecture. Another, inspired approach is to target heritagebuildings for do-overs and rebirth with brand-new, off-the-wall personalities. Duringthe last century’s famed Taiwan Economic Miracle the island’s economy expandedat breakneck pace, and locals knocked down old buildings at equal pace to makeway for the new. Today there is equal passion for preserving this land’s architecturalheritage, and Taichung boasts many fine showcase projects.
for Farm Burger
It has to be said – for Farm Burger has done everything backwards.
No, wait. That’s a great thing. Trust me.
The owners have taken a heritage shophouse and reversed it, todramatic effect. The front is now the back, and the back the front. The simpleact of restaurant entry is thus quite an adventure. First, locate thetiny-mouth “back alley” entranceway amidst a line of busy shops and restaurants.It’s then up to the original shophouse rear, on the second floor, via narrowwooden stairs and an iron-railing catwalk. Here you find the service counter.
Directly below, on the first floor, is the original kitchen space,now a cozy dining area. The original flooring of Majolica tiles, for which theregion was once renowned, remains in place, as does an original back door and,as seen elsewhere throughout, original-brick wall sections. Back upstairs, pastthe counter, is a narrow passageway leading past the original sky well, nowglassed in and tall-tree-beautified. The main dining area then opens up – oncethe shophouse front, now the eatery rear. Original terrazzo flooring isshowcased, and eye-catching additional “floor space” is available along anothercatwalk attached high on one wall.
The signature culinary lure at for Farm Burger is – yes, you guessedit. The owner-operator couple offers Japanese-theme burgers using self-createdrecipes. In Taiwan, they say, burgers are too often overwhelmed with ketchup orBBQ, black pepper, and mushroom sauce. Their “Japanese” approach emphasizeslighter, subtler flavor combinations. Use of “for Farm” references theirpreferred use of highest-quality ingredients from individual regional farms,preferably organic. They specially recommend two burger selections: the(Australian) beef burger with sunny-side-up egg and Japanese teriyaki sauce,and the tofu burger with Japanese miso sauce. Their tofu comes from a Taichungmaker, 90 years in the business, that uses classical Chinese methods. Alsoavailable are pork-chop, shrimp, and mackerel burgers.
for Farm Burger (田楽漢堡公正小巷店)
Add: No. 128, Gongzheng Rd., West District, Taichung City
Tel: (04) 2305-0507
Website: forfarmburger.blogspot.com (Chinese)
Located steps from the linear park that faces the National TaichungTheater (see our first Taichung article), the gorgeous T&R Plaza has beencalled Taiwan’s most attractive commercial plaza. Like the NTT, thearchitecture itself is masterly art, and follows a “theater space” designconcept. The complex tapers away from the street as it rises, with second-levelattractions accessed via a broad stairway leading up to a terrace, eliminatingthe oppressive feeling that block-style high-rises hovering above the streetgive to pedestrians. The judicious liberal use of earth-tone woods and greenfoliage to beautify the exterior, along with use of wide, tall windows allowingclear viewing of the aesthetic attractions and people action inside, also sendstrong signals of invitation to passersby.
The overall impression of the tiering and bright compartmentalizedspaces is of a warm and welcoming forest community spread up a hillside. Thestaircase splays out to either side at the bottom, giving it the stylized lookof a stream running down through the hamlet. This imagery is dramaticallyheightened at night with the theatrical indoor/outdoor lighting fusion.
The commercial tenants also form a collective that has special aesthetic appeal. The main tenant, entered via the aforementioned broad wood-plank staircase, is the two-floor Tsutaya Bookstore. Japan’s Tsutaya chain, which sells art-related titles, is known for sleek store décor, and this outlet is an exhibit on Japanese modern-design sensibilities.
The bookstore has many community-welcoming touches; here are a few of the most prominent. It shares the second floor, seamlessly, with the Wired Tokyo café/restaurant. Visually separating bookstore and restaurant is a long semi-circular café counter with barstool seating. The restaurant serves Western fare such as burger and pasta creations “with Japanese characteristics.” In the bookstore, the second floor has a large reading area, again barstool-style, replete with hanging plants and recharging stations. The third floor has a kiddie-play corner with parent-reader seating.
Wu Pao Chun Bakery, on the first level, fashions high-quality European-style breads, many possessing a distinctive Taiwanese character, made with quintessential island-produced ingredients. This chain outlet also crafts many treats available exclusively in Taichung. High-quality imported-bean coffees are also sold at the service counter, which doubles as a beverage/snack counter. Baker Wu Pao-chun shot to island prominence in 2010 when he won the Master Baker title for bread at the Bakery Masters competition in Paris, for which he created his most famous bread, starring Taiwanese millet wine, dried lychee, and rose petal.
T&R Plaza (T&R廣場)
Add: No. 18-1, Shizheng 2nd Rd., Xitun District, Taichung City
Tel: (04) 2320-3037
Website: www.i-ry.com.tw/tr.php (Chinese)
How in the world to describe what this café looks like fromroadside? Here we go. Imagine a land allotment long and very narrow headingaway from the curb, something familiar to those of you who’ve explored theregion’s shophouse architecture. Here, however, the lot’s front half is “empty”– lawn, trees, bushes, and a straight walkway instead of the usualup-to-sidewalk building. The purpose-built café-dwelling structure in the rearhalf has, to this writer’s eye, the look of some future-time plastic-façadeshrine graced with minimalist arched “holy” portal.
With that, we head within.
The church-like demeanor is reinforced by the open interior concept,high vaulted ceiling, and 5m-high windows filling walls, through which goldensunlight streams in. A curving staircase leads up to a second-level “insideterrace” that has the look of a church balcony. The affecting façade justspoken of is in fact not the true façade, but a translucent white screen, whichsoftens incoming light.
The official theme here is “a little piece of Germany.” The “D” in“kafeD” stands for “Dresden,” which the owner states means “people of theriverside forest.” The flooring, ceiling, terrace, and much else is made oflight-tone woods. The arboreal theme continues with full-wall forest-scenemural artwork and, seen through windows, living trees wherever you look.
The café’s international import coffees are prepared using bothGerman single-serving brewing technique and imported German equipment, preparedat the central island-style coffee bar. Non-coffee drinks include German-stylefruit teas, sodas, and caramel milks. The signature dessert is baumkuchen,which translates literally as “tree cake” – reference to its characteristictree-like rings. Light meal selections include baumkuchen sandwich creationssuch as “triple chocolate,” “matcha macadamia,” and “rum raisin,” and ciabattasandwiches such as “tomato avocado” and “Margarita.”
All items are presented with eye-seducing, palate-whettingartistry. Patrons can also savor the pastry-kitchen action through a specialviewing window.
DAS kafeD (德勒斯登河岸咖啡)
Add: No. 382, Dajin St., Nantun District, Taichung City
Tel: (04) 2322-2689
In a swank residential building facing the National TaichungTheater, entered directly from the street, this is a working pharmacy that isalso a work of abstract art. White beach cobbles, symbolizing molecules, coverthe towering walls on left and right. Medicines in colorful containers, againrepresenting molecular aggregation, are displayed on shelves of transparentlightweight glass and pastel-color acrylic panels. A visually mesmerizingcorkscrew staircase made of glowing-burnish copper represents the DNAdouble-helix structure. The open dispensary area, called the “greenlaboratory,” features a long wood-built counter on a base made from acentury-old tree trunk.
“Molecure” captures the essence of pharmacology – medications arecrafted by aggregating molecules, of natural and synthetic creation, to cureailments. Embracing the concept that health stems from a holistic, aestheticlifestyle, the owners have also made this a café. Your pharmacists are alsobaristas, deftly aggregating molecules in premium hand-drip coffees and healthyjuices. Mood music permeates the premises, soothing the spirit.
Molecure Pharmacy (分子藥局)
Add: No. 236-1, Sec. 2, Huilai Rd., Xitun District, Taichung City
Tel: (04) 2251-5065
THE FACTORY – mojocoffee
In Taichung’s core are a number of small neighborhood enclavesfilled with fetching two/three-story stand-alone homes, many dating back towhen US military personnel were stationed on the island. This quiet,bright-interior café, designed as a reading space, is in one such (refurbishedand now “former”) residence. Frequently proclaimed in online reviews to serveTaichung’s best coffee, it sells single-origin coffees from around the globe, andbrews each cup individually.
Architecturally, its most unusual feature is a tower on one cornerof the façade that resembles a church steeple. The tower’s small-pane windowssend sunlight streaming into the open-concept interior spaces. Outdoor seatingis available on a covered wooden patio beside the small lawn. The interior hasa simple cafeteria-like set-up. On both floors are walls of books for patron use,and on the second level staff artisan-roast beans and package some for sale –hence “THE FACTORY.” Among the most popular menu items are the Bruleecino, Affogato al Caffè, and Wafflewith Chocolate.
THE FACTORY/ mojocoffee
Add: No. 22, Jingcheng 6th St., West District, Taichung City
Tel: (04) 2328-9448
Fourth Credit Union
This combination ice-cream parlor and café is run by the same groupthat operates Taichung’s famed Miyahara, breathing new life into city heritagebuildings (more on the Miyahara outlet below). The group is a maker of high-endconfections most loved for its ice creams, chocolates, and milk teas. Theopulent Fourth Credit Union outlet is in a rejuvenated credit-cooperativebuilding built in 1966, with modern glass-and-steel façade additions dynamicallyfused with the original exterior. “Fourth Credit Union,” the title of theoriginal tenant, remains emblazoned in Chinese on the facade. Inside, the décoris ostentatious retro, with perhaps the most visually compelling elements suchfacilities from the original bank operations as the vault doors and both clerk-serviceand standing counters.
The first floor is a delectable ice-cream parlor, with the staffdecked out in vintage-day confectionery outfits. A heaven-on-earth 72-flavor arrayof fresh-batch ice creams is for sale, enticingly presented in the manner of apainter’s palette of intense color splashes. Specially recommended are thosemade with in-season Taiwan fruits, notably Hami melon, mango, lychee,passionfruit, and banana. There is also an interesting range of tea, coffee,and chocolate flavors, plus a wide range of toppings, sweet through savory,perhaps the most iconic Taiwanese the chunks of traditional Taiwanese weddingcake and pineapple cake.
A tranquil, upscale café takes up the second level, offering moredecadent house-made goodies such as syrup waffles with little mountains ofsweet-thing toppings and traditional Taiwanese savory snacks such as tea eggsand duck wings. There is also a specialty – and very popular – shaved-icecounter.
Miyahara, a short walk away on the same street, is in a revivifiedmultistory eye-clinic building constructed during the Japanese colonial era(1927) that was later home to the Taichung Health Bureau.
Fourth Credit Union (台中市第四信用合作社)
Add: No. 72, Zhongshan Rd., Central District, Taichung City
Tel: (04) 2227-1966
Add: No. 20, Zhongshan Rd., Central District, Taichung City
Tel: (04) 2227-1927
About the author
A Canadian, Rick has been resident in Taiwan almost continually since 1988. His book, article, and other writings, on Asian and North American destinations and subjects—encompassing travel, culture, history, business/economics—have been published widely overseas and in Taiwan. He has worked with National Geographic, Michelin, APA Insight Guides, and other Western groups internationally, and with many local publishers and central/city/county government bodies in Taiwan. Rick also handles a wide range of editorial and translation (from Mandarin Chinese) projects.