After a hectic morning, we went to the famous Ya Ge, a one Michelin Star Cantonese restaurant in Mandarin Oriental, Taipei.
We passed some beautiful Tony Chi designed dining spaces while we were ushered to our room.
Nice ambiance blending contemporary chic with distinctive traditional Chinese touches for our lunch date with Chef Tse Man of Ya Ge.
Ya Ge Chef de Cuisine Tse Man is a cheerful and effable man which belies the exactly standards he set for himself throughout his career and here at Ya Ge.
Starting over 50 years ago as an apprentice at age 14, Chef Tse learnt the ropes starting with washing and cutting before building a solid foundation for his craft.
His big break on the road to mastery came in 1977 when Chef Tse was hand picked to join the opening team of the legendary Fook Lam Moon restaurant in Kowloon, Hong Kong. Fook Lam Moon was the favourite of the Who's Who of Hong Kong and the rite of passage of almost every top HK chef. Chef's eyes sparkled and he sat right up, once we got to the topic of Fook Lam Moon and his brother chefs there.
Chef Tse rose to Chef de Cuisine at Fook Lam Moon in 1992 - one of the highest accolades any HK chef can aspire to. Before he was headhunted by Mandarin Oriental in 2017, Chef Tse headed other fine restaurants like Sea Palace in Amsterdam and Zhuo Yue Xuan in Four Seasons Shenzhen.
Everywhere he goes, Chef Tse brings with him the Fook Lam Moon ethos of putting heart and soul into preparing the finest ingredients with the best cooking techniques. Easier said than done as I found out from Chef Tse - it requires commitment, self discipline and team leadership as well as Herculean effort.
With these principles, within a year, Chef Tse proudly led Ya Ge to much coveted Michelin Stars in the Taipei Michelin Guide 2018 and 2019 editions consecutively.
Chef Tse started us off with an appetiser of Mullet Roe, Kaoliang Liquor and Leeks set on a wiry nest of bean sprouts.
The slice of golden brown grilled mullet roe spiked with kaoliang had a firm gummy bite and tasted gently savoury which was balanced by crunch and sweetness from the juicy slices of leek and radish.
I smelled a whiff of subtle toasty sweetness when the spinning lazy Susan stopped with this Black Pork, Honey Char Siew below my nose.
The thick slices of local Berkshire pork (Kurobuta) char siew felt tenderly springy to the bite. Chef Tse uses local produce as much as possible and was full of praise for Taiwanese pork which I wholeheartedly agree from my own experience.
The char siew was moist inside which gave off a gentle sweetness with every chew. The visceral fat adding more juicy sweetness to each bite. Beetroot gave the char siew its signature reddish hue and another subtle sweet layer. The spots of char here and there on the outside added a bit of signature toastiness to the Cantonese classic.
Sweet Potato Scallop Dumpling.
It's gently sweet in layers from the sweet potato, scallops, and skin made with rice flour and beetroot. The fresh sweet scallop added an underlying mild savouriness making the soft dumpling a sweet savoury treat - a taste profile which Cantonese favour for generations. The short stem of asparagus added a bit of soft crunch and its own sweetness.
Pineapple, Barbecued Pork Bun - the quintessentially Hong Kong 菠蘿包 Bo Lo Bao.
A delicious rendition of one of my favourite Chinese pastries. The bread is pillowy airy soft with a crustier crumbly layer on top which is shaped like pineapple skin, hence the name pineapple bun.
The fluffy crusty bread was sweetish buttery wrapping a blend of cubed char siew and pineapple pulp. The tender sweetish savoury char siew combined well with the sweet and subtly tangy softly crunchy pineapple cubes.
It's an atas (premium) Bo Lo Bao with real pineapple and kurobuta char siew.
Steamed Squid, Garlic on a bed of dong fun (glass noodles).
This was simplicity itself. Sliced fresh squid topped with fried chopped garlic, steamed and served on a bed of soft slippery boiled glass noodles. It's the best way to appreciate the natural flavours of fresh squid (other than sashimi style).
Ya Ge Crispy Chicken.
Ya Ge's crispy chicken is wonderful. I mean, all of us have eaten more than enough chicken before, yet this one still managed to delight us. Chef Tse specially selected only 2.5kg weight free range birds because they are meatier and have more flavour.
The caramelised skin was crispy and tasted toasty savoury. The layer of fat below was savoury sweet. The juicy tender white meat was sweetish savoury. It's a winning savoury sweet blend overlaid with the crispy skin's savoury toasty flavour. Best crispy chicken that I've tasted for a very long time.
Roast Goose, Crab Meat, Taro, Chinese Sausage, Dried Seafood, Jasmine Rice, Stir Fried.
Like Chef Tse's fine dishes, service at Ya Ge is a picture of quiet, understated, elegant, model of finesse. The staff portions the large pot of Yan Ge fried rice into small bowls for us.
It's a playful jumble of flavours and textures which all come complementarily together into a coherent savoury sweet, soft tender nutty comforting delicious classic Cantonese staple. That's a mouthful - I mean the words.... 😄
Lemongrass, Ai-yu Crystal Jelly, Aloe Vera.
A popular Taiwanese cold dessert. Ya Ge's version which I prefer, is light and slightly firmer than most. The dominant flavour is sweet in layers with a bit of refreshing zest and fruity fragrance.
Egg Tarts, there will always be egg tarts.
Bite size, crumbly flaky buttery cup filled with eggy sweet soft custard.
Ya Ge is the place in Taipei for familiar Cantonese cuisine done exceptionally well with quality Taiwanese produce. Chef Tse also has Cantonese and Taiwanese fusion dishes which you can check out like lobster done 三杯鸡 "Three Cups Chicken" style. Ask the helpful staff, they will be most happy to advise you. Service at Ya Ge is impeccable.
Disclosure: Please note that this was an invited tasting.
Restaurant name: Ya Ge 雅閣
Address: No. 158, DunHua N Rd, Songshan District, Taipei City, Taiwan 10548 (Ya Ge is on the 3rd floor of Mandarin Oriental Hotel)
GPS: 25°03'20.7"N 121°32'52.2"E 🌐 25.055739, 121.547835
Tel: +886 2 2715 6888
Hours: Lunch 12:00 noon - 3:00 pm | Dinner 6:00pm - 10:00pm
Date visited: 6 Sep 2019