Yu Shan Ge is an upmarket vegetarian restaurant with locations in Taipei and Kaohsiung. It's a fancy place, but I went at lunch dressed like, well, myself.
Remember as a kid when a grown up would say “that's what you're wearing?” You were only five and were really proud to have the autonomy to dress yourself but didn't yet understand societal expectations of how individual items of clothing went together. I'm still at that stage.
So. Tennis shoes or sport sandals? Well, shit. Nothing says sophistication like massive shoe bows, so I splurged on a pair of shiny black ornamental flats to complement the nicest outfit I could muster: a ten year old black skirt and a hand-me-down t-shirt of the same colour, both with minimal holes.
Anyway, they didn't even look me up and down before showing me to my table.
Immediately after I was seated, someone was at my side to explaining the menu, asking about my food interests. Suddenly she disappeared, returning quickly to explain that everyone now knew whatever I ordered must be vegan. A diner at a neighbouring table also offered to help with anything I needed (I thanked her and said I would probably just stare at her food since she ordered something different to me). At one point a chef attended my table to offer me another dish on the house. Naturally I accepted, since I'd only enjoyed ten courses thus far.
The service is impeccable, they are incredibly accommodating for vegans, the food is outstanding, and a lot of times they serve courses alongside bonsai trees or rock gardens. Someone clipped a bib around my neck when I sat down.
It's a well oiled operation for the elite. I could see into a corner of the kitchen and there was no mania during a busy lunch hour with diners consuming multi course meals. The only issue I found was sometimes courses overlapped, with one being laid on the table before the current was finished. But that didn't bother me since it appeased my food-hoarding sensibilities.
I don't know a lot of what I ate, which frustrated me and brought the realisation that I've been hanging too much in my Southeast Asian comfort zone where I can easily identify most flavours. Anyway, here's my best guess at what I was served:
- Smooth smoked daikon soup with tangy sweet rose pesto and rose petals
- Okra and salty black sauce.
- Ball of rolled vegetable noodles (also okra I think – very slimy) with sweet vinegar sauce.
- Sesame agar jelly with mushrooms and vegetables.
- Black grains of something like edible rocks.
- Mashed yellow something with a smidge of ginger and a honeysuckle taste.
- Half a cherry tomato stuffed with what tasted like floral, salty candy mash.
- White flower of something that was like a mix between daikon and konjac, served with ginger wasabi.
- Tiny mushroom stuffed with unsalty olive and other things (you're welcome for so much specificity).
- Ginger plum jelly with mint.
- Hot goo ball. Actually I think it was goma dofu (Japanese sesame tofu made from kudzu), fried and served in ginger soy sauce. The texture was ace – smooth sesame coated with a slightly crispy shell. This dish was served with a tree and some rocks.
- Sticky rice ball dumpling that looked like a watermelon. Filled with vegetables and tasted hot, salty, and peppery.
- Baked daikon topped with white miso and served with peppery pickle and tomato relish, matcha powder, pine nuts, and fruit. Outstanding.
- Stringy mushroom mock meat with sweet and spicy szechuan peppercorn gravy. Five spice at play. Served with lightly steamed greens, taro chip, fruit sushi, an orange fruit that tasted of ketchup and soap, and a sweet, tart, red fruit.
- Smoked sweet vinegar drink served in a rock garden.
- Wound noodles fried in a clump, served in a mild Japanese curry sauce. Creamy and crunchy.
- Mushroom broth with cashew, mushroom, daikon, date, and perhaps yuba.
- Complimentary dish: rice with xo sauce. Spicy mushroom shreds, seaweed, and chili.
My unsolicited advice is to order a tasting menu for a sample of ten or so dishes. Prices start at around £20 per person, increasing with complexity of food. Make a reservation easily on their website to ensure you get a table. My meal was £40, an experience that would come with a price tag at least three or four times higher in London. At least.
Many thanks to Caitlin of The Vegan Word for recommending this restaurant to me.
Yu Shan Ge Taipei