Saturday, October 27, 2012

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Astoria, Russian restaurant in Taipei

10/27/2012 Taiwan Explorer
Taipei's famous Russian bakery and restaurant

Read the same review in Chinese>>

I'm not sure, if Astoria 明星咖啡西餐 is the only Russian restaurant and bakery in Taipei, but it's definitely the first one. It's open since 1949 and that's for a Western-styled restaurant in Taiwan a very long time. I had no idea about it until we passed by with my wife a few months ago during our Zhongzheng walk. We didn't go inside at that time, but a while ago we headed there to have lunch. It was a very good experience.

A restaurant with tradition

The restaurant was the first Western-style bakery in Taipei and opened one month before Chiang Kai-shek resumed presidency of the Republic of China and relocated to Taiwan. During the cold war it was very popular with American soldiers, scholars, artists and even the later president Chiang Ching-kuo visited quite few times with his wife Faina, who was actually Belorussian and dined here quite often. You can read more about the rich history of this restaurant on their homepage and Wikipedia. You will see a lot of pictures of the past glory in the restaurant, so it might not only feel like visiting a restaurant, it will feel like visiting a Taipei, that doesn't exist anymore.

Let me share my photos with you from September 2011:

The restaurant is located just the opposite of Taipei's City God Temple 城隍廟.

The signboard saying Cafe Astoria Confectionary marks the spot.

The confectionary is on the ground floor, the restaurant is on the first.

The cakes were tempting, but we decided to go up.

Inside Astoria restaurant

The interior is simple, it has a feeling of familiarity.

The dining hall is not so big, the atmosphere was pleasant.

An empty chair waiting to be occupied.

The menu and food

You can see, that most lunches start above 400 NTD, which is not considered cheap in Taiwan. With something above 12 Euros, this is pretty normal price in East Europe and perhaps even seen as cheap in richer Western countries. All these offers include a salad, a soup with bread, the main dish, the dessert and the drink. I think if you do the math, you realize, that it's a pretty good deal.

This was my salad - pretty good.

Wife's salad - even better.

I got soup, which was very tasty. You can see bread and some butter offered with it, a very nice combination.

My wife chose the "borsch" and she liked it. It was the first time for both of us to try it.

I chose the "Astoria roasted pork knuckle with sauerkraut" and it was yummy, but... just too much meat. If half of the meat was changed to potatoes or sauerkraut, this would've been a perfect dish. I finished half and brought the rest home.

Black tea, coffee and cakes for dessert - it tasted ok, nothing special.

This is their most famous cake named 俄羅斯軟糖, literally "Russian soft candy". It's very tasty. You can buy it in their confectionary.

The verdict

The food was definitely tasty, but since I am not Russian, I've no idea how original the taste was. The staff is really professional and they make sure, that you always get your water, but they are not intrusive. The atmosphere is very pleasant, but I didn't really have the feeling, that so many famous artists and politicians frequented here. The historical ambiance is not felt that strongly, despite a lot of memorabilia from the past on display. We paid around 1000 NTD for the both of us and that's not something we would do every day. Keep in mind, that you can have lunch in Taipei for a fraction of this sum. Was the food worth the money? Yes and no. I certainly don't regret to go there and I will probably return for another meal some time in the future, but I wasn't that impressed to be a regular guest there. 500 NTD per meal does make you consider other options and there are aplenty in Taipei. I had a somewhat similar experience in Wendel's German restaurant.

English name: Astoria
Chinese name: 明星咖啡西餐
Romanization: Míngxīng kāfēi xīcān
Address: 台北市中正區武昌街一段5號
Phone number: (02) 2381 55 89
Opening hours: 10.00 - 22.00
Money per person: Around 500 NT$
Need to book: No.
Find location: Google maps