Monday, October 27, 2008

Cho West (Red House Theater) - Part II

...continued from the previous post:

We didn't have time - and just weren't in the area - when Red House reopened for real at the end of the summer. It wasn't until yesterday that we had the chance to go.

We also discovered, behind the theater, that the old row of shops and such has been completely re-done with outdoor cocktail bars and eateries...some of them nice enough to rival the best Xinyi has to offer. Definitely worth a look on a Saturday night. The outdoor seating is in a brick cobbled area with views of Red House, has dramatic lighting and generally looks like a great - if expensive - place to hang out.

In place of the old ad-hoc cafe, they've opened a classy new place called Cho West (町西). The prices are about the same as the old cafe, which means "expensive, but not out of this world". NT 120-200 for coffee and espresso drinks, 190-400 for snacks and meals, a range of tea priced depending on quality, and alcohol (sake, plum wine and other non-Western drinks) for 190 or so per glass, 390-490 for a bottle. Orders of black coffee come with a free slice of cake, and if you order the set they'll let you change the set drinks with only minimal extra charge.

Why are they called "Cho West" when the first character is "Ding"? I have no idea. We asked the waitress, and she didn't know either.

I'll be honest - I didn't want to like Cho West, but it won me over despite its sleekness. Old-style Taiwanese music ebbs and flows below the crowd noise, and the leather chairs are minimalist and yet still comfortable. The wooden tables and traditional-style cups and pots they use for tea lend a softer air to a place that would normally be too chi-chi for me. It actually suits the architecture and color scheme of Red House far more than the old cafe did (though I still miss the old cafe. It practically defined my first year inTaipei).

I didn't expect much from the food, and yet again I was won over. The coffee was legitimately good - I got a coffee with Bailey's (a good deal for genuine alcohol in one's coffee at NT180 - other alcohol is available) and Brendan got black coffee.

When his cake came - chocolate - again I expected disappointment. It looked so austere, so fashionably non-gooey. But looks can be deceiving, and it was not only quite chocolately but also soft...almost cloud-like.

My set meal came with soup - and yet again, I balked as one of those creamy soups so popular in set meals here was set down before me. I'm used to these being horrid; you know, watered cream and canned vegetables, and you need to add half a shaker of pepper to get any flavor at all.

But again, it was not so. The cream was real cream, and it was enhanced with real soup stock, not water. Mushrooms were...can this be? Actual mushrooms! From the ground, not a can!

It also came with "appetiser plum tea" - a cold, cherry-blossom colored tea with ice served in a bowl-like cup. At first a bit too sour for my taste, it quickly grew on me. I finished it off before my coffee came.

The smoked chicken bacon bagel was fairly standard for Taipei - a raisin-and-corn salad (?!), toasted bagel and diced chicken with ketchup and pepper. Not particularly special, but not bad. The bacon it came with was quite lovely - thick and savory but not too fatty.

The exhibit is open again, but is also a lot better-designed than before (excepting a few English errors...apparently the old market at Red House used to sell cosmetics, umbrellas, fruits, vegetables and deserts), and the gift shop is back, though smaller. I'm sad to see the fish gone, though.

Performances - in various styles ranging from Chinese or Taiwanese opera to more modern plays - are still shown upstairs. You can pick up a schedule (Chinese only but someone will help you read it if needed) at the information desk.

Definitely worth a stop, especially if you're in Ximen on a hot day and want a break. Also an excellent place to bring a date or visiting friends/relatives to show them a classy - but not gaudy - side of Taipei.

Red House is off Exit 1 of Ximen MRT to the left of Ximending.


David said...

The "Cho" might come from Japanese, but that is just a guess.

Do you know Fong Da Coffee not far away from there in Chengdu Road? It is one of Taipei's oldest coffee houses and has excellent coffee and 1950s decor.

Jenna said...

Yep - I've been to Fong Da several times. I love their brew but do have to add a lot of cream to it as it's quite strong.

I'd say Fong Da's basic coffee is better, but the food (I remember they have a selection of sundaes among other things) isn't. The prices aren't much different.