Friday, February 17, 2012

Lao Ren Cha goes Lowbrow at Modern Toilet

This chain of bathroom-themed restaurants is nothing new - certainly old news - but it's new for me. Readers in Taiwan won't be surprised: many of them will have already eaten at one. So, I'm posting this more for family and friends reading from abroad, who are more likely to raise their eyebrows at a restaurant whose theme is "toilets".

Yes, you sit on toilets with strange-looking lids. Yes, the tables are glass-covered sinks or bathtubs. Yes, the food comes in toilet-shaped plateware. The food on offer is basic pseudo-Western fusion (think hot pots, meat-with-rice dishes, spagettis and gratin-inspired dishes, Japanese curry) and is thoroughly mediocre. Perfectly edible but I'm not going to be writing an actual culinary-based review of the place anytime soon.

 What I loved is that so many people seemed to be eating there non-ironically. Now, I can't know that for sure, and Brendan's comment was "Jenna, that's a pretty big assumption to make without much evidence. Considering how hard it would be to eat at Modern Toilet non-ironically, you better have something to back it up when you assert that that's what someone does."

And yes, in the back corner of the photo above, that is a gold-toned poo coil adorning the railing. And yes, below I am sitting next to a faucet fixture attached to the wall (obviously, it doesn't work). Also I wanted to show off my new haircut. I totally look like a college student! In my twenties everyone thought I looked older than I was. In my early 30s, everyone seems to think I look younger than I am. The acne doesn't help.

We decided to go much at the last minute: we wanted to meet a friend for dinner and she was in Zhongshan - but we wanted a not-too-tiny restaurant that we could linger in that would be suited to a small group and has real full meals on offer.

Zhongshan (I'm talking about the area immediately around Zhongshan station, not the entire district) has three kids of restaurants: 

1.) Cafes - great atmosphere, perfect for a coffee or other drink or a dessert, good for small groups and lingering, but generally overpriced, under-portioned and middling food.

2.) Great restaurants that cater to large groups - Celestial Kitchen (天廚) and 龍都酒樓 are in this group. I've eaten at both and they're both fantastic, but you really need to be going there with six people or more. I'll be posting a review of the latter restaurant soon.

3.) Hole-in-the-wall local joints with card tables and disposable chopsticks with great food but lacking a lingering atmosphere.

There's also Ali Baba Indian Kitchen, but we had dinner there less than a week ago.

Then I realized that Jiantan was on the same MRT line and that I'd never been to Modern Toilet, despite having lived in Taiwan for 5 1/2 years. We wouldn't escape uninspiring food, but I'd be able to tick a cultural establishment (I say that half-ironically) off my list. I mean, the place regularly receives global attention and I am asked fairly often by friends in other countries if I've eaten there. It's always a surprise when I say "no". 

So, we went, and it was pretty much exactly as we expected. I had "Korean kimchi hot pot" (about as good as I expected). Brendan had Japanese curry (about as good as he expected). Cathy had some sort of chicken dish with rice (about as good as she expected).

The most famous menu item at Modern Toilet is the poo-coil like soft-serve chocolate ice cream in an Asian-style toilet shaped bowl.

It sure looks the part, but it's really not that good. But, you know, I can now say I've been there, done that, and I don't need to go back unless visitors from abroad are really excited about it.

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