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Taiwan Village Review

Helen Best-Shaw finds a diamond a rough

Written by . Published on November 15th 2011.


Taiwan Village Review

JEWELS turn up in all sorts of unexpected places; our latest diamond of a discovery is Taiwan village, situated on an unprepossessing stretch of the Lillie Road, just east of North End Road, at the point at which West Kensington becomes Fulham. One really doesn't expect to find good cooking a stone's throw from the less than imposing intersection between the two roads; our primary annoyance is that they've been open for the last eight years, but to us the restaurant is a recent discovery.

In my notes for the evening, against the duck I've just put “Mmmmmmmmmmmm,” which says it all really.

This little patch of London is a bit of a culinary dry spot; the nearest real competition we can think of is the Harwood Arms, obviously a very different institution. Despite the name, Taiwan Village does more than just Taiwanese food, they also specialise in Hunanese and Szechuan food. The chef, Mr. Hunang, trained in Taiwan and has been cooking in London since the mid-’80s.

Décor is wood heavy, with many carvings on the wall. The music played brings epic films to mind with its Chinese-influenced score played on Western instruments, but it certainly isn't intrusive and actually adds to the atmosphere. We had a table at the back of the restaurant, seeming to have been designated as our birthday table.

This visit was to celebrate my birthday, so we ordered the chef's banquet (£26.50 per head), a tasting menu from the best of the á la carte menu. We were given the option of how hot we would like our meal and so we chose medium. Giving the chef a free reign is by far the best option; the element of surprise and number of dishes adds a certain frisson to the evening. Many of the dishes are available on the á la carte menu (prices are from this menu).

 

Taiwan Village Pork Soup Pork Soup

 The opening volley from the kitchen was a wooden mug of pork soup – a citrusy bouillon with pork meatballs. The sour overtones blended well with the pork. We both rated the dish, and an excellent way to start the evening.

 

Taiwan Village Nest Of Imperial Jewels Nest of Imperial Jewels

It was followed by a range of ‘proper’ first courses; an excellent French bean tempura (£5.30), steamed pork dumplings (£4.90), prawns and vegetables on a lettuce leaf – which goes under the rather interesting name of ‘a nest of Imperial jewels’ (£6.50), deep-fried scallops and finally, soft shell crabs. The two standouts for us were the bean tempura with spring onions, garlic and chilli, garnished with deep-fried onions, and the crabs. The tempura was really excellent salty and crunchy, with the heat and garlic coming through nicely and an excellent, light batter. 

Taiwan Village Tempura French Beans Tempura French Beans

With the soft shell crabs, we detected a hint of Szechuan pepper with its zingy tingle; the crispy batter happily lacking the anaemic powderness that we've had at other restaurants.

Taiwan Village Soft Shelled CrabSoft Shelled Crab

Next came the Chinese restaurant staple of crispy duck pancakes, which I always love. What added the edge to this version was that the pancakes were made in house; the lack of factory uniformity and extra freshness added a lot to this old favourite. A welcome addition was that the homemade hoisin sauce, way more that just soy sauce and sugar. In my notes for the evening, against the duck I've just put “Mmmmmmmmmmmm,” which says it all really.

Finally, we were presented with a seemingly immense array of main courses: chilli chicken, lamb, cinnamon beef, tuna (which shook up the taste buds with oodles of ginger, coriander and chilli) and clams. As with the first course, there wasn't really a weak dish among the collection, but there were standouts in terms of the chicken and the beef, both showing good depth of flavour, inventive use of spicing rather than just slinging in a bit more chilli. The main courses on the menu range from about £6 to £10.

Taiwan Village - TunaTuna

The wine list is strongly French and very reasonable, with many bottles in the £15 to £20 range; we went for a bottle of organic Gewürztraminer, which held up manfully against the strong flavours. Sake, beer and Chinese liqueurs are all on offer too.

Service is gracious and willing, although there is a bit of a language barrier.

It's difficult to pigeonhole Taiwan Village; it's not just for dates, or a pre-pub visit with a group of friends although that would be an excellent experience as you could sample the full menu. I suspect clientele are largely local, but with a good number of Chinese diners too.

The set feast that we had is the best way of getting a range of dishes for just two people, but you certainly need to turn up hungry. We rolled out the door, feeling as though we wouldn't have to eat for at least another week. Like most places worth more than one visit, it's not about a concept, it's about the food, and we're certainly keen to go again. The only cloud on the horizon is whether the possible storms from the redevelopment of Earl's Court will significantly affect their business.

Verdict? Well worth a journey.

 

Taiwan Village

85 Lillie Road
London, SW6 1UD

 

Rating:        14/20

Breakdown:  8/10 food
                      4/5 service
                      3/5 ambience

 

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Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, cafes against the best cafes. Following on from this the scores represent: 1 – 5 saw your leg off and eat it, 6 – 9 get a DVD, 10 – 11 if you must, 12 – 13 if you’re passing, 14 – 15 worth a trip, 16 –17 very good, 17 – 18 exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 perfect. More than 20: We get carried away.

 

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