There’s never been a better time to visit the Taiwanese capital, which is this year’s World Design Capital to boot. Here are a few additions to the savvy traveler’s Taipei checklist.
While the palatial Mandarin Oriental is still considered the most luxurious lodgings in town, Taipei has no shortage of worthy independent properties. Opening its doors last September, Hotel Proverbs is the latest in a clutch of design-driven boutique hotels popping up in the hip Da’an District. Designer Ray Chen has created an eclectic 42-room industrial hotel dripping in rich copper walls, leathers, and warm woods, with curious touches including the mounted head of a springbok on each floor. The downstairs restaurant serves up its own line of Australian wagyu, while the East End bar, one of the few in the city with a decent outdoor deck, plies customers with drinks such as duck fat–washed bourbon or añejo tequila.
Helmed by chef Kai Ho—who returned to his native Taiwan after two stints at Michelin-starred restaurants in Singapore—Taïrroir made its debut in May. Its portmanteau name speaks to the unusual blend of deconstructed Taiwanese cuisine and French cooking with seasonal ingredients. Signature dishes include a fresh take on eight-treasure duck and taro, which comes plated up with hot spring–boiled egg, sakura shrimp, and porcini powder. The restaurant interior pays tribute to Taiwan’s natural beauty, with undulating copper plates suspended from the ceiling that represent its mountains and ocean waves.
Neighboring Shoun RyuGin also champions local Taiwanese produce, this time combining it with fresh Japanese ingredients on six microclimate-backed seasonal menus. These can be paired with a range of exquisite teas and RyuGin’s own line of sakes from some of Japan’s master brewers. Be warned that the high-end kaiseki restaurant is an ultra-formal zone that does not allow children, T-shirts, and mobile phones.
For bold flavors and larger cuts of meat, head to Alexander’s Steakhouse in the heart of Da’an District. The first Asia spin-off of the eponymous Californian restaurant, Alexander’s has its own dry-aging room where New York steaks and Kobe-style tenderloins flown in from the United States are kept for 28 days before being served.
Wa-Shu is a stablemate of an increasingly long line of bespoke watering holes in the capital. The recently opened venue in Da’an is a magnet for guest bartender nights, and patrons flock to the intimate, dimly lit space for the hefty collection of Japanese whiskies, shochu, sake, and vodka infusions behind the bar.
Taipei is often derided for its low-slung utilitarian pillbox architecture. But not at 22 Design Studio’s new 22 work/shop in the central district of Zhongzheng, where the entire line pays tribute to commonplace construction materials. Here, a five-person team repurposes the hard, straight edges of the city into bespoke timepieces, writing tools, and jewellery. The almost unbreakable Contour Mechanical Pencil is as rigidly beautiful as it is durable, while other interesting pieces include earrings of marble, sapphire glass, high-density concrete, and stainless steel, along with concrete hand-shaped brass-and-leather watches.
Over in Songshan district, 3,co was set up by three young designers crafting contemporary high-end ceramics from a mixture of pigments and porcelain clay. Their flower vases, tea sets, and porcelain dishes are centered on Taoist nature-based themes.
Though intended to coincide with the city’s reign as World Design Capital 2016, the opening of the visually striking Taipei Performing Arts Center by OMA’s Rem Koolhaas and David Gianotten has been postponed to June next year. In the meantime, art enthusiasts have a plethora of places to visit, from the community-focused Angel Art Gallery facing Da’an Park to Aki Gallery, which showcases the work of emerging contemporary artists from both Taiwan and abroad.
This article originally appeared in the October/November print issue of DestinAsian magazine (“City Guides: Taipei”).