Photos: Restaurant A, Blu Koi

Da’an in eastern Taipei has a reputation for being an affluent, upmarket district. It is home to the busiest shopping belt in the city — Zhongxiao East Road Section 4. It is also known for having a high concentration of high-end residences along its wide, tree-lined avenues, channelling the elegant former French Concession in Shanghai, and fine-dining restaurants tucked into the alleys behind. 

How bourgeois is Da’an? When cult beauty brand L’Officine Universelle Buly 1803, a 19th-century French apothecary’s outlet restored by the founder of cult candle brand Cire Trudon, opened its first standalone store overseas, Taipei was the chosen city.

The Taipei outpost of Officine Universelle Buly is on a leafy boulevard in Da’an, close to Da’an Forest Park, the largest park in Taipei and the city’s answer to New York’s Central Park.

During my return to the capital in December 2022 post-pandemic — just two months after Taiwan lifted COVID-19 travel restrictions and reopened, I was hardly surprised by the number of new shops, restaurants, and bars that have sprouted over the district in just a few years. After all, Da’an is the place to be.

Rongjin Gorgeous Times is a row of Japanese colonial houses that served as accommodation for the staff of the former Taihoku Prison. (Photo: Rongjin Gorgeous Times)

During that visit, my biggest discovery in Da’an was Rongjin Gorgeous Time, a beautifully restored row of former Japanese colonial houses that used to be the accommodation for Taihoku Prison staff built in 1905. Rongjin Gorgeous Times opened in September 2022 as a charming row of shops and cafes that attract locals and tourists alike for resembling machiya houses in Kyoto because of their low-beamed wood buildings and lattice windows.

Businesses like Simple Kaffe, a chain of speciality cafes and restaurants like Kyomachi Yamamotoya, which specialises in milarashi dango, draw queues on weekends.  

Last September, I returned to Taipei again. To my delight, there are more new openings in Da’an to be discovered. It is a district that is constantly morphing. Here are my top five picks for places to check out in Da’an. 

“A” is more than a restaurant

Alain Huang, chef-owner of Restaurant A. (Photo: Restaurant A)

Many in Singapore would have heard of Raw Taipei, the two-Michelin-starred restaurant owned by André Chiang, who used to own his eponymous restaurant in Bukit Pasoh, which he closed in 2018. Foodies would know that the man who held the fort at Raw was Alain Huang.

After seven years at Raw, Huang left at the pandemic’s start. In September, Huang opened his first solo act in his 20-year career.

Restaurant A’s Saumon a l’oseille. (Photo: Restaurant A)

“A” is a swanky restaurant that occupies the whole of a 5,400 sq ft unit with a private lift in Taipei’s latest high-end mixed-use complex in Da’an, Shinkong Mitsukoshi Diamond Towers. While Raw is known for its cheeky interpretations of Taiwanese street food, Huang’s restaurant serves fine-dining French with Asian inflexions. More than a restaurant, guests will also find a sort of art gallery here. 

Apart from some art pieces, Huang has collaborated with 11 renowned Taiwanese artists and designers to create something, like the staff uniform, a painting, or even crockery and room fragrance. The sensorial experience culminates in the exquisite 13- or 16-course menu.

Besides lunch and dinner, for which reservations are a must, the welcome bar “Alcoholiday”, which specialises in champagne, also accepts walks-in (subject to availability) for snacks and drinks. Even if you just want to check out the welcome bar, we recommend making a reservation, as “A” is undisputedly the hottest table in Taipei right now. 

Tote something original and aboriginal

Kamaro’an House’s interiors are simple and dreamy — just like the product designs. (Photo: Kamaro’an House)

Kamaro’an House, which specialises in woven and naturally dyed bags and household items made with aboriginal methods, opened its first brick-and-mortar boutique in a historic residence in Da’an last year. The brand was founded by designers Chang Yun-fann and Shane Liu in 2015.  

Everything is handmade by aboriginal craftsmen and women from the Amis tribe in eastern Taiwan using sedge and driftwood collected from the coast. The items have a simple yet chic aesthetic — just like the interiors of the shop with its stucco walls.

Besides lamps, the bags are also hot-selling items. Most of them feature distinctive Amis weaving techniques. One of the bestsellers is a cylindrical leather satchel inspired by the bamboo water bottle that Amis elders still use today. 

Drink among pine and cypress

Inside Bar Pine. (Photo: Bar Pine)

Wenchang Street, traditionally known as “furniture and interiors street” in Taipei, has changed recently. Some stylish bars and restaurants have popped up between old, dusty furniture stores and interior design consultancies. One bar that has recently sprouted here is Bar Pine, which took over the premises of a woodwork shop. 

To pay tribute to the space’s history and preserve nature’s gifts, founder and head bartender Ariel Hou and her designers have kept the branches of the old cypress and pine trees that had grown inside the shop space and broken through the floors to reach the top.

They are now part of the interiors and have even inspired the bar’s name. Hou, who took one of the four final places in Bacardi Legacy in Taiwan in 2020, has designed a menu that celebrates ingredients commonly used in Taiwanese cuisine. 

Some examples are the shitake mushroom, perilla leaf, bitter gourd, and bamboo shoots. Hou changes the menu every six months. The Bitter Gourd/Plum and Cedar Liqueur won in the past season for its refreshing, nuanced flavours and creamy finish.

Exquisite omakase

The aged tuna with avocado sauce and mottled egg is a delicious mess. (Photo: Blu Koi)

Da’an has a reputation for being an enclave for fine-dining and also an incubator for restaurants with Michelin-starred ambitions. Da’an is also where some of the best Japanese restaurants in Taiwan are. Why eat Japanese in Taiwan?

The 50-year Japanese occupation has left a lasting influence on Taiwan. Locals’ expectations and chefs’ skills run high. Therefore, one can expect the Japanese restaurants in the city to meet high standards. Taipei is one of the few cities outside Japan where you will find Michelin-starred Japanese restaurants helmed by non-Japanese chefs. 

While Blu Koi, which opened in end-2021, has yet to garner a star, it is worth making a reservation here. Chef Lee Chong Qi whips up a 16-course omakase menu that dazzles. The restaurant has a special “himuro” used to age fish. I was pleasantly surprised by the bold yet fresh flavours of 10-day-aged chutoro.

It is tender, umami-rich, sweet, and tart simultaneously. The “Caramel Tamagoyaki” is a memorable end to the savoury courses. The traditional Japanese egg castella with white fish is torched with sugar for a finish reminiscent of a crème flan.

Where to stay

A mostly white palette in Kimpton Da An means a clean and chic look. (Photo: Kimpton Da An Hotel)

The opening of Kimpton Da An Hotel in 2019 was the first international luxury hotel opening in Taipei in recent years and also the last one since. Besides the Shangri-la Far Eastern Taipei, Kimpton Da An is the only other international luxury hotel in Da’an (although a handful of luxury boutique hotels are owned and operated by local hospitality groups).

Four years on, this hotel in a boho chic but quiet quarter in Da’an, less than 10 minutes from the famous shopping belt of Zhongxiao East Road Section 3, is still the place to be seen. With a mostly white palette in the form of white tiles and ceramic sculptures in the lobby, the hotel’s interiors are stylish and clean-cut.

Blonde wood panels and teal walls create a high-end residential feel in the rooms. On any given day, expect to see trendy local digital nomads on staycations with their furbabies in the pet-friendly hotel.

There’s even a pet zone in the bar area at the restaurant, The Tavernist. Serving a street-food-inspired menu, the restaurant is helmed by James Sharman, who counts Noma in Copenhagen among the restaurants where he cut his teeth.