This luxury Mandarin Oriental Taipei hotel has, thinks the gal, come up with a first – but please say if this is wrong. Mario Cittadini, the Ferrari-loving chef of Bencotto restaurant, enticed here from The Regent Beijing – has just introduced a sharing plate, Treccia campana di bufala. What appears is an entire twisted – treccia – mozzarella, from Naples. It is brought, on a carving board on a tray, and carved table-side. You help yourself, from your table, and add, from the condiments presented, anchovies, sun-dried or fresh tomato, oregano and arugula, and Viola olive oil. Bliss…
All the Tony Chi-designed restaurants here make features of tables. At Bencotto, most of the tables are red leather – the china is white. The exception is the chef’s table, a big wood affair in a separate room. Up to ten can dine here, looking through into the working kitchen where everything is prepared from scratch. Someone must have delicately stuffed three mussels with ricotta for my main course, Viola-poached cod. The simple menu, on an A3 card, also suggests wines by the glass, say Tenuta dell’Ornellaia Le Volte Toscana 2010.
The red of the main tables, by the way, is picked up by the Berkel slicers, yes, plural. Top restaurants have a Berkel slicer, but this hotel has two (for ambidextrous workers?). Many chefs must have thanked Wilhelmus Adrianus van Berkel, 1860-1952, who thought up the slicer, and experimented until he devised a concave blade, precisely reproducing the hand, and a knife movement and moving plate that slides towards the blade – in 1918, first year of production, he sold eight slicers. And if you have a Berkel today which needs mending, Giorgio Maschi’s The World’s Best Slicers is ready to go.
I could eat again and again in Bencotto, though I would ration myself to treccia once a week. Next time I will look more closely at the restaurant’s adjacent glass-walled wine room, with a standing display of ornamental glass wine bottles. I am also looking forward to returning to the hotel’s French brasserie, COCO, where breakfast is highlighted by soft sounds of Edith Piaf and others of her genre. But COCO will be no more by my next visit. A new Parisian chef, Florence Dalia, formerly at Three On The Bund in Shanghai, is arriving, and COCO will become Café Un Deux Trois, which apparently allows ‘more stories’ (?).
But the room will remain. Honestly, the mirrored series of rooms, and library entrance, are unique (the only comparison that springs to mind is designer Yabu Pushelberg‘s lobby walkway at Ritz-Carlton Bal Harbour). Here at the six month-old luxury Mandarin Oriental Taipei hotel, there are many features that are rare, and stand out. Your newspaper comes, via a catflap, in gold leather-look pouch, and when you leave, you notice a tiny female bellboy, if that is not a contradiction in terms, in a grey bowler hat. To stand out, be different.