Last updated: 03:00 PM ET, Thu November 05 2015

A Taipei Hotel Puts a Unique Spin on Spectator Dining

Hotel & Resort | Josh Lew | November 05, 2015

A Taipei Hotel Puts a Unique Spin on Spectator Dining

Photo courtesy of Hyatt

Having “show kitchens” in restaurants is nothing new. These open cooking areas can be found in every type of eatery, from fine dining venues to short-order joints. Many places make the fact that patrons can get a glimpse of their food being prepared a major selling point. You’ve probably been to a couple of those restaurants where a knife-flipping chef cuts and cooks on a grill right at your table. Even one of the world’s most famous gourmet restaurants, Thomas Keller’s French Laundry, has windows in its temporary kitchen so that passersby can see what’s cooking.

Take the concept to a new level

The Grand Hyatt Taipei is taking the concept of spectator restaurants and making it bigger. After major renovations, the hotel opened a ground-floor restaurant called Café. This 290-seat establishment employs some three dozen chefs. These cooks do not work in one central kitchen. Rather, they are spread out around the restaurant in smaller “show kitchens.”

Because of Café's location, on the ground floor of the hotel and not far from one of the city’s biggest tourist draws, Taipei 101, it is the most accessible of the Hyatt’s dozen restaurants, bakeries and lounges. The modern surroundings have a smart-casual vibe, and Café at least tries to give the appearance of authenticity: diners will see Indian chefs prepare tandoori chicken, for example.

A visual and edible buffet

Café features buffet-style dining, so patrons can watch the food being prepared and then actually try all of it without being confined to one or two choices off the menu. In addition to its Japanese, Chinese and Indian sections, there are stations to get squeezed-while-you-wait juices and just-frosted bakery items.

Café is getting a lot of the Hyatt’s PR energy at the moment, but the hotel is home to an even more-famous eatery. Pearl Liang, known for its Cantonese dim sum and gourmet specialties like roast goose, is often included on Taipei’s “best of” lists.

Head to the street if you want to involve all five senses

The concept of having small show kitchens is interesting, but Café is not the only place in Taipei where you can be a spectator as your food is prepared. Despite the presence of innumerable sleek restaurants in the center of Taipei, the street food scene is still going strong all around the city.

If you want to see someone prepare your food, you can head to a night market or nearby street food stall. Here, for better or worse, there are no ventilation fans or glass separating the kitchen from the diner. However, like Café, you can wander from cooking space to cooking space, tasting different specialties after watching them being prepared.

Unlike the indoor eatery, though, eating on the street involves all five senses. You can't escape hearing the street chatter and sizzling woks, and you will end up eating with your hands (and sometimes grabbing what you want while it is still in its raw form and handing it to the “chef” to be prepared).

Café might not have a totally unique concept, but it is an interesting twist on spectator restaurants. However, you can get the same level of access on the street, where the smoke, smells, splatter and noise make for an even more visceral eating experience.

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