Eat + Drink

Why This Wabi-Sabi-Inspired Café May Be Taipei’s Most Closely Guarded Secret

Whether you tuck into spicy mala pasta or a tangy lotus root salad, Xiang Se will delight the senses. (Photos: Sean Marc Lee/ VSCO)

Cafés are nothing new in Taipei. Indeed, the idea of stopping for a coffee break has become an integral part of Taiwanese culture.

Like hundreds of other establishments around the city, Xiang Se serves coffee, tea and a selection of light food. But things are done a little differently around here.

Nestled in the Zhongzheng District, a dilapidated, almost-forgotten neighborhood on the west side of otherwise modernizing Taipei, Xiang Se feels like one of the city’s most closely guarded secrets. Why?

Taipei

Taipei

The only way to eat and drink here is to make a reservation. Sitting behind a nondescript door, this is an establishment of rough-hewn wooden tables topped with vintage candelabras.

Inside, the staff is eye-catching in their white linen uniforms.

Taipei

Taipei

Brainchild of Jin Chen, a local purveyor of vintage French furniture and a catering and food design team, to dine at Xiang Se is to enter an idealized realm.

It’s rigged out to look a little like rural Provence but it’s also informed by a wabi-sabi aesthetic – a Japanese design philosophy that espouses the beauty of imperfection.

Taipei

Taipei

On the menu is a blend of Italian, French and Taiwanese cuisines with choices on the constantly rotating menu including spicy mala pasta garnished with betel nut flower and a tangy summer salad of lotus root, asparagus and apple.

Be sure to check out the drinks, too. There’s a wonderful concoction of red guava, garnished with a single chili pepper and Amber Ale from local brewers 55th Street.

Where to Find Xiang Se

Address: 1-2 Hukou Street, Zhongzheng District, Taipei

Marriott Hotels explored Xiang Se as part of a collaboration with VSCO’s photographers to create city guides for Paris; Berlin; Cairo; Taipei; and Portland, Ore. Check out: A Full Guide on How to Travel Brilliantly in Taipei.