by Adrienne Shih
In recent years, Taipei has started on a path of artistic development. One example, Huashan 1914, is a shining beacon of the city’s new cultural era; a melange of art, food, and performance create the identity of this factory-turned space.
The building itself was a former wine factory, and was converted and renovated to its present state in 2007. Each individual section is comprised of open air spaces, high ceilings, and an influx of natural sunlight. What we love the most is that you truly can spend an entire day at Huashan: pick up lunch at one of many restaurants and cafes, browse shops displaying the finest of Taiwanese designers, or take a gander at a temporary exhibit housed in an old wine cellar. Whatever it is, Huashan is definitely a must visit for any visitor in the city. Below are our recommendations for exploring this cultural hub.
Another addition to the ever-so-popular VVG franchise, VVG Thinking is a two story bistro-cum-general store. The food stayed true to the company’s ethic: creamy risottos, light and refreshing salads, and innovative beverages and desserts. Upstairs, an entire store boasting cookbooks, vintage knick-knacks, and home ware is a beckoning call for any art or gastronomy lover.
Childhood-esque etchings line the brick walls of VVG Thinking.
This is a piece of a current exhibit in the restaurant. The artist creates little knit animals in a wide range of vibrant hues. Many other pieces are hanging up in the first floor dining area.
In addition to vintage goods, VVG Thinking also sells a wide range of cookbooks. Our favorites include guides by Heston Blumenthal, Gordon Ramsey, and Nigella Lawson, just to name a few.
VVG Thinking offers three types of lunch sets, and we chose one with 3 items for 880 NT. The salad pictured above is the pan-fried chicken and seared lemon salad with ginger-lemon vinaigrette. We loved the acidity of the dressing and paired well with the candied grapefruit. With the set came a cauliflower cream soup and a main of seafood in a white wine sauce; however, these two dishes were not particularly unique in any way.
The pan-fried sirloin steak and French fries with white truffle oil (580 NT). The steak was topped with Parmesan cheese and arugula, and the fries had a nice crispness and saltiness to them.
A standout dish was the scallop and mushroom risotto with white truffle oil (420 NT). Too often do we see over or undercooked risottos, a fate many a version of this Italian favorite is subjected to. This take on the classic was done perfectly.
The Marseilles fisherman soup (320 NT) was a strong and flavorful seafood broth that brought back images of a summer holiday in France. Running on the pricier side, this soup can be shared with another person.
LibLab is a bookstore that offers everything from novels to temporary tattoos. According to their Facebook page, LibLab is “an amalgamation of bookstore, restaurant, and event space, with the point of view of the publisher.” Next door, we found an adorable, kitchy sushi joint, which currently sits high on our list of new places to try out. Unfortunately, all the books in the store are in Chinese. More the reason to practice the language!
1914 Connection is one of many stores located on the Huashan grounds. Inside, a kooky amalgamation of pieces from Taiwanese artists are on display, including an adorable bunch of mismatched stuffed animals. Craving a cool treat? Pick up a scoop of gelato from the IceMan stand inside, which boasts unique flavors, such as a creamy black sesame.
Spot Huashan (光點華山電影館)
Our favorite movie joint, Spot Movies, has opened a theater in Huashan. Mirroring that of their famed Zhong Shan North Road branch, Spot Huashan has two viewing rooms, a cafe, and a well-stocked design store. We’re currently waiting to watch LENNONYC, Silver Linings Playbook, and Rust & Bone.
Cheeky post-it notes from Huashan’s Design store
by Catherine Shu
The VVG Group’s name is an acronym for “very, very good,” but over the last 14 years these three letters have come to embody a lifestyle philosophy for Taipei residents.
Since opening its first restaurant, VVG Bistro, the brand has expanded to include five establishments, including a bookstore (VVG Something), a bed and breakfast (VVG BB+B) and a children’s store (VVG Petite).
Next month, VVG will give bibliophiles and gourmands another reason to celebrate with the opening of VVG Thinking at Huashan 1914. Located in a converted factory, the two-level space will include a restaurant and a bookstore filled with plush, inviting chairs. Though every store has its own unique flavor, each features VVG’s trademark mix of vintage items and carefully selected products by independent designers, all showcased in a beautiful but relaxed environment. VVG partner Grace Wang is responsible for creating the ambiance of each place. In an interview with Taipei543, she talks about the beauty of everyday objects, meeting Thomas Keller and her team’s hunt for the perfect cupcake.
Catherine Shu, Taipei543: What was VVG’s brand philosophy at the beginning?
Grace Wang: It’s just the same as it is now. It’s about looking at what is good in life, and then translating that into products. We want to focus on delicious food. It’s all about creating a relaxed lifestyle.
543: You go abroad about once a month and you usually visit flea markets on you trips to find items for VVG’s stores. You’re very good at finding unusual items to bring back. How do you know what things work?
Wang: I think it’s an intuition I’ve developed, because I’ve had so much experience. When there is a lot of stuff, you have to be very fast, but you also have to look at everything closely. I can’t explain how I do it because it’s a sense.
Sometimes there are things everyone uses on a daily basis, but that no one pays attention to. I love to collect old measuring tools, chairs and lights. But each light has to have its own character. It doesn’t matter if it’s old or new.
543: Why do you like measuring tools so much?
Wang: A lot of older ones were made of metal, like iron or brass. I love the beauty of balance. There are so many scales: body scales, meat scales, post scales. Each has its own function, but all of them are beautiful to look at. Before there were digital items, each scale was specialized and simple.
543: I’ve heard that VVG Thinking will have an exhibition space just big enough to fit one person and one item.
Wang: Yes, the first floor is a restaurant, and as soon as you climb up the stairs to the second floor, you’ll see the space. There is often a distance between a work of art and a viewer. When you go to an exhibition, you might see 50 or 60 works at a time. You are really just observing and there is no sense of connection.
But I want people to be able to interact with art. In that space, it’s one person and one item. It doesn’t have to be a work of art. Maybe it’s something by a designer. But I will only place one object in it and it doesn’t matter how much time people spend in there: one hour, two hours, 10 minutes, even the entire day. It doesn’t matter. As soon as you walk in there, that space is yours.
Because it has glass walls, people can see you from the first floor. You become a piece of art, too. I think it will give people a chance to think about how they look at art. It’s not something you can do in a second. You have to go and spend time with it. You have to sit and really take it all in.
We’ll change the object every week, so if you love coming to the bookstore, you’ll see something new all the time.
543: Will shoppers be able to just sit and flip through books at VVG Thinking?
Wang: Yes, it won’t be like a chain bookstore, where you can’t sit, you can only shop. I want people to go in there and read. It’s more like a library.
543: Can you tell me about the design work you did before you joined VVG?
Wang: I worked at Kuan’s Living, designing their store displays and windows. Over six years, I must have done at least 100 displays. I was in charge of creating the store’s image. I worked 365 days a year, all over Taiwan. That was really my training.
It taught me how to look at interiors and how things are balanced, and how to create a sense of harmony with objects, whether they are big or small. I had to do everything so quickly. It trained me to be fast. If something is out of place, I can spot it in a second.
Harmony is extremely important. I like to mix-and-match things, but you can’t just do whatever you want, otherwise it won’t look good. I want to create a feeling of comfort. I don’t like things that look too deliberate.
543: You like to mix different materials: wood, glass, metal, fabric…
Wang: You have to know how to use materials. Wood is very warm and it makes you feel very comfortable. Glass is cold, but it carries the possibility of transformation. And fabric is what I love the most. I studied textiles, especially texture, and before I started at Kuan’s Living, I was a fabric buyer. I’d travel to factories all over Taiwan. I became very well versed in textiles.
543: Before working at VVG, did you have any experience in the restaurant industry?
Wang: No, I was very innocent, actually [laughs]. I thought it was just about eating and that anyone could open a café. Then I realized, wow, it’s an entire area of study. You don’t just make food.
Tasting food is extremely important and I spent a lot of time traveling to top restaurants with my partners and chefs. One chef we really wanted to meet was Thomas Keller. I asked my friend to get us a table at French Laundry. It turned out she was able to make reservations a lot more quickly than we had anticipated. So we hurried to get our visas ready and then we flew over to California.
The seven of us rented a car to drive to the restaurant. By the time we got there, the sun was already beginning setting. And then we saw Thomas Keller in the restaurant’s garden, harvesting potatoes. He’s very good looking and he was dressed in a snow-white chef’s uniform, holding this giant basket of potatoes. It was really moving, to see how he treated his restaurant like a way of life.
After our meal, we asked if we could tour the kitchen. Their manager took us in and, my God, I had never seen a cleaner kitchen in my life. Everything was so shiny. All the countertops had been cleared off. I felt I could just crawl on top of a counter and go to sleep. But the most moving thing was that even though it was already midnight, there were about 10 chefs still there, all studying the next day’s menu with Thomas Keller.
When we opened VVG Bon Bon, we wanted to find the perfect cupcakes. Of course cupcakes are American, and American cupcakes are huge and sweet, but that’s not something Taiwanese diners like. They want more delicate sweets. So we had to create a cupcake for Taiwanese people, but I wanted to preserve the original spirit of the cupcake.
Five or six of us traveled to Japan, because cupcakes are very popular there. Every day we’d run all over Tokyo eating cupcakes. We ate so many cupcakes we were almost sick. We’d cut each one open and study its construction, but we couldn’t find our ideal cupcake.
Finally, on the fourth day, we saw a magazine item about a bakery called N.Y. Cupcakes. It was located right next to a railroad and only had a kitchen, no dining area. We finally found the shop, but it hadn’t opened, so we stood outside and waited. Suddenly the window opened and cupcakes began to appear. They were made a batch at a time, and we bought each one as soon as it appeared. It was about to rain, trains kept rushing by, but as we ate, we realized we had found the ideal cupcake.
Then we came back and began to develop our own recipe. You have to use your own ideas and inspiration. Our cupcake is not the same as N.Y. Cupcakes’ but because of that experience, we understood what a delicious cupcake tastes like. We met someone with the same philosophy about food as us.
543: The VVG group has a unique brand philosophy and it was especially unusual in Taiwan’s retailing environment 14 years ago. Can you tell me about what challenges you have faced?
Wang: We continue to add new stores, but we make sure each has its own concept. People have asked, what about working with department stores or launching a chain store? You can make a lot of money that way, but it’s just not in my nature. I want every store to be special and every person to put their best effort into it. Some people are good at replicating stores, but I just can’t do it. They are good at creating standard operating procedures for their employees to follow, but that isn’t what I want to do.
To learn more about each of the VVG restaurants, click here.