AKAME, means “grill” in Rukai tribe language, was definitely one of the most talked restaurants in Taiwan last year. Operating by two brothers, chef Alex and Sky, in the village “Kucapu ngane”, the oldest village of Rukai tribe. As one of the global food trends is to eat local and seasonal, AKAME has adapted it well by using seasonal food and characteristic spices and wild herbs of Taiwan aborigines.
AKAME is no where near the downtown of Pingtung at all. It was around an hour drive, and need to go through some narrow mountain roads, my parents were very doubtful of whether we are on the right track or not.
The restaurant opens at 6 pm. When we arrived around 5:50 pm, there were already people waiting outside. The village is cute and cozy, kind of like the American neighborhoods, as my dad said. In fact, all the houses were newly built, because everything was destroyed by a typhoon 8 years ago. With the help of World Vision, the new village “Kucapu ngane” is formed.
After years of working abroad under chef Andre Chiang at Andre Restaurant (michelin 2 stars) in Singapore, chef Alex decided to return to his roots and partnered up with his younger brother, chef Sky, who has worked and trained under one of the well known chefs in Taiwan, chef Thomas Chien. Chef Alex is in charged of the mains (grills) and dessert, and chef Sky is responsible for the appetizers and wine-pairings.
Before stepping into the restaurant, you’ll see half of the brick-oven exposing through the wall. There are only 16 seats in there; 8 in front of the kitchen, and 8 at the back with high stools.
It’s a very charming space, very rustic yet relaxing. Luckily, we got seats facing the kitchen! (Best spot ever.)
As soon as we ordered, the waitress brought up the amuse-bouche. It’s fried quail eggs coated with charcoal batter, and topped with matcha powder. It was AMAZING! It’s one bite-sized, so I popped the whole thing into my mouth, and when I took the first bite, the yolk exploded in the mouth!!! The umami flavor of the yolk was unforgettable. It was a nice balance between sweet and savory, and a bit of bitterness from the matcha powder.
I take bread at restaurant as serious as the dishes. Sometimes it can be the deal breaker. For a restaurant, I think the bread should be self-made, and freshly baked, and AKAME has nailed it. Mini baguettes with crispy and not-too-thick skin and fluffy inside. Instead of serving with cold butter, they served it with whipped cream and toasted barley; salty and nutty.
First dish that came up was the Taitung hand-picked mixed wild vegetables. It’s topped with shredded parmesan, and there’s a poached egg underneath. At the very bottom, there’s chopped peanuts.
The best way to enjoy it is mixed everything together. The cheese and yolk made everything so creamy. It was kind of like the creamy spinach! According to the waitress, there are more than 10 kinds of vegetables in there that they can’t even name it all.
This is the roasted fennel with burrata and with some Taiwan lemon, which the species can only be found in Taiwan, Okinawa, and Guam.
The fennels were a bit soft but crunchy and juice. The burrata made it smooth and creamy.
I love the caprese salad from the Italian cuisine, and it works for any cheese and tomatoes combination. I had to order it when I see it on the menu. With a very nice twist, they used organic tomatoes with smoked lindera kavava (aboriginal rice wine) ricotta cheese! Isn’t the flavor of the ricotta cheese just sound very intriguing? It was very interesting too. As the kavava is a very strong alcohol, I was expecting the alcoholic taste to be strong, but it wasn’t! It was quite subtle, and more of the smokey flavor. The secret sauces that were drizzled on top had a nice balance of sweet and sour.
As for the proteins, one of them was air-dried roasted cornish hen with vanilla, udo, and Alianthus prickly ash (刺蔥) jam. Honestly, the only ingredient that I’m familiar with on this dish were the chicken and vanilla. It was my first time seeing and hearing udo and Alianthus prickly ash! The taste was quite interesting, a bit bitter yet sweet aftertaste. The cornish hen was finger-licking delicious. It was juicy and tender. Though the restaurant may look classy, but they encouraged the customers to dig in with hands!
Another proteins that we had was the smoked duck breast with beets purée, and Taiwan rhubarb sauce. The portion was very big, not those typical thinly-sliced duck breast that you’ll see in French cuisine.
The duck breast was cooked to still a bit pinkish, but not raw. It was tender but a bit tough and hard to chew. Perhaps that’s a way for showcasing the roughness of the aborigines.
I was hoping to get something light for dessert, so I chose the millet, aiyu jelly, red beans, and strawberries (that’s how it was written on the menu). I was expecting it to be like rice pudding, but it was a parfait! The millets were in the form of rice pudding, which was chewy. The red beans are from the Wandan Township, which is known for red beans. They were big and plump, and cooked-through and soft but still in shape. Strawberries were in season during the winter, which the sweet and sour taste was perfect for clearing the palates after the meal!
Thought that was the only dessert? Nope! Originally we only ordered one, but the waitress convinced us to get their famous churros, topped with Taiwan short-leaf pine, and paired with 62% chocolate from Fuwan Chocolate. She said that a lot of customers would go just for the churros, and would be super disappointed if it wasn’t on the menu.
The churros were fried upon ordered. I’m not a fan of any deep-fried food, but as soon as took the first bite, I knew that I would totally regret it if my dad didn’t decide to order it. It was hot and crunchy! It was already good enough when eating alone, but when I dipped it into the chocolate, it was totally different level! The chocolate was smooth and rich, very pure! I finished the whole stick when I said I was only going to take a bite.
Overall, it was spectacular! What made me happier was the change of my parents’ attitude, from being skeptical to satisfied. The presentation of each dish was beautiful too. It totally reminded me of the restaurants in Montreal, where they source locally, seasonally, and with a bit of influences from French cuisine. The food was grilled with firewood, which gave them an extra fragrance that can’t be achieved through gas stove or charcoal. For chef, that’s the taste of home and childhood. It’s totally worth it to make a trip there just for dinner!
No.8, Ln. 20, Guchabo’an St., Wutai Township, Pingtung County, Taiwan
Tel: +886 8-7997321 (Reservation is a must)