Prem: A hidden Italian treasure
By Douglas Habecker
Translated by Angel Pu
1, Lane 62, ShiJia N St, East Dist.
House: 1-5 pm, 6-9 pm (lunch sets available for 4 or more diners by advance reservation)
English menu available.
Credit cards not accepted.
10% service charge.
As far as great dining secrets go, Prem Restaurant is probably Taichung's most secretive. To get there, head east on ShiJia Road, down in the quieter East district. About 100 meters after crossing the Hanxi River (and HanXi West and East roads), look for a big stand-alone sign on the left that notes the restaurant. Behind the sign a narrow alley takes you down an old residential lane to Prem's entrance. (See logo on Compass Taichung City Map.)
Walking through the gate brings you into a large, beautiful garden, complete with grassy lawn, towering shade tree, rock garden and fountain, fronting a big two-floor house. Owner/chef Lin Ming-chien found this 40-year-old structure and its garden in bad, semi-abandoned shape and has since completely renovated it into a dining oasis. In milder weather, the floor-to-ceiling windows are opened to let in breezes and diners can also sit outside on the lawn.
Left: Owner/chef Lin Ming-chien
Lin's inspiration for Prem (meaning "love" in India) dates back to travels in India, where he was befriended by an Italian chef, who introduced him to healthy, authentic Italian cooking. His culinary education was completed at Taipei Italian eatery Cosi O Cosi, where he learned more about cooking with the freshest vegetables and herbs, and high-quality ingredients like extra virgin olive oil and top-grade cheese.
Left: Frutti Mixed Seafood with handmade tagliatelle
Right: Sardinian-style Tomato and Mozzarella
This approach is demonstrated in Prem's simple, straightforward and wholesome menu and entrees, centered around nine pasta dishes (NT$280). Popular items include the Alla Salmon, Puttanesca (Lin's personal favorite), and the Frutti mixed seafood dish with shrimp, mussels, cuttlefish, a tomato or garlic based sauce, and either spaghetti or handmade tagliatelle (add NT$50). Lin periodically updates his menu and recent additions include a Sardinian-style tomato and mozzarella dish served on rigatoni.
Non-pasta entrees include Spanish Paella, Boeuf Bourguignon, and Indian-inspired Chicken or Vegetable Curry Rice. Any entree can be part of a NT$490 set meal that includes appetizer, olive bread, soup, dessert and drink.
Right: Lin's handmade Tiramisu and a coffee
Prem is a wonderful place to linger, especially on quiet afternoons and early evenings, and there are plenty of coffees (NT$90-160), imported organic German herbal teas (NT$120-160) and wines to savor with Lin's excellent homemade Tiramisu, Panna Cotta and other desserts.