08 August 2014

Beijing food scene: from critters to fine dining

Beijing's food scene offers everything from hipster hutong eateries to street food, contemporary cuisine and innovative fine dining.

For starters, the famous local dish of Peking Duck is a must try when in town. One of the popular spots to roll up some tasty bits of duck fat and condiments is at the Duck de Chine. A large venue with tables set up around a large courtyard and numerous rooms to sample the expected. Apart from an a la carte menu they also have sets for the Peking Duck and you can get a whole one to share with all the condiments. If you look lime a tourist, the waiter will show you how it's done without asking.

Although modern rather than traditional and with a matching price tag the setting is inviting, warm and marries old and new. With a location so close to the Forbidden City it makes for a perfect stop after battling the crowds in the city's most popular attraction.

The duck was crisp and juicy with plum sauce and condiments that paired perfectly well with the food. The decor is a modern take on Chinese Imperial designs in purple and black shades.  

Go for dinner for a more dramatic setting. 

Entering Temple Restaurant Beijing is like stepping into a world of attentive service and anticipation. The compound is 600 years old and it also includes a sister hotel. Recently renovated, the place maintained the historical past with factories built after the Communist take over and slogans from the Cultural Revolution.

The bar

Although we were on time, we were offered a glass of champagne to enjoy in the eclectic dimly lit bar. The dark ambiance with neon spot lights and warm textures was a perfect arrival. Through the window we could gaze at an old temple. We were shown to our table after our glass had been refilled. The main dining room is sparsely decorated except for the large windows facing the courtyard at the entrance and this was enough to bring the place to life.

Choosing a set menu guarantees a feast. The service is impeccable and a constant reminder of what vocational servers, maitres d'Hotes and Someliers should look like. 

Pineapple dessert

We were offered several complimentary amuse bouche, palate cleansers, snacks, post-desert and drinks. For being shown the wrong restroom I got a glass of wine and because we had to wait slightly longer for a taxi we were offered a digestif. The bread basket was selectively replaced only with the types of bread we devoured.

The food was deliciously gourmet without being overcomplicated. Fine dining without molecular surprises.

Diners were a mix of business meetings, celebrations and visitors with a dash of local foodies and despite the relatively high bill the value for money was indisputable.

Go to be treated like a king and enjoy a wonderful meal.

Hedonistic Brian McKenna @ The Courtyard was a much anticipated molecular fine dining dinner. Expectations of an all-round unforgettable meal were high and the sophistication of the dishes did not disappoint.

Palate cleanser

McKenna promises to show what he is capable of with creations that "Push the limits of what's possible with food" and also may put a smile on your face.

The menu is hard to predict with only one or two recognisable ingredients in each dish and the rest left to fantasy. So surprises are guaranteed.

Seared fois grais with Asian pear
The dining room has received much criticism for its bare decoration and lack of soul. Just 9 tables fill the small space facing the Forbidden city moat and walls with little on the way of charm. The tables are lit by spot lights and, unless on a booked out night, the lack of ambiance music makes it very easy to hear the clicking sounds of fellow guests cameras. You may forgive them for the dishes are Instagram noteworthy.

Hay smoked French oysters

Each dish is sophisticated with tens of ingredients, lengthy cooking times and delicate combinations. They are also the creative work of a genius in the kitchen and an authentic delight to the eyes. 

Lamb rump with mushroom textures

A started of "Seafood on the Beach" is delightfully laid on top of a glass surface with a beach goer sunbathing underneath on a patch of beach, sand and sun umbrella included. 

Seafood on the beach

I was looking forward to the terracotta warriors famous dessert but instead the chef had chosen to serve up the sweet finale he created for Mr Parker's world tour kick off, the most famous wine critic in the world. There was a perfectly designed sparkling gold American express sponge cake with colourfully beautiful decorations that were not only delicious but extremely pretty.

Robert Partker's Gold Amex

Sadly, on our visit, the service did not match the innovative truly playful tasting menu. Waiters were uninterested and with unintelligible English and felt very much like they were repeating what they had been told to say on each dish without much intention of conveying any sense of grandeur. They made dishes feel uninteresting and we sadly missed half of the story despite repeatedly asking for a better explanation. A shame given the price tag and the refined cuisine which was truly made with love and lots of care.

Petit furs

Go for that special occasion, and break the bank
At the other end of the culinary spectrum Beijing is also known for the critters on offer at street food markets. If that is the type of thing that gets you most excited and you are the daring type looking for bragging rights Beijing has the right place for you. 

Street Stalls

On a short strip off the main shopping area and across from the big brands shinny red lamps lit the stalls where sellers wave all sorts of insects, bugs, critters and other larger versions of the unheard type.

In Wangfujing's Night market you can sample star fish and sea horses on the more "ohhh" inspiring selection and move on to other options not for the apprehensive in you. Munch on scorpions, spiders, cicada, millipedes, worms, giant beetles and many other crawlies. 

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