Maison Boulud, Beijing

Daniel Boulud is having a good time since a few months. Three stars have been given to his flagship New York eatery, he’s among the top 10 of the very bizarre 50 best restaurants list, and for those of us living in London, has brought the best bistro to town. His restaurant in Beijing, Maison Boulud, however is not doing quite so well apparently. Rumour has it, it will close later during the year.

That would be a pity, as the restaurant has a lot speaking for it. First of all, the decor is fantastic. Set in the ex-American embassy, the building is rather grand. Upon entering what could be a very stylish hotel lobby, you are warmly greeted by the very polite, if reserved staff. The various private dining rooms, with Salons attached are so beautiful, that you could move in directly and stay for a few nights. Even the pretty big main dining room is attractive, despite the size.

Another positive point is Bryan Reimer’s food. It is technically sound, simple and straightforward. The products are not exceptional, but seem to be of good quality given that many of them are imported. Judging from this dinner, most of it was very enjoyable, apart from the rather uninspired and bland greetings from the chef. These were some kind of tasteless jelly with an overcooked prawn in it, and a cracker with tomatoes. Poor.

However, things began to look a lot more friendly when a foie gras terrine with cherries appeared. A very well prepared rectangle of liver was of exquisite texture and taste. It was well worth a star, and miles away from the previous dish. But, even here there was a problem. Not with the liver, but with the cherries: They were too sour. The acidity was dominant, cutting the foie’s flavour in an unpleasant way, and leavning you with a rather thin, sour aftertaste. I would have rather had the terrine alone. Very good for the terrine, good for the dish as a whole.

Next came a salad of crab with asparagus. This faultlessly prepared, tasty, well-seasoned crab meat was served with a few crunchy slivers of radish and a couple of spears of nicely cooked asparagus. Again it was a combination that one has eaten before, but was well executed. Very pleasant.

Finally, the main came, in this case a roasted pigeon with peas, and foie gras stuffed legs. Having requested for the pigeon to be cooked medium rare (which they didn’t want to do), I was rather disappointed to see that it was more on the gray side of things. That resulted in a different texture than what we have in Europe, but was decent enough. The vegetable garnish wasn’t among the most captivating, but praise has to be given to the deep-fried legs of pigeon. Wrapped in some kind of dough, they were minced and a decent amount of foie gras had been added to the mix. Again it was a good dish which had the potential to be even better.

Desserts were very good, if served in minuscule portions. A modern vacherin with cassis was great, both light, creamy, crunchy and tasty, but disappeared after a couple of spoonfuls. A second bar would not have hurt the restaurant nor the diner. Very good.

A strawberry cheesecake millefeuille was decent, but suffered from very thick and sticky tuiles. These created an unpleasant mouthfeel, which somehow dampened the pleasure given by the otherwise most enjoyable plate of food. Good.

All in all, one can say that the cooking here was on a good level. I did not expect to find French food of this standard in Beijing, so I was rather happy with the evening. However, compared to European restaurants, there were still too many little conceptual or technical mistakes. Another problem was the speed of the dinner. Whilst some of our table were still busy with their starters, others had their plates taken away, and saw them immediately replaced with the mains. This was a bit heavy for my taste, and resulted in an empty restaurant before 11pm (it was full an hour before). I suppose it is just the rhythm in China, but a little more time would not have hurt.

Overall, judging from this one meal, I would give this restaurant 1*. I wouldn’t necessarily go back when in Beijing, as there is too much on offer, but it was a pleasant evening, at very decent prices, so anyone who wants some Western food is in good hands here.

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