Archive for the ‘restaurants- China’ Category

Jing’s Residence, Pingyao

octobre 25, 2010

This post will be unique. At least it should be for quite a while. Why, you may ask? Well because Pingyao is not exactly conveniently accessible for anyone. This fascinating city, which is part of the Unesco’s world heritage sites, lies in Shanxi. This province is not exactly the most prosperous, but it has an awful lot of history. So does Jing’s residence, a Relais & Chateaux residence, right in the city centre.

Whilst this hotel might not have many rooms, it certainly has an awful lot of charm, and combines the best of western and Chinese cultures. The rooms are of a refined, understated luxury, and are best described by pictures.

The food however was surprising for such a backwater. Most of what we had was tasty, simple and loyal to the region’s culinary traditions.

Take for instance the Pingyao beef. Boiled and pressed, then served cold with vinegar, it is a tasty if chewy starter. Such cold meat starters startled me in all of China, as they were often dry, and without much interest, at least for an ignorant westerner.

Already much better were deep-fried rings of some kind of cereal. These had an intriguing texture, intense flavour, and were delicately spiced with chili and coriander. It was the dish of the night, as it was technically faultless, and highly interesting. Very good.

Also good, and equally simple were green beens, pan-fried with pork paste. Enriched by some chili oil, this was intensely tasty, and gave a healthy punch of umami. This was again a treatment of vegetables, that makes some French restaurants look old. Very good.

Whilst the food here is far from being spectacular, some dishes are well worth mentioning. Throughout the meal there will be dishes that are simply useless, such as prawns with mushrooms. Those were clearly of poor quality, and deep-frozen. With such dishes one wonders why a hotel and restaurant committed to serving something authentic is serving such dishes. However, as this place feels special, one is willing to not be too critical. Maybe because of the beautifully simple style, or the location, one thing is sure, such gems are rare, and should be explored. Funnily enough, despite being a good 10hrs away from Beijing, the board members of a large German automobile firm were scheduled to come here for a meeting a week after we left. Well, well…

Ding Ding Xiang, Beijing

octobre 13, 2010

Ding Ding Xian is easily the most luxurious and perfectionist of the hotpot eateries in Beijing. Thanks to the generosity of a good friend, I was able to lunch there during my stay in the city. A number of things thoroughly impressed me here, as I only knew the hotpot as a very basic home-cooked meal.

First of all, I was baffled by how good the products were. From the sea cucumber, to the geoduck clam, prawns up to the lamb and beef, everything was of fine quality. The seafood was mostly presented alive before being sliced or killed so that one could cook it in one’s own little hot pot. In European top restaurants one rarely gets presented with living fish or crustaceans (apart from lobsters maybe), which is a pity. Somehow the Chinese seem to manage this a little better than we do…

Another great feature of this place is that every patron has their own pot, which allows them to adjust the stock’s intensity, spice and flavour as a host of different stocks are on offer. Even if it might take away a bit of the social element of having a hotpot, I quite enjoyed this way of doing things.

Images can say more than words, therefore I simply conclude by saying that this was another impressive restaurant in Beijing. From the room, to the service up to the food I very much enjoyed it, and warmly recommend anyone to try and visit this place when they can. It is good fun, and something you won’t get in Europe, at least not this good.

Xia Long Bao: the good and less so, Shanghai

septembre 27, 2010

Shanghai is home to what has become one of my favourite dishes of all: Xia Long Bao. Nowhere else have I eaten Xia Long Bao which were more tasty, juicy, and amazing than here. Funnily enough, this rather complex dish is best enjoyed in very simple places. Contrasting one of the latter and what can arguably be seen as being one of the more expensive restaurants in the city can lead to some surprising outcomes! Take for instance Yu Gardens, where you will find a host of stands, restaurants, and god knows who, who will sell you these fantastic soup-filled dumplings. We came for breakfast, as this place is seriously popular, and went to what is considered the best restaurant around. Dare I say that I have not had a better breakfast yet? I think I can safely state that fact.

Now, these places aren’t fancy, they’re simple, clean, honest, and very popular(at least some of them are). Most offer good value for money too, as a meal here can cost as little as a fiver (€). If you call that excessive, rest assured that you’ll always find something cheaper if you look for it. However, we wanted the best, and found this spectacular place (as I was with Chinese friends, I have no idea about the name). Not because of the service, not because of the design of the dining room, but because of the bustling ambience and much more importantly the bloody marvellous food.

You can eat dumplings filled with various things, from crab, to pork to mushrooms and many other nice things. We tried about 8 different types and loved every single one of them. All had beautiful, perfect dough, intense and very tasty soup inside them, and simply fantastic fillings. Taking one of these and dipping it into vinegar before letting it disappear in one’s mouth is about as great as food can get. They explode, and overwhelm your palate the stunning stock. Wow wow wow! Outstanding stuff.

Less enjoyable and very different was the experience of the Park Hyatt’s restaurant. Due to the hotel’s fantastic location and building the view here is breathtaking, but the Xia Long Bao are simply not that great. Certainly capable, but far away from what one can get in Yu Gardens. At about twice the price of a whole meal in the best restaurants of the latter, one gets about three pieces here. Foolish and still not expensive for what is the city’s most luxurious hotel, but the only reason to go here is the view (for me at least). Don’t expect too much from the food and you’ll have a lovely time.

Unfortunately, the rest of the food in this restaurant is not all that exciting neither. There is safe, bland and uninteresting selection of sushi, the odd piece of grilled cod, and a dry, over-salted crispy pigeon.

The only thing that can make up for it is the fantastic wine list. With that of the Opposite House in Beijing, this was the best wine list I saw in China. It had Selosse, Vouette & Sorbée, Chave, and tons of other interesting wines. Kudos for that! However that and the view are the only reasons why one should go here. Service was not stunning neither and rather unfriendly compared to other places of similar standards. So lesson learned for me: Xia Long Bao does not necessarily go that well with luxurious restaurants. There are some that can pull it off (notably in London), but in China, I did not come across a single fancy place that beat the most down to earth, simple eateries.

China Club, Beijing

septembre 10, 2010

The China Club in Beijing is a bit of a legend. Being a private members club, it counts among the most exclusive hotels and restaurants in the capital. Having only 8 beautiful, individually styled rooms means that it is a really individualistic hotel, with a lot of personality and charm. What is also great about it, is that unlike many other luxurious hotels and restaurants in Beijing, it is hardly visible for the passers-by, seeing that it is composed of a number of traditional courtyards.

Take for instance the bar, which must be one of the most beautiful in China. The style is timeless, and beautifully allies old and new elements. It simply makes you want to stay there, talk, read, think do anything one likes. Sitting down here is about as great a place as one can imagine for a pre-dinner drink.

However, the food is the real showstopper, as it is fantastic. Having gone through the wine list, which was expensive and not very interesting, we stuck to tea and very good juices. To start the meal, a few pieces of sliced lotus root were dressed with a sweet/sour sauce. Light, tasty and of intriguing texture, this was a most enjoyable start to the meal.

Also served were some deep-fried, smoked eels. Delicately crispy, perfectly seasoned, these pieces of eel were fantastic.

A first warm course was even more interesting. A rice cracker was topped with scallops and a sweet and sour sauce. What was interesting here was the play on textures and flavours. The rice gave the crunch, with the scallops adding something of a delicate and tender element. The flavours were very good and highly interesting, with only one point to criticise: The scallops could have been of slightly higher quality. Very good.

Following this pork kidneys were ordered. Fried with cashew nuts and an intensely flavoursome sauce, this was a real masterpiece. The kidney was perfectly cooked, and of such delightful flavour and texture that it was hard to keep one’s hands off the dish! A real treat, that showed how hearty, yet complex Chinese cooking can be. Excellent.

The masterpiece however, was the Mandarin fish. Beautifully presented, the entire fish was brought to the table, covered in a pinenut sauce. Again, a slightly sweeter dish, it was quite remarkable. Of very high quality, it was cooked perfectly, whilst having an incredibly crunchy outside. I was baffled by how tasty this was, a real treat, that I haven’t experienced in such a perfect way before. Excellent.

To finish the meal, we ordered some warm mochi, which were good, but hardly on the same level as the previous courses. Some noted that they were probably not freshly made, however that is something I can not comment on. Still, it was a good, light end to what was a fantastic meal. Good.

Another great restaurant in China. Whilst the food overall was maybe not quite as phenomenal as at Da Dong, it was splendid nonetheless. Especially the kidney and mandarin fish were real eye-openers, which I will warmly remember. This is another very serious restaurant, that delivers on all levels, from the stunning room, to good service and of course, the great food. Oh, I wish I wouldn’t live 10.000km away from Beijing…

Da Dong Roast Duck Restaurant, Beijing

août 29, 2010

Da Dong is said to serve one of the very best roast ducks in Beijing, which made it a must-visit during my stay in the capital. Starting from a little restaurant, Mr Dong’s empire now extends to Shanghai, and counts many a Da Dong’s around BEijing The two we tried, had an identically high level of cooking, even if the decoration was decidedly different in each. Food is as cheap as anywhere in China, provided you’re used to European prices. Service was present in impressive numbers and good throughout the whole meal.

Starting directly, we ordered marinated jellyfish. The pieces were well seasoned, with a nice balance between sour/sweet elements, and had an intriguing texture. It was somewhere in between the crunchiness of squid, or cucumber and something much more gelatinous. Hard to describe with words, but very interesting, and quite likeable to be honest. It was my first pleasant encounter with jellyfish, but I was assured that it was a very capable preparation. Very good.

A few beans with some tiny, dried, and crispy shrimp were another light, tasty and refreshing little dish, that proved to be a very nice starter.

But, suddenly things became much more interesting. Our waitress approached us with a bucket, containing a living, rather active fish. After having shown us the product, she took it away again, and a good 15min later we were served an incredible fish soup. The meat was perfectly, but really perfectly cooked, the stock very light, but intensely flavoured, with a few herbs, and other elements I probably can not identify. It was a remarkable dish, truly beyond what I expected.

However, this was all fine, more than fine in fact, but the reason for most people’s going here is not any of the above but the Peking duck. Incredibly complicated in preparation, it is elevated to something quite special in this restaurant. If you want more information about how it is prepared, go and watch Heston Blumenthal’s “In Search of Perfection” about Peking duck, as he visits Mr Dong too. In addition to the classical servings, one also gets some crunchy, hollow buns here, which are very tasty and go rather well with the duck meat. However, they are only by-standers, as the real stars are the skin and juicy meat. The latter are of such perfection, that I don’t know how this can be any better. If Made in China’s duck was worth a good 3*, this was well worth the invention of a fourth one (apparently Duck de Chine is even better, have to try that next time!). Divine, perfect.

This lunch was a bomb, finishing off with some beautiful fruit, we were more than happy and completely blown away. Never ever have I been fortunate enough to eat meat that was well-done, but kept the flavour, juiciness and had such an outrageously gorgeous skin. A true masterpiece, worth the flight from Europe to Beijing. What I began to question was, why people see China as a minor food destination. So far the food I got here was top notch. They might not have restaurants like Osier, Quintessence or Beige in Tokyo, but the Chinese food served here, is on an impressive level.

Bei, Beijing

août 20, 2010

Some restaurants are special. From the moment you walk in you feel welcome, are excited about the meal to come and fall in love with the place. Bei was one of those. Tucked away in the ground floor of the fantastic Opposite House Hotel,  in trendy Sanlitun, this restaurant is both elegant and very relaxed. The room is beautiful and service phenomenal. Always attentive, charming, welcoming and friendly this brigade was easily the best I have come across in China. It was a real pleasure to eat there!

Another great feature of Bei is the food, obviously. The menu prices are all incredibly reasonable, but then again you are in China, and for local standards they are pretty high. However, for a westerner it seemed like paradise. Think of that: Uni sushi at around €2 a piece. In London you’d easily spend the double, on inferior quality. Interestingly enough, the wine list was probably the best I saw in mainland (apart one place), and had some very fair prices too. A glass of Dom Perignon 2000 cost about €32, hardly extravagant.

On this evening we ate sushi only, and composed our menu from the separate sushi list. But first, we were offered a bit of tuna with radish. It was a piece of fish that had been cooked through, but remained tasty, with the radish giving it a sweet/salty/sour counter point. A very pleasant start!

Following this we had various pieces of sushi. All of them had one thing in common: Very high fish quality. The uni was better than any I have had in Europe, the scallops sweet and succulent, and the eel simply mind-blowing. Toro ws decadent and extremely rewarding. But it was not only the fish that was of high quality. The cooking of the rice was pretty close to being perfect too, so this really was something special. Alongside sushi of Shiori, some of the best sushi of my life.

However, the best was yet to come: A maki of foie gras and eel. This was so bloody good, that I had trouble not ordering second and third rounds of this! The creamy, decadent foie gras worked beautifully with the umami-ladden glased eel and the rice provided a touch of acidity and gave some texture. The final nuance was the seaweed, which added a iodine dimension. All in all this was simply divine.

Bei was so good that I went back a few days later. In Europe I hardly find sushi of such quality (although sushi of Shiori comes very close), so I was baffled by how good this all was. In addition, to have such great service really made this a fantastic evening. If you are spending a few hours in Beijing come here and have a meal, it is something worth doing by all means!

Maison Boulud, Beijing

août 13, 2010

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.

Made in China, Beijing

août 4, 2010

Made in China is not the usual Chinese restaurant, first of all it sits in the Grand Hyatt Hotel, which isn’t really what I would call traditional Chinese. Secondly, it has a pretty good wine list for Beijing, if it is as expensive as all others. Thirdly, the design is a very capable mix of western and Chinese elements. When we sat down in one of the private dining rooms on my first day in Beijing, I was already struck by how beautiful the tables were dressed. Overall there was an understated luxury here, which was warm and welcoming, thus perfect for my first meal in t he People’s Republic.

The black brigade, one must say was a bit absent-minded on this evening. At one point we were looked after very well, whilst at other points, we had no chance of getting someone’s attention. This was probably due to the restaurant being incredibly busy, and us sitting in a private dining room. However, the food was to make up for it, at least as far as I can tell.

Glorious it was, without any doubts. We started with spinach,  pressed, and covered in a thick sauce made with sesame paste, wasabi, soy sauce and vinegar. Rarely have I come across better spinach.It was incredibly tasty, with the sauce giving it a rich, thick background, without overpowering the delicate spinach. Excellent.

Another starter was beancurd, marinated, and served with red beans and mushrooms. It was a Shanghainese dish, which plays with sweet and salty flavours. Again, it was so good, that it was hard to criticise. The balance of flavours was masterful, as were the textural counterpoints. Very good.

Following this, the famous Beijing duck was served. From the moment the chef came and started slicing, the level of excitement around the table started to rise, and when you finally get to try that delicately crunchy, yet melting skin, you definitely are as close to paradise as you’ll ever get. It is outrageously good. Similarly, rolling those pancakes is as satisfying as anythinig, even if we were to try better ones in the following days. Excellent.

The piece de resistance was a braised imperial abalone. Served simply with its juices, and two asparagus spears, it was without doubt the best abalone I have come across. Juicy, tasty, and with a fascinating texture, it was a delicacy well worth (the rather high) price. Outstanding.

The first dessert was a mango/rice pudding, which was good, without being all that exciting.

Much better were puffs, filled with coconut cream, and served with caramelised sesame. These were light, with excellent pate a choux and a fantastic cream. A good end to a fantastic first meal in China.

Made in China really impressed me. It is a restaurant, which might not be perfect, but still does a bloody good job. The food was phenomenal, I would rate it with a strong 2*, would you be able to find Chinese food of this quality in Europe. The duck was amazing, as was the abalone. However, it was the spinach that really got me excited due to the fact that I never had any spinach before that was as tasty and intense a. I can only urge anyone to go here, as it gives a great introduction to Chinese cooking.