The Opposite House
The 99-room boutique hotel designed by Kengo Kuma is in a league of its own, complete with 22-metre stainless steel swimming pool and an intoxicating blend of five restaurants and bars—complete with al fresco dining/drinking options. The bright rooms are fitted with an oversized oak bathtub, bespoke Bayankala toiletries, a king-sized bed with 400-thread count Egyptian linen (for those counting). The experience begins with the Maserati Quattroporte airport pick up, upon arrival you’re greeted by first name, sat down in the living room and check in is done via a wireless tablet PC.
It gets better—mini bar is on the House and complimentary wifi, including online version of the Financial Times. For those into art, you will find a visual treat in the hotel’s permanent art collection and the quarterly rotating exhibits by contemporary Chinese artists represented by local galleries in the six-storey high atrium.
The stay at The Opposite House is a unique and personal experience without the usual stuffiness of luxury hotels. It’s just like staying at a friend’s home, with a warm welcome, convenience, absolutely no fuss and stunningly simple contemporary design.
In today’s world of clutter, less is certainly more and the large spacious rooms from 45 sqm and up, there’s no reason why you don’t feel at home, walking barefoot on that textured reclaimed wood flooring, with no dusty carpets or jarring chandeliers in the way.
Qin Restaurant and Café
This lesser known restaurant is popular with the local Chinese and some of the city’s top chefs. Named after the traditional instrument, the restaurant is needless to say, furnished with the qin—great for a bit of cultural immersion. Serving up Jiangnan cuisine with flavours of Shanghai, Hangzhou and Suzhou, this place allows your tongue a little culinary voyage over regional dishes.
Great Wall Hikes
The Beijing Hikers organisation head out to the wall regularly, scaling the wall with different intensity levels. In the warmer months, camping on the wall is commonplace. Going off the beaten path with these led hikes will leave you free from hoards of tourists, the noise and haggling street vendors. Bring a bottle of vino as a reward after a treacherous hike and enjoy it over a breathtaking view.
798/caochangdi/Songzhuang Art District
While some galleries out in caochangdi have sadly received their first demolition notice by the government, 798’s art district is thriving with its commercial ambitions. The latter’s Bauhaus setting meets contemporary art culture is none of the organic art scene many expect, but merely a money making façade to the real Chinese art scene. Travel out further to Songzhuang artist village, where most of today’s prolific artists reside. The Opposite House does personal guided tours to the artist studios.
This is a whiskey buff’s paradise, serving New Orleans style Gumby and the likes. Run by Bei’s chef de cuisine Max Levy and partner Leon Lee, the duo do everything from scratch—from smoked meats to stuffing sausages. Go for Oyster Wednesdays, down stellar cocktails or whiskey with those Tasmanian oysters or gorge on whey-poached fried chicken served with buttermilk biscuits on fried chicken Sundays.
This understated cool, contemporary lounge is where the city’s well-heeled professionals come to wind down and chat over innovative cocktails and some of the city’s best selection of wines. Mesh also features a large selection of champagnes by the glass—a rare practice in the Capital. The crowd here is largely beautiful, savvy and interesting.
This new-ish lounge is a hit with the locals and foreigners alike. Drinks and service are not their forte, but this former cotton factory gives off the cosmopolitan vibe of an underground watering hole. They’ve done a good job of having the place decked up in genuine fake designer furniture. Australian Chinese Warren Pang is the man that runs the show here, and the crowd is a good mix of über hip Chinese and foreigners.
Xian Lao Man
This hole in the wall eatery is reliable, clean with friendly staff. The whole Beijing experience begins when you set foot—garlic floating in jars, no frills, sit-down-to eat-then leave ambience—if any to speak of. The standard order of choice is “Three pork specialty”, while the pork and mushrooms, chives and egg dumplings are also worth a go. Keep the greed quotient in check as the low prices and plentiful options tend to encourage gluttony and wastage.
Run by the same owners of The Schoolhouse Mutianyu, Xiaolumian is a good stopover for generous portions of fresh handmade noodles with organic vegetables on your way to/from the Mutianyu side of the Great Wall. Flavors here tend to lean towards the foreign palate, still the typical lao Beijing “zha jiang mian” is worth at go. Portions are large, so be sure to dine with friends.
Qin Tang Fu
The most reliable of Beijing noodle shops where every visit is consistently good. Service is always spotty, but the noodles never disappoint. Start with the cold buckweed noodles (the Chinese rendition of soba) with chillies and lots of vinegar before choosing from the beef, lamb or spinach noodles. The restaurant is best known for their “rou jia mou” pork stuffed between bread and the “yang rou pao mo”, a very heavy dish of unleavened bread bits in the lamb broth bath.
Peking Roast Duck Tips:
Duck De Chine
No visit is complete without a mandatory visit to a Peking duck restaurant in Beijing. Duck has always been a feature in the history of both Chinese and French cuisines and this upscale dining spot in 1949—The Hidden City serves up a delicious crispy roast fowl with a sauce that is sweet and sharp, and comes with condiments to customise your own.
Made in China
Open kitchen cooking brings a crisp, modern sensibility to Chinese dining at this classy restaurant. Popular with the deep-pocketed crowd, the Peking duck here is perfectly executed. With a culinary direction led by Executive chef Martin Ouyang, the other highly recommended dishes include the tender beggar’s chicken and Northern specialties.
Old world charm meets delicate Cantonese cuisine, yet their best kept secret at this Cantonese restaurant housed in the Peninsular Hotel is the Peking Duck. Get a tea recommendation to go with the dimsum spread and allow greed to take over to freely order from the interesting selection on the menu, starting with the perfectly executed duck to Sichuan chili prawns.
Xiao Wang’s Home Restaurant Ritan
This popular chain is a favourite haunt of the expats. The menu offers everything from Peking duck smoked with apple wood—enjoy and taste the subtle fruity essence, sweet and sour dishes to stir-fry chicken wings. Don’t leave without ordering the braised pork belly, fried tofu with spicy sweet sauce drizzled over it and crispy thin slices of potato—a Chinese rendition of rosti.