Beijing Eats for Culture Trip: A Michelin chef’s guide to the Capital
In November 2019, Mr chef’s protegé Wang Bin earned his first Michelin star for his Contemporary European restaurant The Georg. I made a list of his favourites for Culture Trip on where to eat: from Hotpot to Peking duck.
This is my longer version as the story I filed was edited down with the word limit.
Wang Bin grew up in Beijing on traditional Chinese cuisine and found his passion working in French fine dining kitchens. The only contemporary European restaurant to be awarded a star in the 2020 Beijing Michelin Guide, Wang Bin’s fine palate combines familiar flavours of his childhood with French cooking technique precision.
The depth and breadth of the Capital’s culinary scene are extensive. Home to many provincial kitchens providing authentic flavours for local officials based in Beijing, one can eat across the different regions without leaving Beijing. Beijinger chef Wang Bin shares his usual go-to and where he takes out of town guests to experience dining in Beijing.
“Nobody should leave Beijing without trying the Peking duck! It is an Imperial dish that dates back to over 600 years ago where chefs from all over the country came to Beijing to cook for the Emperor and only the best chefs could enter the palace kitchens.”
China’s culinary history is rich, complex and poetic. Wang Bin’s first experience in the kitchen was at Jaan, a French Fine Dining restaurant at the former Raffles Hotel (now Nuo hotel) where he trained under chef Guillaume Galliot, now head chef at three Michelin-starred restaurant Caprice in Hong Kong.
“Agriculture and local produce is such a big part of Chinese cuisine and our way of life, how we eat and what we cook. I learnt that it is very similar to French cuisine – chef Galliot always stressed the importance of only cooking and serving seasonal ingredients in all his dishes – we must respect nature and create flavours and textures that help our seasonal produce shine on the plate. Like France, China also has many different regional flavours and classical dishes based on the geographical location and what produce is available from the land and sea. Everything is, of course, dependent on nature’s forces.”
Wang Bin sheds light on the dining scene in China and how it has evolved along with global trends. “People are more health-conscious today. There are plenty of developments in more plant-based diets. Vegetarianism has a long history in China, so this is not new for us, and it is very easy to dine out as a vegetarian in Beijing. We can find the best of any type of Chinese cuisine in Beijing, whether it’s Hotpot, Yunnan or Sichuanese food – and easily request for vegetarian options. Increasingly, there are also plenty of Western dining options that are simple and affordable.”
Here’s chef Wang Bin’s list of regular spots he dines at and takes his out of town visitors when they visit Beijing:
Sheng Yong Xing for Michelin-starred Peking Duck
This relatively new restaurant in the Capital is a strong contender to famous restaurants for the roast fowl. Service is excellent at the newly-minted one Michelin-starred restaurant in Sanlitun, it boasts an extensive and delightful wine list at very fair prices and of course, the Peking duck – crispy perfect skin and tender moist flesh. Chef Wang Bin suggests “Order the deep fry version for the second service of Peking duck. Usually, you choose either a soup or shredded duck meat to wrap in cabbage, here they do a soup or they deep fry the remaining flesh and bones crispy. It’s so rich and full of flavour. Use your hands to enjoy! I recommend taking the deep fry version over the soup, or better yet order two ducks if you’re a big party, so you can try both! Also, the traditional Beijing noodles Zhajiangmian is worth an order as well as the cold dishes – plenty of options for vegetarians.”
5 Xindong Lu Chaoyang District. Tel: +86 10 6464 0968
Modern Sichuan Flavours
“Transit was a welcome addition in Sanlitun Taikoo Li North several years ago. It has beautiful interiors and the food is well-balanced, modern and the Sichuan spices and chillies are subtle and not overpowering. People often mistake Sichuanese food as super spicy – but the magic lies in the balance where all the flavours dance together like a party in your mouth.” Wang Bin recommends the Koushui Ji (literally translates to saliva chicken) – a delightful cold dish of a poached whole chicken drenched in Sichuan Peppercorns chilli oil with the acidity of vinegar balancing out its spice, the spicy wonton dumplings, and a typical Sichuan dish of seabass cooked in a boiling pot of Sichuan Peppercorns infused oil and chillies.
3/F N4-36, Taikoo Li North, Sanlitun Lu, Chaoyang District. Tel: +86 10 6417909
The Umami Rich Stocks of Hotpot
Wang Bin on the perennial favourite, “Hotpot is super popular in Beijing and there are many different types of soup bases and condiments. Also, there are special restaurants for the Muslim community where everything is halal. The local places are very simple and people are smoking and talking quite loudly. For a nice dining ambience, I go to Red Bowl at Rosewood Hotel.” The beautifully designed Red Bowl restaurant offers quality cuts of meat – choose from the best cuts of Wagyu to a variety of organic greens. It is the rich tasty stock that shines here – taste the long simmer of the different broths that don’t have the ubiquitous flavour of MSG that leaves you so thirsty after. Order beer, it goes well with hotpot. If you’re up for a local experience, Wang Bin recommends Fu De Yu, a traditional Beijing lamb hotpot where you cook your slices of meat in a copper pot with burning hot coals in the centre. “It’s famous for Inner Mongolian fresh sliced lamb, the texture is different from frozen meats. If you like innards, beef tripe is also very good. It’s located in Guijie (ghost street), a very cinematic street with red Chinese lanterns hung all over.”
Red Bowl Jing Guang Centre, Hujialou, Chaoyang District
Fu De Yu 264, Dongzhimennei Dajie. Tel” +86 0108402 6223
Innovative Modern Dining
Located in the former Zhaolong Hotel near Liangmaqiao, Chef Wang Bin “recently discovered Ling Long serving contemporary European cuisine with locally sourced Chinese ingredients. There is some molecular style execution and it is an interesting produce discovery for me as they serve Sichuan caviar and Mongolian cheese.” French-trained Taiwanese chef Jason Liu serves up beautifully plated modern cuisine of different tasting menus sizes. Definitely go the whole hog with the largest tasting menu (900RMB) and a wine pairing for the full experience.
2 Worker Stadium North Road, 3/F Tel: +86 108635 5109
Noodles and Dumplings for days
Wheat and starch are a main staple for the Northern Chinese, as opposed to rice for the Southern Chinese. Chef Wang Bin recommends “Xian Lao Man noodle shop is a chain restaurant that is very popular with the locals. It has a huge variety of noodles, and they do it very well. Order the traditional Beijing Zhajiangmian, usually, this dish is served cold, but here they serve it warm. Order a bowl liang pi, thick chewy al dente noodles served cold with tart vinegar and chilli oil dressing. The interiors are minimalist and simple and I like going to the Olympic Village one as it’s less crowded.” There’s more than carbs to the menu, the pork and chive dumplings, sweet and sour pork and Sichuanese gongbao chicken – cubes of stir-fried chicken with garlic, chilli peppers, and peanuts.
Baoyuanjiaozi is a cheap and cheerful local spot with a large and colourful variety of dumplings. Their colourful wrappers have vegetable juices (beetroot, spinach) mixed into the dough of the wrappers and wrap in the shape of Chinese ingots. “The Beijing dumplings skin wrappers are made with wheat flour (white) which are slightly thicker and chewier than the Southern Chinese wanton dumplings where an egg is added to the wrapper skins (yellow). I always order the classic pork, cabbage and chives, and minced lamb dumplings. The vegetarian options are nice too, filled with smoked beancurd, mushrooms, chives, cabbage and egg.”
Xiao Lao Man (Olympic Village Branch) Huizhong Beilu, An Hui Beiliyayuan No.5 (near Da dun Road) Tel: +86 1064972097
Baoyuanjiaozi 6 Maizidian Jie (facing north) Chaoyang District Tel: +86 6586 4967
Comfort food: Yunnan Fish Soup
Dian Shan Yun Shui is a beautiful Yunnan courtyard restaurant located in a siheyuan and it’s worth the visit just for the nutritious, comforting fish soup – a milky savory broth of fresh slices of fish. Other popular dishes on the menu include the deep-fried tofu and a cold dish of beef garnished with mint. “Many of my Beijing friends come here for the ‘Yunnan cross the bridge fish’ soup. The boss is from Yunnan and you can taste the authentic flavours in the dishes. Service is friendly, the ambience is lovely.”
Coveted Imperial Dining at Yan Jin Tang
Its name meaning “Banquet Hall”, this private kitchen in a traditional courtyard siheyuan only has one table and do a single service of 18 covers. Located in Xiaoyou Hutong, just north of Houhai lake, reservations need to be made at least a month in advance. Expect feasting on luxurious ingredients here, from abalone to sharks fin, it’s a feast fit for emperors. Here, chef Zhang Zhicheng creates dishes with a modern take on the Imperial banquet food. The interiors are nothing to write home about, but it’s cosy, intimate and most guests bring their own wines. Chef Wang Bin on the food, “It retains its Beijing flavour but is presented and cooked in a contemporary way, also with expensive and prized ingredients. Signature dishes here include crawfish pickled with yellow wine; fish maw tempura with Hua Diao; and bird’s nest with orange.”
12 Xiaoyou Hutong, Xicheng District. Tel: +86 158 10693778
Homestyle Chinese Food
Sample the regional homestyle dishes and classics here. “The menu at Xiao Wang Fu serves tasty regional dishes from across China. The Sichuanese gongbao chicken is really good here, and they do a good Peking duck as well as a beautifully cumin-spiced Xinjiang style lamb.” Go with a big party so you can order more dishes to try, order servings of steamed white rice to accompany the symphony of flavours across regional China. The stir-fried string beans with minced pork go perfectly with your rice. There are two branches, so make sure you go the one in CBD area, it’s a little off the beaten track, round the back of a busy main road. Bldg 2, Guanghua Lu Dongli