Tag Archives: Beijing

South Beauty, Beijing

20111105-IMG_0082Chef/Owner: Zhang Lan     Website: www.southbeauty.com     Cuisine: Sichuanese

(In collaboration with Kevin from www.finediningexplorer.com)

The South Beauty chain is a success story that began over twenty years ago by a lady called Zhang Lan. With as little as USD 20,000, she opened her first restaurant in 1991 and has never looked back. She now has over 50 chains in her portfolio, racking up an annual revenue of circa USD 100 million, making her one of the most successful modern day female entrepreneurs of China.

For our first evening in Beijing we decided to take it easy and visit their branch in Pacific Century Place. I don’t tend to go to chain restaurants but made an exception on this occasion as it came highly recommended.

20111105-IMG_0087 Given the mountain of chilli that greeted us at the entrance, you can probably guess what this restaurant specialises in. Infamously hot Sichuanese food of course! It may have been my foreign presence (given my dining companion was Kevin from Fine Dining Explorer who was undoubtedly Chinese looking) which instigated the waiter to ask if we wanted to tone down the spiciness in our meal. I didn’t want to exactly destroy my stomach on my first day so I took his advice. In hindsight, this was a very good suggestion!

20111105-IMG_0093I left everything in the capable hands of Kevin as my Mandarin was not quite up to scratch. A few minutes of chatting with the waiter about classic dishes of Sichuan and we were off.

20111105-IMG_0095We kicked off with a few small dishes which were deceivingly spicy, including this Black Fungus that was served cold. Even Kevin had a nasty shock to his system as he took his first bite (although mind you, it turned out he had even less resistance than I did for hot food). I did enjoy the slithery and crunchy texture, although overall it did lack in flavour.

P1030351The next course, literally translated as Hanged Shirt White Meat, was one of their signature dish which consisted of thinly sliced pork served with shredded carrot and chilli sauce. It was a humorous take on how the Sichuanese hang their clothes. Who knew the Chinese were so humorous in their cooking? This dish was all about the sauce, made from the three spices of black, chilli and Sichuan peppers, as the pork was rather bland on its own. There was a very bizarre sensation of mouth numbing from the Sichuanese peppers.

20111105-IMG_0099Next was some Southern Yangtze Duck Roll which wasn’t Sichuanese but came recommended. The slices of duck meat had been rolled around a salty yolk centre. It was also a welcomed rest from the intense heat of the food we already had. Our tongues were on fire but little did I know what was about to come…

20111105-IMG_0101One of the best course of the evening was the Sliced Lung by the Married Couple (Fuqi Feipian) which was essentially sliced beef tongue and tripe served in a pool of Sichuan, chilli and black peppers. It was also the hottest item of the meal and possibly hotter than anything I had previously tried, ever…period. The dish dates back to the late Qing dynasty where a couple in Chengdu gained fame through their secret recipe of beef slices. As a result of some pranks played by mischievous children the name stuck, although I can assure you no lungs were in fact used in this dish ever. The meat used in this dish today is much higher quality slices of beef as well as a number of varieties of offal. I picked at this dish only every once in a while as I must confess the heat overwhelmed my palate, but it was so good I couldn’t stop.

20111105-IMG_0104 By the time our Kung Pao Chicken was served, we had become somewhat desensitised from the spice and heat. I couldn’t quite sense whether there was any heat to this but the chicken was moist and delicious, accompanied by a lovely mixture of crunchy peanuts and the sweet and crips spring onions.

20111105-IMG_0108Given we were having Sichuanese I could of course not resist trying one of the most internationally iconic dish of the region, Ma Po Tofu. The dish is often described and rated by chefs for the seven specific Chinese adjectives: numbing, spicy hot, hot temperature, fresh, tender and soft, aromatic and flaky. This was nothing like any variation I had tried before. Whilst comparably hot to the beef slices, it was indeed fresh, aromatic and tender. I could however not finish this as Kevin at this point had given up after admitting defeat to the intense spice. It was too much to finish this on my own.

20111105-IMG_0113Our saving grace that evening was that dessert, at least, was not spicy… well mostly. Our first dessert course was another playful dish of the Four Treasures of the Scholar’s Studio which included the Paper or simply rice paper, Brush which had an edible nutty puff pastry head…

20111105-IMG_0112Ink stick which was a sesame pancake…

20111105-IMG_0114… and Ink Stone that had been made from dried mince pork. It had a very airy texture yet a contrasting crispy coating, and most surprisingly worked well as a sweet dish. I particularly liked the fact that the chef had a sense of humour which wasn’t found in majority of the other restaurants we had visted subsequently in China.

20111105-IMG_0122For our last dessert we were presented with a variety of toppings consisting of Peanut butter, chive sauce, fermented bean curd, deep fried doughs, honey…. and surprise surprise, spicy sauce. This was to go with our…

20111105-IMG_0123… bowl of Tofu which had been prepared next to our table. I wasn’t a bit fan of this dish. Perhaps it was me, but I found it rather bland, unexciting and one dimensional (even with the spicy sauce!).

P1030344This was certainly not the culinary highlight from our trip, but what impressed me was the calibre of cooking for a chain restaurant. I did of course compare the dishes here against what previously had been presented to me as authentic Sichuanese, both in Asia and overseas, and relied on Kevin’s vast knowledge of regional Chinese cuisine. I’d certainly prefer this place over any other Sichuanese restaurants I’ve previously been to and even the tacky decor would not put me off from another visit to try other dishes… my intestinal lining however may perhaps disagree…

Made in China, Beijing

20111107-IMG_0651Website: www.beijing.grand.hyatt.com/restaurants    Cuisine: Peking Duck

What does one do when in Beijing? Eat Peking Duck of course, and that’s exactly the first thing I did with Fine Dining Explorer when we arrived…. and repeatedly…. during our short stay. But there was a reason for our quest. We were not looking for just any Peking Duck. We were looking for the best, and it came to us as a surprise that finding a good Peking Duck in Beijing was a far more difficult feat than we initially imagined. But the search was finally over when we arrived at Made in China, located in the premise of the Grand Hyatt, Beijing. If there was anything I took away from my two week gourmet blitz trip across China, it was that majority of the fine dining establishments in China were located in the five star hotels. A rather odd concept!

20111108-P1070197As it turned out, given the lengthy preparation required for each duck, the restaurant had a limited number of 70 ducks on offer every day so reservation for a duck was paramount when securing a table. Lucky for me that Fine Dining Explorer organised everything up front so we had nothing to worry about. I flared my nose in olfactory anticipation as we walked past the ducks that were being given the final touches of an hours cooking in the wood oven. The manager told us that they had been inflated and the hung overnight in the fridge to separate the skin from the meat.

P1040122Given we were four very hungry people, it made sense to also order some additional dishes on the side. After all, we were having a duck between us as post-meal snacks on the days leading up to this meal…

20111107-IMG_0662We started off with some pickled radish and dried bean curd as we waited for our dishes to arrive.

20111107-IMG_0666We had an assortment of three entrées starting with the Spinach leaves tossed with sesame sauce and Chinese rice vinegar, which had a lovely nutty flavour and toasty aroma. The flavours for me were more reminiscent of Japanese cuisine.

20111107-IMG_0667Some Steamed eggplant with Chinese rice vinegar which had a lovely texture and plenty of flavours. I particularly enjoyed the sharpness from the rice vinegar against the earthy mushroom.

20111107-IMG_0670The last of the entrée was a rather disappointing Braised pork knuckle served with pickled cucumber, which had very little flavour and hardly any seasoning.

20111107-IMG_0675On to our main dish of the evening, the Old fashioned Peking duck from the wood fired oven with classic condiments. We were told that the skin around the wings and neck were the crispiest and most delicate, and therefore prepared first.

20111107-IMG_0677We were advised to have the crispy skin with sugar only. It was remarkably light, flavoursome, and, contrary to expectation, not too oily.

20111107-IMG_0683Some pancakes were presented on the side to wrap the other parts of the duck, starting with…

20111107-IMG_0680… the leg of the duck with the skin. It was deliciously succulent with a good contrast between the tender meat and the crispy skin. We were again advised to have it with the pancake and the garlic sauce. I preferred this cut far more than the…

20111107-IMG_0678Breast meat which also was tender and juicy but lacked that dimension of flavour and texture from the crispy skin.

20111107-IMG_0688Some extra courses followed starting with Fried dried string beans with minced pork and preserved vegetables. I absolutely love fried Chinese vegetables and this was no exception. Great crunch, good level of heat and a generous amount of garlic. Divine.

20111107-IMG_0690The Honey glazed king prawns with dried chilli, ginger and sliced garlic was a pleasant surprise. The crispy prawn had been deep-fried enough to allow us to eat the skin as well. I couldn’t remember the last time seeing such gigantic prawns!

20111107-IMG_0692A bowl of Duck soup made from the bone which was completely absent of flavour. Perhaps it was served at the wrong time as the preceding fried courses had a lingering flavour dominating my palate.

20111107-IMG_0694A favourite dish from Hangzhou, the Crispy Mandarin fish with sweet and sour sauce, served without bones. I’m not very keen on sweet and sour dishes primarily due to the fact that I always found an imbalance between the two elements. On this occasion, the balance of sweet and sour was spot on and consequently delicious.

20111107-IMG_0697Rather than going for the conventional options of white rice as a side dish, we had some Boiled dumplings filled with mince pork Beijing Cabbage and yellow chives to go with food instead. It wasn’t bad but was no contender to the phenomenal ranges fo dumplings we had in Shanghai the subsequent week.

20111107-IMG_0705Dessert took us all by surprise. We had an assortment of desserts from the banana chocolate spring roll, cheesecake with apricot compote, a decadently rich chocolate mousse with brownie, profiteroles, ice cream with rose, lychee, vanilla and chocolate flavours with a brandy basket, chocolate with five grain liquor (wuliangye), lavendar creme brulee which was slightly lumpy and uneven in texture, mango pudding and some fresh fruits. We were absolutely stuffed!

20111107-IMG_0652The Peking Duck in Made in China was by far the best one we had during our stay in Beijing. The bonus of course were the additional courses we had little to no expectations from, yet delivered on a high note. However, top end restaurants in China still have a long way to go when it comes to the business of service. Made in China was no exception with the brusque service and lack of interaction with the front of house. But given the modest price tag and delicious food on offer, it would not deter me in the slightest from coming back over and over again. Just remember to reserve your mallard in advance.