Beijing after dark
Beijing’s best new bar and restaurant
Thanks to a slew of trendy new bars and fine restaurants, Beijing has been stealing the spotlight from its southern sibling, Shanghai. So don’t hit the road as soon as you’ve had your fill of the Forbidden City, for the fun continues even after dark
Although it’s only been open a short while, this bijoux bar – brought to you by the ‘super group’ of Beijing mixology – has developed into the number one hang out for Beijing’s glitterati.
Cocktail supremo Leon Lee has created an encyclopedia sized menu of cocktail curiousities and there’s a tendency to sit and read all the biographies like a child absorbed in a Harry Potter book. Fortunately, for the indecisive, staff know their business and if you want advice on what to drink, you’ll get it with enthusiasm. Creations like the ‘Secret Earl Grey’ (beefeater gin finished off with pomelo-lavender bitters) and the ‘Cherry bourbon sour’ (a fruity take on the traditional) are exquisite, while an icy Mint Julep is guaranteed to cool the blood – and as good a cocktail as you’ll find anywhere.
The food is terrific too. Chef Max E Levy – the man behind The Opposite House’s Japanese restaurant Bei and Time Out’s chef of the year – is wooing Beijing’s elite with his fabulous menu of New Orleans style bar food. All the flavours of the Deep South are here (paneed pork cheeks with spinach grits and whey poached fried chicken, with many of the ingredients made from scratch on Apothecary’s premises), and act as the perfect accomplishment to Leon’s lovingly created cocktails.
But it’s not just the food and drink that delight. The décor – much of which is reminiscent of Manhattan – also elates. The gently polished blonde woods, low mood lighting and quiet corners caressed by chill out tunes make for a seductive environment in which to unwind following a long flight. Factor in attentive service and a strict door policy and you’ve got a great new place to say ganbei!
Third floor, Nali Patio, 81 Sanlitun Beilu, Chaoyang district (5208 6040l; www.apothecarychina.com).
Stints at several UK Michelin starred restaurants including Le Poussin and Gavroche as well as Beijing’s fashionable Blu Lobster, ensured that owner and head chef Brian McKenna knew his way around a kitchen by the time he opened ROOMBeijing late last year.
The interior of his spacious new venue has had Beijing’s blogging and tweeting communities salivating. Bathrooms are hidden behind fluorescent pink bookshelves, while walls are adorned with graffiti and a rainbow hued mural designed by Hugh Dalton, depicting China’s most dazzling city. Meanwhile marshmallow soft sofas and chairs are furnished in vivid shades of pink – and the perfect place to sit and listen to the international DJs or watch the social cocktail of celebrities such as NBA star Kevin Garnett, models and modelisers, sugar daddies, slummy mummies, perfumed bachelors and businessmen who like to hire out the exclusive HIS and HERS rooms with their funky ‘fingerprint only’ access.
ROOMbeijing would get full marks for décor alone, but the food more than lives up to its starry surroundings. The lengthy modern international menu is sensational, with enough seasonal changes and promotions to keep things fresh.
Start with the 42 ingredient salad – a masterpiece of texture, colour and contrast, combining 42 garden ingredients in doll sized mouthfuls, sprigs and cubes arranged with the skill of an artist. This might be followed by a spiced shrimp risotto with avocado ice cream, lemongrass and tempura: beautiful, surreal and delicious, it serves as an illustration of McKenna’s considerable skill in the kitchen. Desserts resemble something that Roald Dahl might have written about: expect a metal tree of cut fruit or a raspberry-and-herb-infused chocolate pop tart that sensationally explodes in the mouth, leaving you purring with pleasure.
Prime wines, commendable cocktails and slick service subtly underline that ROOMbeijing is the real deal. McKenna has done his homework here – and it shows. Gold star.
301-302 Level 3, PARK LIFE Shopping Centre, Beijing Yintai Centre, 2 Jianguomenwai Avenue, Chaoyang district (8517 2033; www.room-beijing.com).