Yanjintang: The Best (and Most Expensive) Private Restaurant We’ve Had the Pleasure of Trying This Year

What makes diners feel special? Dining at a private restaurant that has no trace on social media, not even on Dazhong Dianping? Dining at a restaurant tucked away in an exclusive and private yard deep in Beijing's historical heart? How about dining in the midst of an entire team dedicated to making every moment of your meal the happiest you've ever experienced? Yes, yes, and yes? Well then, Yanjingtang has it all.

To be frank, a downside to exclusive hutong dining is that you can expect the restaurant to be particularly hard to find, and in this regard, Yanjingtang gets bonus points. Hidden in a tranquil residential hutong area on Tanghua Hutong off of Deshengmenwai, you'll want to keep an eye out for two huge scarlet wooden doors. From there, you'll need to ring the bell in order to be granted access to what might be one of the most memorable meals you've ever had in Beijing.

 

Yanjingtang's quaint siheyuan (several dried fish greet you upon entry, left along the wall to sway and dry in the wind) only has enough space for two dining rooms and a table in the yard, all furnished using mostly Ming antiques. A wooden Ming dynasty plaque hung on one of the dining room walls spells out Yanjintang (宴锦棠), and sets the tone for the rustic, comfortable, down-to-earth, yet upscale meal ahead.

There’s no à la carte menu, instead, diners pay RMB 5,000-plus for a table of two to 10 patrons. The team then prepare the dishes prior to your reservation, needing time to tinker and perfect the modern Chinese menu in advance. An example would be our tasting menu starter of crawfish in nitro-yellow rice wine. Each morsel sported a bite of tender and taut meat, which when eaten with the flakes of freeze-dried yellow rice wine, will have you wanting to run back home and pour rice wine all over your favorite ice cream.

The second appetizer, deep-fried wonton wrappers topped with pea sprouts, came with a generous layer of black truffle, which acted as an earthy detonator for the underlying flavors: grassy freshness popped from the pea sprouts and the crunchy casings were lightened from their otherwise plain beginnings. We were happy to see that the dishes were not being assembled with tweezers, even if the energetic young chef Zhang Zhicheng is aiming for Michelin star standards. 

As fine as those appetizers were, the star of the show was the braised isinglass (fish air bladders), sea cucumber with leeks, and (controversially) sharks fin. To give the dish an incredible glutinous texture, and one that is very much appreciated in Chinese cooking, the ingredients were braised for 12 hours prior to serving. Paired with a seemingly simple bowl of rice, which glittered as much as it was sticky and white, silence struck the room as each spoonful of the rich stew was poured over the rice and each grain savored. The secret? “We use rice from Mibole [a high-end rice brand in Liaoning], and wash the rice over 60 times; maybe it’s not nutritious, but it’s delicious,” chef Zhang Zhicheng explained. The groans in the room were a testament to such.

One last amuse bouche-style plate of red-braised pork with preserved vegetables was also flavorful enough to cause a fight for each piece. The meal was then rounded out with mango pomelo sago, a contemporary Hong Kong dessert, whereby mango, coconut milk, and milk are blended into a smoothie-like texture and topped with pomelo. The whole combination made for a chilled, zesty, and sweet finale that left our taste buds buzzing.

We can honestly say that there were many fireworks during our Yanjintang expedition, and the food that was served shone for its true combinations without being able to be pigeonholed into a strict category. Simply put, the meal was composed of the best quality fresh ingredients found on the market cooked to perfection and with a lot of care – something you can easily get lost in.

Yanjintang is open for dinner with a minimal expense of RMB 5,000 per table (for between two-10 patrons). A reservation at least one month ahead is required by calling 158 1069 3778.

Yanjintang
Daily 6pm-late. 12 Xiaoyou Hutong, Xicheng District (158 1069 3778)
宴锦堂:西城区孝友胡同12号

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Photos: He Jing, Tracy Wang

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Burger Favorite WasPark Joins Deal Beer for Late Night Munchies in Jiaodaokou

What's better than a nice, bubbly craft beer? A nice, bubbly craft beer with a burger, of course! The good people (person) behind Fangjia Hutong's much-missed hole-in-the-wall burger joint WasPark understands just that, having resurfaced from his run-in with the Great Brickening and stumbling upon a much large space and some nectar-full accompaniments in Deal Beer's Jiaodaokou Bei'ertiao venue.

The new menu features five kinds of burgers and sandwiches (RMB 35-70) as well as bar food (RMB 20-40) such as fries, chili cheese fries, popcorn chicken, cheesy shrimp rolls, shrimp crackers, fried sweet potatoes, and a Sichuan pepper chicken fillet.

Loyalists to Was Park's old establishment will delight in the cheeseburger (RMB 45), which comes packed with a thick beef patty, pickles, tomato, lettuce, and cheese. Don't be tricked by its humble appearance and McDonald's-like bun, this burger will kick your need for late night munchies exactly where it counts: in the gut. However, should you need another bite, there's also the double cheeseburger and a host of sandwiches: pulled pork, mushroom and egg, bacon and egg, and the more experimental Beijing stir-fried mutton with leek.

The chili cheese fries (RMB 40) were also incredibly filling, with fries covered in a generous layer of cheese and chili. This is the steaming-hot comfort food that entire cities run on and comes with enough kick to have you eating along to the rhythm of the heavy metal blaring inside the venue.

So, take your burger in one hand, balance your fries in the other, and sip straight from your pint on the bar, for this truly is the pit-stop-worthy combination that Jiaodaokou needs right now and will set you straight no matter how your day may have been.

WasPark
Daily 5.30pm-midnight. 4 Jiaodaokou Beiertiao, Dongcheng District (inside Deal Beer) (156 5222 8194)
东城区交道口北二条4号

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Photos: Tracy Wang

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Relax in the Hutongs With a Blissful Cup of Irish Coffee From Wild Child Coffee

Having opened three months ago, Wild Child Coffee in the Dongcheng hutongs thankfully missed the unending mess that was the Great Brickening, delivering us an experience more akin to a hint of spring among the ruins of its surrounding neighborhood.

That's because the founder of Wild Child Coffee got his start as a barista's apprentice, gradually working his way up over 10 years to become the owner of his own small coffee shop in the hutongs.

Walking into the cozy, wood and concrete venue, you'll feel like you're entering a friend’s home, with neat furnishings and friendly staff making Wild Child a strong contender for your go-to daily spot for joe.

Posters of movie stars like the late Leslie Cheung and a playlist of Cantonese pop demonstrate the owner’s obsession with '80s Hong Kong culture, whereas the minimalist menu is written in Chinese and English and features coffees that range from RMB 25-30, with hand-poured coffees costing the most at RMB 35. Though a little pricier than what we're used to at our local chain, Wild Child Coffee makes up for the extra price with some exquisite and delicate foam work added to each cup.

In need of something with a little extra kick, we opted for the zhongdu huanzhe (RMB 38, pictured above), literally "severe patient", a modified version of Irish coffee in that it switches cream in for a small cup of milk, giving it a richer and rounder feel that allowed the coffee notes and boozy aroma to shine. The cup came with a wallop of bitterness and a nicely balanced rich roasted flavor, thanks to the coffee beans having been hand-roasted by the owner.

Since they were out of tiramisu at the time, we opted for a slice of chocolate cheesecake (RMB 38) instead to accompany our afternoon treat. The cake did not disappoint as a suitable alternative thanks to its light mousse-like texture and a sprinkling of milk powder.

Overall, Wild Child Coffee presents those nearby with a relaxing hangout with just enough noise seeping in from the outside – a reminder of the vivid and frenetic nature of life in the hutongs – and represents another venue that is helping Beijing's beloved alleyways return to form.

Wild Child Coffee
Daily 10am-10pm. 28 Xiguan Hutong, Dongcheng District (158 1130 2699)
东城区细管胡同28

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Feel the Burn: Ci Dongwai Xiaoguan Sets Mouths of Fire With Spicy Crayfish and Chuanchuan Xiang

In the wake of TBJ's Hot & Spicy Festivalour fiery restaurant coverage continues with Feel the Burn, in which we look back at what our vendors brought to the event so as to make you sweat. Head to these individual chili-rife eateries to relive and maintain the burn.

If you're a loyal follower of our food blogs, you will likely be familiar with Ci Dongwai Xiaoguan (formerly Dongwai Xiaoguan). One of our go-to venues for the authentic Sichuan chuanchuan xiang (think malatang in hot pot broth), Ci Dongwai Xiaoguan has recently revamped the menu at their Dongzhimenwai-adjacent restaurant, adding a number of homestyle dishes like crayfish cooked in seven different ways, while keeping more popular dishes such as beef with chilies, poached chicken, and poached beef in chili oil.

Having quickly downed a bowl of crayfish in 13 spices, featuring numerous crayfish with tender and tight meat (a sign of good quality), we spoke to co-owner Liu Tao about his experience at our Hot & Spicy Festival.

What did you bring to our Hot & Spicy Fest?
Crayfish and chuanchuan xiang. I previously worked in Jiangsu for four years and found the crayfish there was better than the type found in Hunan, so when I came back to Beijing, I decided to open a restaurant that only sells hand-washed crayfish from Hongze Lake in Xuyi, Jiangsu province. As for the chuanchuan xiang, it is popular at our restaurant for its special broth which is made with Sichuan laoying tea, a balancing agent for the chili and peppercorn-laden broth.  

What spicy dishes do you sell in your restaurant?
Spicy crayfish, Sichuan chuanchuan xiang, spicy braised beef, and spicy frogs with ginger are the most popular dishes in our restaurant, and all feature recipes that use key ingredients from Sichuan.

What drink do you like to pair with spicy food?
Since spicy dishes have a strong influence on diners' taste buds, we provide suanmeitang, or sour prune juice. All the ingredients come from the time-honored traditional Chinese medicine drugstore, Tongrentang (同仁堂). Often iced, suanmeitang is full of smoked plum, rock sugar, osmanthus, hawthorns, orange peel, and licorice, and can easily ease the burning sensation on your tongue.

What's the hottest thing you've ever eaten?
I accidentally had a Sichuan bird's-eye chili once, and almost died.

In one word, how does eating spicy food make you feel?
Scratching my ears and head.

If what you're eating becomes way too hot, what do you use to cool off?
A lump of rock sugar should do the trick.

Can you handle more heat? Be sure to check out the latest issue of our Hot & Spicy themed magazine as well as our ongoing chili related restaurant coverage.

More stories by this author here.

Photos courtesy of Ci Dongwai Xiaoguan

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Feel the Burn: Ci Dongwai Xiaoguan Sets Mouths of Fire With Spicy Crayfish and Chuanchuan Xiang

In the wake of TBJ's Hot & Spicy Festivalour fiery restaurant coverage continues with Feel the Burn, in which we look back at what our vendors brought to the event so as to make you sweat. Head to these individual chili-rife eateries to relive and maintain the burn.

If you're a loyal follower of our food blogs, you will likely be familiar with Ci Dongwai Xiaoguan (formerly Dongwai Xiaoguan). One of our go-to venues for the authentic Sichuan chuanchuan xiang (think malatang in hot pot broth), Ci Dongwai Xiaoguan has recently revamped the menu at their Dongzhimenwai-adjacent restaurant, adding a number of homestyle dishes like crayfish cooked in seven different ways, while keeping more popular dishes such as beef with chilies, poached chicken, and poached beef in chili oil.

Having quickly downed a bowl of crayfish in 13 spices, featuring numerous crayfish with tender and tight meat (a sign of good quality), we spoke to co-owner Liu Tao about his experience at our Hot & Spicy Festival.

What did you bring to our Hot & Spicy Fest?
Crayfish and chuanchuan xiang. I previously worked in Jiangsu for four years and found the crayfish there was better than the type found in Hunan, so when I came back to Beijing, I decided to open a restaurant that only sells hand-washed crayfish from Hongze Lake in Xuyi, Jiangsu province. As for the chuanchuan xiang, it is popular at our restaurant for its special broth which is made with Sichuan laoying tea, a balancing agent for the chili and peppercorn-laden broth.  

What spicy dishes do you sell in your restaurant?
Spicy crayfish, Sichuan chuanchuan xiang, spicy braised beef, and spicy frogs with ginger are the most popular dishes in our restaurant, and all feature recipes that use key ingredients from Sichuan.

What drink do you like to pair with spicy food?
Since spicy dishes have a strong influence on diners' taste buds, we provide suanmeitang, or sour prune juice. All the ingredients come from the time-honored traditional Chinese medicine drugstore, Tongrentang (同仁堂). Often iced, suanmeitang is full of smoked plum, rock sugar, osmanthus, hawthorns, orange peel, and licorice, and can easily ease the burning sensation on your tongue.

What's the hottest thing you've ever eaten?
I accidentally had a Sichuan bird's-eye chili once, and almost died.

In one word, how does eating spicy food make you feel?
Scratching my ears and head.

If what you're eating becomes way too hot, what do you use to cool off?
A lump of rock sugar should do the trick.

Can you handle more heat? Be sure to check out the latest issue of our Hot & Spicy themed magazine as well as our ongoing chili related restaurant coverage.

More stories by this author here.

Photos courtesy of Ci Dongwai Xiaoguan

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Meishiya’s Cheap Bento Boxes are a Quick and Easy Lunch Fix in Dongzhimen

“What do we eat for lunch?” your colleague asks casually, but anxiously. Your blood plumps and your breath gets faster, because you really don’t have a clue. C'mon, let’s face it: midday meals lead to so much mafan. Especially since you don’t want to go for a RMB 300 per person buffet (in my ragged T-shirt? Hell no!), and your wallet is getting flatter as payday still remains a few days off. Thankfully, Beijing has alternatives like Meishiya Bento, which don't require spending a lot of time or money.

Featuring 14 bentos, or Japanese style lunch sets (RMB 35-48), and three kinds of salads (RMB 20-25), Meishiya Bento is a popular lunch haunt in the basement of Raffles City, Dongzhimen. The bento-box options range from pork, salmon, beef, chicken, to curry. All are balanced out with vegetables, rice, soup, and pickles.

The beef burdock and tofu bento (RMB 38) lived up to its name with juicy slices of meat and bean curd. An added bonus: its rice was cooked with purple sweet potatoes. The only flaw was the lukewarm onside stirred lotus root and meat dish, though the side of miso soup was at least piping hot.

The café-style venue was a bit chaotic, in that you have to order and pay, grab a seat, and then return to pick up your food from the cashier when your number is called, meaning you might lose your seat. In our case, we ended up sitting at the counter facing a pile of fried chicken, which was not bad. Considering the price and quick convenience on offer, you could certainly do worse in a pinch than heading to Meishiya for lunch.

Meishiya Bento
Daily 10am-10pm. B1, Raffles City, 1 Dongzhimen Nandajie, Dongcheng District (8401 0989)
美希亚:东城区东直门南大街1号北京来福士B1

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Feel the Burn: Peiping Machine Slings Local Brews and Spicy Sausages

In the wake of TBJ's successful Hot & Spicy Festival our fiery restaurant coverage continues with this Feel the Burn series. Those of you who acquired a taste for all things hot at the fest can maintain the burn by visiting these chili rife eateries.

What better way to ease the sting of spicy food than with a sudsy local craft brew? Peiping Machine answered both calls at our recent Hot & Spicy Festival, slinging sizzling Sichuan hot dogs along with the beers that helped them gain a strong following both in the hutongs and at Gongti.

To be precise: in 2016, the first Peiping Machine took over an old factory site on Fangjia hutong that dates back to 1949. The owners renovated that space into an industrial style brewpub with 32 beers on tap, half a dozen of which are their own brews like 100 Flowers Hidden Deep IPA, a wheat beer, and American pale ale. The Peiping team opened a second outlet in Gongti in 2017, outfitting it with 64 drafts that include more imported beers. Below, their marketing team tells us more about Peiping's cool beers and hot eats.

What did you bring to our Hot & Spicy Fest?
Sichuan sausages, which are inspired by our chef's hometown. We prepared two versions of the sausage for the fest, a pork one and a beef one.

What spicy dishes do you sell in your restaurant?
We sell homemade Sichuan sausages and spicy peanuts. Our other popular dishes include Peiping's signature jianbing, which is mildly spicy. The rest of our dishes are paired with spicy chili sauce. The most popular one is the sausage, which is made using a special recipe with freshly smoked meat.

What drink do you like to pair with spicy food?
All kinds of craft beer, of course! I think mild wheat beer goes well with spicy dishes. Cider and fruity beers, meanwhile, would be appreciated by girls.

What's the hottest thing you've ever eaten?
Laozhang Noodle at Qingnian Lu.

What's your go-to spicy comfort food?
Spicy frog hot pot.

In one word, how does eating spicy food make you feel?
Delightful.

If what you're eating becomes waaaaay too hot, what do you use to cool off?
Ice cold beer, of course.

Think you can handle more heat? Then be sure to check out the latest issue of our Hot & Spicy themed magazine and more of our ongoing chili related restaurant coverage so that you can keep the burn going.

More stories by this author here.

Photos courtesy of Peiping Machine

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Feel the Burn: Peiping Machine Slings Local Brews and Spicy Sausages

In the wake of TBJ's successful Hot & Spicy Festival our fiery restaurant coverage continues with this Feel the Burn series. Those of you who acquired a taste for all things hot at the fest can maintain the burn by visiting these chili rife eateries.

What better way to ease the sting of spicy food than with a sudsy local craft brew? Peiping Machine answered both calls at our recent Hot & Spicy Festival, slinging sizzling Sichuan hot dogs along with the beers that helped them gain a strong following both in the hutongs and at Gongti.

To be precise: in 2016, the first Peiping Machine took over an old factory site on Fangjia hutong that dates back to 1949. The owners renovated that space into an industrial style brewpub with 32 beers on tap, half a dozen of which are their own brews like 100 Flowers Hidden Deep IPA, a wheat beer, and American pale ale. The Peiping team opened a second outlet in Gongti in 2017, outfitting it with 64 drafts that include more imported beers. Below, their marketing team tells us more about Peiping's cool beers and hot eats.

What did you bring to our Hot & Spicy Fest?
Sichuan sausages, which are inspired by our chef's hometown. We prepared two versions of the sausage for the fest, a pork one and a beef one.

What spicy dishes do you sell in your restaurant?
We sell homemade Sichuan sausages and spicy peanuts. Our other popular dishes include Peiping's signature jianbing, which is mildly spicy. The rest of our dishes are paired with spicy chili sauce. The most popular one is the sausage, which is made using a special recipe with freshly smoked meat.

What drink do you like to pair with spicy food?
All kinds of craft beer, of course! I think mild wheat beer goes well with spicy dishes. Cider and fruity beers, meanwhile, would be appreciated by girls.

What's the hottest thing you've ever eaten?
Laozhang Noodle at Qingnian Lu.

What's your go-to spicy comfort food?
Spicy frog hot pot.

In one word, how does eating spicy food make you feel?
Delightful.

If what you're eating becomes waaaaay too hot, what do you use to cool off?
Ice cold beer, of course.

Think you can handle more heat? Then be sure to check out the latest issue of our Hot & Spicy themed magazine and more of our ongoing chili related restaurant coverage so that you can keep the burn going.

More stories by this author here.

Photos courtesy of Peiping Machine

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SLT Soho’s Matcha Café Lives Up to Its Name with Plenty of Emerald-Hued Delights

Clearly, Beijing's zeal for matcha hasn't yet faded. Case in point: the aptly named Matcha Café recently opened in the basement of Sanlitun Soho, joining the neighborhood's legions of other businesses doling out that emerald-hued Asian dessert.

The café looked upscale from outside – a dark floor-to-ceiling glass window, a small terrace made of wood inside the café, a chandelier on the ceiling, a counter lined with various matcha-related sweets, and various delicate pots and kettles for matcha placed behind those wares. Just don't let the small Christmas lamps ruin your mood, and instead enjoy the painting of a kimono-clad woman walking in Paris.

The Jinyuzi (金玉子, RMB 45), which literally means gold egg, was covered with charcoal powder, packed with matcha mousse under its thin shell, and dusted with gold powder. The mousse was soft, and the center was a sweet marshmallow, though the matcha powder rife bottom was a bit dry. It was also candy for the eye, its egg-shaped mousse nestled on the shallow iron plate in black, with an equally dark metal twig reaching out and a blackbird perched upon it. We could instantly imagine lots of teenagers taking selfies with it.

The signature matcha lava cake, meanwhile, was a bit too soft to maintain its intended Fuji Mountain shape. It was more like a collapsing green mountain, but the flavor made up for the presentation. Its oozing green center was sweet, and the cake was soft with a strong milk powder flavor, making it an accessible choice for those who aren't accustomed to matcha. It was dusted with sugar powder to give an extra kick of sweetness. We paired it with some hand-pour matcha tea (RMB 46), which was served in a pretty glass pot and boasted a mild flavor thanks to its floral osmanthus petals.

The good thing about Matcha Café is that it is quiet and comfortable, and you can get your tea re-filled for free. That means we now have an alternative working venue when the nearby cafés become over crowded – one with more distinctly Asian desserts to boot.

Matcha Café
Daily 12-9pm. B1-122, Bldg 1, Sanlitun Soho, 8 Gongti Beilu, Chaoyang District (159 1088 7271)
抹雅:朝阳区工体北路8号院三里屯SOHO1号商场B1122

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A Reason to Raise Your Glass: Bob’s Wine Reopens on Xingdong Lu

Remember when all those small businesses were demolished on Xingfucun, such as RollBox, Anchor, Ling Er Jiu, along with the impeccably stocked Bob’s Wine shop? That period during The Great Brickening certainly was tough. But thankfully Bob’s Wine has bounced back, larger and stronger than ever before.

The new Bob's is located on the first floor on the west side of Shoukai Bojun on Xindong Lu, north of Heaven Supermarket and a quick walk from its original spot. One day, when we were passing by Xingfu Lu, the chic white tiled façade caught our eyes. We were not only overjoyed to see that this long popular booze seller had returned, but that it is also improved. Its larger floor space features a huge fridge loaded with craft beers at the entrance. Wines, whiskeys, sakes, and spirits line the shelves behind that. There’s even a cellar for wines in the back of the store.

Whisky lovers will be excited to see bottles of Ardbeg, Aultmore, Bowmore, Dalmore, Kavalan (the famous brand from Taiwan), Lagavulin, Laphroaig, Longrow, and a special selection of Japanese malts. There's also limited edition 8-year-old Lagavulin, to celebrate that brand's 200th anniversary. It's a mildly smoky, sweet and spicy whisky that we were happy to bring home.

Among the beers, we spotted plenty of imports from Stone, Anchor, Rogue, Ballast Point, Brewdog, and Epic, along with rarer options from Prairie Artisan Ales. All are reasonably priced (at least 30 percent cheaper than at beer bars).

Among those brews, we were excited to find one of our favorites, Double Red IPA from AleSmith, which was out of stock on our regular Taobao shop. Better still was around RMB 30 per bottle (we got it on Taobao for RMB 45). Without hesitation, our hands reached scooped up several. Just a tip: you might get greedy here at Bob's, and find your refrigerator overstuffed with booze, especially if you pursue the shop when you're already tipsy.

There are also two long wooden tables for people to sip away at their purchases, making it a good place to not only shop but also hang out. We’ll certainly return to this new haven to see what else they have to offer.

Bob's Wine
Daily 10am-11.30pm. Shoukai Bojun, 8 Xindong Lu, Chaoyang District (138 1188 6146)
新东路8号首开铂郡北区底商

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