New Italian Restaurant Simply Fresh Offers More than Modern Delicious Italian Fare

Even though it's hidden on the second floor of the China Overseas Plaza at CBD, Simply Fresh is not a grab-and-go lunch restaurant for busy working bees nearby – it’s a place to sit down, appreciate the food and the relaxing atmosphere with a long meal in a casual yet modern atmosphere.

Greeted by fresh flowers, paintings, and artistic accents, we walked in an immediately noticed the vibrant vibe. Finally, a restaurant is embracing the bright colors of life instead of adhering to the minimalist style that's so popular these days. There's no way the decor of this restaurant could be described as boring or lazy, unlike some establishments that keep the style calm and featureless. The key color tones are white, light grey, and black, brightened up with fresh flowers and plants everywhere, and paintings along the wall from Chinese artist Zhang Changjiang up for sale.

It seems Simply Fresh is quite modest, though not simple at all. Just softly opened less than a couple of months ago, the dishes are executed by master chef Giovanni Young, who was born and raised in Italy, and has worked for several famous Michelin-starred restaurants, such as Osteria Francescana, The Restaurant, and Enoteca la Torre. The sauces, breads, and desserts are made in-house by Young to maintain their consistency and quality. The menu features a wide selection of authentic Italian cuisine with modern twists, including five salads (RMB 38-88), creative starters (RMB 48-88), soups (RM 38-88), different varieties of pasta and risotto (RMB 58-108), mains (RMB 88-288), Australian Angus steaks (RMB 228-888), and desserts.

Kicked off with organic sunny-side-up egg (RMB 48) on top of porcini besciamella sauce (white sauce made from butter and flour), it was served with asparagus and truffle sauce to bring out the earthy flavor.

As for the staples, the ravioli with black bisque in candy shape (RMB 128) was more than just literal eye candy – the juicy prawn filling was bursting with umami flavor. We also liked the spinach & ricotta cheese gnocchi (RMB 78) which is also vegetarian – it was lightly flavored with taleggio cheese sauce, and crisp green cabbage. Blacktail prawn linguine (RMB 98) had a nice and spicy kick with abundant zucchini and pepper, benefitting from the house-made bisque which took hours to make.

We enjoyed the fried smoked lamb tenderloin (RMB 128), which had a crispy exterior from the deep-frying encasing the powerful and tender lamb and lively with marinated button mushroom which was cooked with white wine, and truffle sauce. People say Italian food is all about passion, which we could certainly taste in this dish.

Some of you may know that we have a thing for lava cake (RMB 68), and we couldn’t get enough of the lava cake here. It is made with 70% Valrhona black chocolate and baked to perfection – not too sweet yet rather indulgent. Nothing compares to the excitement we felt when the dense and gooey chocolate center came oozing out slowly. It seems a lot of patrons share our feelings, as we were told that it's the best seller here.

The space is quite airy with high ceilings and floor-to-ceiling windows. The tailored chairs are so comfortable that your arse will be glued to the chair for hours (hence our advice to go there for a long lunch), thanks to the furniture designed by Chinese brand Zaozuo.

Aside from the a la carte menu, you can choose the weekday lunch set for RMB 98 (per person) including a choice of starter and main course, or try the three-course tasting menu, including signature dishes such as crab zucchini salad or mushroom soup, a choice between ravioli, fried smoked lamb tenderloin, or red snapper, with pannacotta and coffee or tea for RMB 228 per person. We were happy to see the delicate execution of the dishes and will come back to try more (after payday). Thanks Simply Fresh, for filling the gap and bringing passion from Italy to the CBD.

Simply Fresh
Daily 10.30am-2.30pm, 5.30-10pm, afternoon tea 2.30-5.30pm. 2/F, North Tower, China Overseas Plaza, 8 Guanghua Dongli, Chaoyang District (5290 3887)
馥遇餐厅:朝阳区光华东里8号院中海广场北楼2

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Photos:  courtesy of Simply Fresh, Tracy Wang

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New Italian Restaurant Simply Fresh Offers More than Modern Delicious Italian Fare

Even though it's hidden on the second floor of the China Overseas Plaza at CBD, Simply Fresh is not a grab-and-go lunch restaurant for busy working bees nearby – it’s a place to sit down, appreciate the food and the relaxing atmosphere with a long meal in a casual yet modern atmosphere.

Greeted by fresh flowers, paintings, and artistic accents, we walked in an immediately noticed the vibrant vibe. Finally, a restaurant is embracing the bright colors of life instead of adhering to the minimalist style that's so popular these days. There's no way the decor of this restaurant could be described as boring or lazy, unlike some establishments that keep the style calm and featureless. The key color tones are white, light grey, and black, brightened up with fresh flowers and plants everywhere, and paintings along the wall from Chinese artist Zhang Changjiang up for sale.

It seems Simply Fresh is quite modest, though not simple at all. Just softly opened less than a couple of months ago, the dishes are executed by master chef Giovanni Young, who was born and raised in Italy, and has worked for several famous Michelin-starred restaurants, such as Osteria Francescana, The Restaurant, and Enoteca la Torre. The sauces, breads, and desserts are made in-house by Young to maintain their consistency and quality. The menu features a wide selection of authentic Italian cuisine with modern twists, including five salads (RMB 38-88), creative starters (RMB 48-88), soups (RM 38-88), different varieties of pasta and risotto (RMB 58-108), mains (RMB 88-288), Australian Angus steaks (RMB 228-888), and desserts.

Kicked off with organic sunny-side-up egg (RMB 48) on top of porcini besciamella sauce (white sauce made from butter and flour), it was served with asparagus and truffle sauce to bring out the earthy flavor.

As for the staples, the ravioli with black bisque in candy shape (RMB 128) was more than just literal eye candy – the juicy prawn filling was bursting with umami flavor. We also liked the spinach & ricotta cheese gnocchi (RMB 78) which is also vegetarian – it was lightly flavored with taleggio cheese sauce, and crisp green cabbage. Blacktail prawn linguine (RMB 98) had a nice and spicy kick with abundant zucchini and pepper, benefitting from the house-made bisque which took hours to make.

We enjoyed the fried smoked lamb tenderloin (RMB 128), which had a crispy exterior from the deep-frying encasing the powerful and tender lamb and lively with marinated button mushroom which was cooked with white wine, and truffle sauce. People say Italian food is all about passion, which we could certainly taste in this dish.

Some of you may know that we have a thing for lava cake (RMB 68), and we couldn’t get enough of the lava cake here. It is made with 70% Valrhona black chocolate and baked to perfection – not too sweet yet rather indulgent. Nothing compares to the excitement we felt when the dense and gooey chocolate center came oozing out slowly. It seems a lot of patrons share our feelings, as we were told that it's the best seller here.

The space is quite airy with high ceilings and floor-to-ceiling windows. The tailored chairs are so comfortable that your arse will be glued to the chair for hours (hence our advice to go there for a long lunch), thanks to the furniture designed by Chinese brand Zaozuo.

Aside from the a la carte menu, you can choose the weekday lunch set for RMB 98 (per person) including a choice of starter and main course, or try the three-course tasting menu, including signature dishes such as crab zucchini salad or mushroom soup, a choice between ravioli, fried smoked lamb tenderloin, or red snapper, with pannacotta and coffee or tea for RMB 228 per person. We were happy to see the delicate execution of the dishes and will come back to try more (after payday). Thanks Simply Fresh, for filling the gap and bringing passion from Italy to the CBD.

Simply Fresh
Daily 10.30am-2.30pm, 5.30-10pm, afternoon tea 2.30-5.30pm. 2/F, North Tower, China Overseas Plaza, 8 Guanghua Dongli, Chaoyang District (5290 3887)
馥遇餐厅:朝阳区光华东里8号院中海广场北楼2

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Photos:  courtesy of Simply Fresh, Tracy Wang

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What’s Up in Beer: A Thanksgiving Beer Guide, Free-Flow Party, and a Pop-Up Beer Takeover

When the sun goes down and the stars come out, spotting the skies and shining like locals’ expectoration on the pavement, it is time to gather our friends around and give thanks. Thank you, reader, for being with us today and clicking on this blog. Whether you're American or not, tonight is a night to spend with close friends and family and share love and a drink. You have my word, it looks to be a very, very long and beery holiday weekend.

Before we start the long list of places to celebrate, let me say a quick congratulations to Jing-A and NBeer who both won awards at the 2017 Brussels Beer Challenge, which saw 1,512 beers take part. Jing-A’s Worker’s Pale Ale won a Gold Medal in the American Pale Ale category. Go give it at sip at either of their locations (RMB 100 for four).

NBeer’s Beijing Gose Modern (4.5 percent ABV) earned a Gold Medal in the sour wheat beer category. Well done, guys!

Wondering about the Europeans’ take on Thanksgiving? The Treuben sandwich (RMB 60) at Arrow Factory (Liangmahe location) may just be the answer. It's a particularly lush sarnie, featuring sliced roast turkey, sliced honey baked ham, traditional herb stuffing, cranberry sauce, white cheddar cheese, and dijonnaise, all sat between buttered and toasted rye bread and paired with hand-cut sweet potato fries and gravy. Get it as a combo with an Imperial Pilgrim’s Amber Ale for RMB 85. The Imperial Pilgrim’s Amber Ale is on special for RMB 35 all night, or you can opt for RMB 150 all-you-can-drink Guanxi Pale Ale bottles. All the promotions start at 6pm, tonight only (Nov 23). They're expecting a big crowd, so you should make a reservation.

Drunk Bar in Wangfujing hasn’t forgotten you, either. You can go for the turkey set dinner (RMB 338 for two) from now until Dec 25, for which you'll get a salad, two pumpkin soups, a roast turkey, two apple pies and two glasses of house wine. You can also enjoy their daily special deals: Monday, 50 percent off on milk tea; Tuesday, 50 percent off on coffee; Wednesday, 50 percent off on dessert; Thursday, 50 percent off on cocktails; and 20 percent off on dishes every weekend until Dec 10. They also recently stocked Boulevard's Tough Kitty Milk Stout (5.5 percent ABV) on tap.

Great Outdoors on Fangjia Hutong is also helping to spread the holiday cheer from Nov 23-25 at 7-10pm. RMB 228 will get you a slow-roasted turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, soup, macaroni and cheese, green beans, dessert, and a glass of wine or draft beer. Book here.

Jing-A Xingfucun will offer a Thanksgiving dinner menu with a choice of a whole, half, or small portion of roast turkey (see the poster above) on Nov 23, with different sides, such as chorizo stuffing, crispy Brussels sprouts, sweet potato with marshmallows, and pumpkin pie in a jar. Their tasty barbecue menu will be available too. Book the turkey in advance by calling 152 1090 7612.

Those of you that didn’t make it to the 8x8 beer fest in the beginning of November, will be happy to hear that Jing-A are bringing it back this weekend. RMB 100 will get you an 8x8 taster glass, and a pour of each of the eight collab beers at Jing-A Xingfucun on Nov 25, starting at 2pm. Seize your last chance to try this special brews!

Slow Boat will launch their dinner set tonight, on Nov 23, 7.30pm. RMB 318 will get you a honey ale-glazed whole roast turkey (cooked by Ramo), four side dishes, dessert, and a glass of wine. You can also add RMB 144 to get two hours of free-flow draft berr. There are only 20 seats available, so book in advance (see the QR code in the poster above). Also, they've released a new Moby’s Dick Red Double IPA with 7.2 percent ABV, a deep red color, dry-hopped to get a floral hop aroma, and sports some additional whiskey-soaked American oak to give some complexity.

NBeer will hand out limited portions of turkey to each table for free at both locations starting at 7pm on Nov 23. They also recommend their new Winter’s Coming Weizenbock with 8.1 percent ABV as a perfect match for scoffing down meat.

Last but not least, I know people are missing El Nido, the much-loved but recently demolished bar on Fangjia. However, boss man Xiaoshuai will place several special kegs on tap as a takeover of Fang Bar on at Shoubi Hutong, starting tonight at 6pm and finishing on Nov 26 at 2pm, providing six beers a day from a selection of Selassie, Leon Pale Ale, Nebuchadnezzar IPA, Mazarin Pale Ale from Omnipollo, Sleeping Lemons Sour, Ninkasi Saison from The Wild Beer, Accidental Jedi IPA from Edge Brewing,

And sadly, as winter's coming, not all the bars will survive. Last night we found out that Forty+ Taphouse at Chaoyangmenwai, formerly bearing the title of most drafts (with 43 taps) has closed. RIP, Forty+ Taphouse (see our last impressions here).

Hopefully, you can attend some of these events and enjoy this crisp early winter weather. Happy Thanksgiving, and thank you for following What’s Up in Beer. May there always be brews!

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Nestgram Re-Nests at Ritan Park with Rainbow-Colored Pastries and Hot Drinks

Not everyone could survive the Great Brickening, but it only takes time for those with a strong will to carry on to rise again. Unlike their former neighbor Bei 27 Hao, who moved to Nali Patio, Taiwanese-style bakery Nestgram relocated near – and doubled in size after closing their location at Sanlitun Beili which opened a year ago.

We noticed that they have chosen another relatively quiet location again, at Ritan Shangjie with a bunch of not-so-crowded restaurants to the north of Ritan Park. They've also upgraded their décor with a more minimalist style – simple white lamps, grey walls, and delicate knickknacks. A large bar where the staff makes drinks is surrounded by high stools, with several marble tables throughout the space. Simply speaking, it is a nice place to take some foodie pictures and some selfies with your besties.

The drink menu has expanded, with seven coffees (RMB 23-37), five hot winter drinks (RMB 27-37), special teas and blended juices (RMB 23-32), five bird’s nest drinks (RMB 43), and enzyme and yogurt drinks (RMB 27-32). We opted for the milk with ginger & chestnut (RMB 32) of the seasonal warm winter drinks, which was prepared and served promptly. It was a proper Christmas drink, with warming and spicy aromas benefiting from the shredded ginger and chopped chestnut at the bottom of the drink.

On the dessert menu, instead of playing it safe by going for the lovely Swiss rolls, we went for something rare: The “Lazy Alan” (RMB 37) is made up of salty minced pork between layers of cake. It was served frozen and the cake was quite hard and slightly sweet, while the layer of pork was savory, and covered with savory ham and pork floss. It was odd, and if you have tried the Cantonese dessert jizaibing –  a chicken-shaped pastry seasoned with sugar, five-spice powder, salt, pepper powder, and garlic – you might understand it. If not, we suggest you try the “normal” cakes (RMB 37-67) instead, such as coconut banana cake, black sesame cake, opera cake, carrot cake, matcha brownie, or the Swiss rolls (RMB 107 for seven flavors). Among the breads, the bagel-like yellow bread (RMB 27) with mango and fig filling was our favorite. They also offer the colorful toasts, cholegg (baozi-like bread with salted egg and different fillings, RMB 17-27), as well as some more traditional breads.

We were disappointed that – unlike at their former location, where the visual impact of so many colorful pastries hit your like a crowded flower shop – the new branch hides them along the wall, has a limited number of colorful breads, and that they're now all wrapped in plastic. What a shame: The half-transparent bag steals a lot of the glory of the lovely pastries, lowering the desire for people to try them all.

Even though it’s not yet Christmas, some businesses are locked and loaded for the festivities.Nestgram is one of them – there is a table with Christmas-related gift boxes and plastic Christmas trees for people to grab and go. The service was impeccable, the staff was kind and inviting, and the breads and treats (though now somewhat concealed) are colorful as ever. We are sure that their rainbow-like pastries and drinks will lighten up the long, dim winter.

Nestgram
Daily 9am-9pm. 1-10, 39 Shenlu Jie, Chaoyang District (8572 8517)
7:朝阳区神路街391-10

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Spacious Shijie Food Research Institute at Hujialou Piqued Our Interest and Tested Our Patience

I don't know if it's my curious nature or years of work as a food editor, but these days "safe" or "normal" food can't satisfy me. Whenever I see something new, interesting, exotic, or weird, I have to try it even it seems sure to lead to my own demise. This time, while walking around Hujialou station, I noticed a new canteen-alike restaurant/food court on the first floor of Jinglong Mansion, calling itself the Shijie Food Research Institute. Come on, a food research institute? There was no way I could just walk by without trying it.

Arriving on a weekday during the lunch peak, we noticed that the Japanese restaurant Matsuko on the second floor seemed quite busy, as office workers from the building dashed in and out with deliveries. Why was Shijie empty with only one customer? Why were the workers in the building heading out into the cold world to stuff their belly instead of dining in the same building?

Missing this first sign from the universe, we walked in bravely; the counter is at the door, where you are given an iPad to see the menu. One good thing is that the menu is bilingual, but a bad thing is that each dish basically takes up a whole page. You have to stand there for five minutes to go through all the dishes. The menu includes snacks, soup with rice (RMB 28-38), eggs, desserts, and drinks.

Looking through the menu, we didn’t find any “staple” foods, and ordered vegetables and boiled eggs with cranberry millet cakes (RMB 42), since the deep-fried millet cakes can count as a staple, no? It took a solid 30 minutes to wait for this, so long that we almost forgot why we were sitting there. The portion was as small as a starter at some other posh restaurant, and the egg-sized cakes were made of millet, cranberry, and pearl barley. The side salad was seasoned with a dash of balsamic, but it dropped the ball with the sesame sauce, which was earthy and sweet.

With our bellies roaring, we had to go for the baguette with lemon yogurt (RMB 24), a baguette which should be stuffed, no? It took us another quarter of an hour to spot the plate waiting to be served by the kitchen, but the waiters chatted away without noticing it. Our hunger overcame any shyness, and we walked up to them to ask them to fetch the food for us. When the canapés were served, there was no apology, no excuse, not even a smile. This canapé tasted good, with a slice of avocado and cold lemon sauce on top of a black slice of bread, but why did it take them so long to serve this cold dish? To round it up, we had rum cheesecake (RMB 38), which was served in a small plastic box in liquid, and didn’t look like a cheesecake or rum at all.

The food? They are salubrious, with good quality, meaning it's probably not the right place to stuff your belly. To be fair, having an afternoon tea set here would be more reasonable, first, it’s empty, quiet, with nice sunshine on a good day. Second, the set is just RMB 39.9 with a coffee and bites of tapas (a choice of canapé, roast potato wedges, or mini burger); or RMB 69.9 for a luxury set, with a canapé with a hand-drip coffee.

Looking around, we saw that half of the huge empty area was occupied with induction cookers and large marble counters. Your food is not actually cooked here, but delivered from a small hole in the distant back wall from the real kitchen. Maybe reforming it as a cooking school will utilize the space more efficiently?

We are not prematurely declaring doom for this new "institute" since it just opened, but we don’t feel their chances of survival are great, since they weren't crowded, the concept is strange, and the service was slow and indifferent. It's not a food research institute, not a food court, not a bakery, nor a cooking school. During our two-hour visit, we couldn’t figure out what it wants to be, and we probably won’t come back any time soon to discover the answer. Right now we're focused on finding a second lunch.

Shijie
Daily 10am-10pm. 1/F. Jinglong Dasha, 225 Chaoyang Beilu, Chaoyang District (6509 7766)
食介空间·开放式食物研究所:朝阳区朝阳北路225号京龙大厦1

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New Peiping Machine at Gongti Doubles Up With 64 Taps and a Surreal Atmosphere

Try as it might, winter can’t freeze the beer industry (thankfully). Peiping Machine’s opening brought some warmth to beer lovers in Sanlitun. We have to admit that it was our second time here – after the soft opening with Stone Brewing's takeover on Nov 3.

If you are familiar with the one-year-old Peiping Machine Taphouse – with 32 taps of their own and imported beers on tap in Fangjia Hutong with a nice, long white marble bar, and large wooden tables – you might struggle to notice any similarities it shares with the new location. First, it's located on the quieter side of Gongti, through the back alley of fancy bars like D-One and Tango, to the east side. When you reach the end of the alley, turn left (to the north) and keep on walking while maybe doubting your directions. When you can see the iron barrier of the Gongti complex, you look to your right side: There lies the new Peiping Machine, their name painted in simple red characters on the white wall.

Walking inside, you'll find a cavernous warehouse space, a diagonally large bar with 32 drafts on each side (64 taps in total, double the original), a large kitchen on the right side, several small tables on the left side, and a large TV on the wall. The cooling room with kegs, regulators, and pipes underground link the kegs to the bar several meters away. During our visit, there were 39 drafts available – ten of their own (RMB 28-40), including our favorite 100 Flowers Hidden Deep IPA, along with a pilsner, dark lager, American pale ale, chocolate stout, dried orange peel session, and apple cider. There are domestic beers – osmanthus wheat and an IPA from Anhui Dream Brew, an IPA and hefeweizen from Nanjing Tangshan, a caramel porter from Moke, and an IPA and an ale from Laotao. As for the imports, there are three IPAs and a pale ale from Stone (RMB 60), two IPAs and the Red Trolley Ale from Karl Strauss (RMB 50), pale ale, brown ale, lager and witbier from Mornington (RMB 45), three IPAs and a pale ale from Drake’s, as well as the Stickee Monkee from Firestone (RMB 80) and Paradise Imperial Stout from Prairie (RMB 85), which are not on the cheap side.

We especially enjoyed the Stickee Monkee (12 percent ABV) and Paradise Imperial Stout, which are quite rare not just in China, but also in America. The former is a bourbon barrel-aged quadrupel with rich and complex flavors, brewed with turbinado brown sugar from Mexico and Belgian candi sugar providing a strong molasses flavor. The latter is an imperial stout aged in rum barrels and brewed with coconut and vanilla.

Continuing the factory theme, Peiping Machine seems to push the rustic décor to the extreme, with large white pipes on the ceiling, whole walls covered with concrete, several large fans on the ceiling spinning non-stop, and the bright lights of the cooling room illuminating the system of kegs somehow reminding us of a spaceship. The noise from the air system combined with music by Maroon 5 gave the spacious and empty concrete taphouse an almost eerie vibe, though we're sure the crowds on Saturday nights will liven it up. But when we visited on a slow weekday, the experience was surreal, like drinking in a storage warehouse at an airport, or as though we were drinking in a hanger on Mars.

Currently, their food options are limited – simple bar fare like burgers and chips. During our visit, none of the food was available, but we did see the chef slowly cutting up onion, tomato, and vegetables, stir-frying a nice dinner for their staff. Even if Peiping Machine has the largest number of taps in Beijing (as we said, 64 taps, surpassing the former record-holder 40+ Taphouse with their 43 taps), but they only had 39 beers available, and the food menu and service need time to acclimate to the new space. We will come back to check on their progress as they hopefully bring out more choices with a local twist – just as they did with their jianbing at the Fangjia branch.

Peiping Machine Gongti
Daily 5pm-2am. 8 Gonti Xilu, Chaoyang District
北平机器工体店:朝阳区工人体育场西路8

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Let Us Eat Cake! Miss Mousse Provides Birthday Cakes and Party Supplies in Sanlitun

We don't know about you, but here at the Beijinger we've been celebrating a lot of birthdays. We blame Valentine’s Day, which according to our calculations falls almost exactly nine months before this week. With all these celebrations going on, it's inevitable that the party planning committee should forget to order someone's birthday cake – but that's no longer a problem, thanks to Sanlitun's new cakes-to-go bakery shop.

Beyond our favorites, Pantry’s Best and Comptoirs de France, where else can you go for a birthday in a box? The answer is Miss Mousse, located in the basement of Sanlitun Soho. Miss Mousse is a relatively a small place with only two tables, a fridge to display cakes they’ve made today, and the ones available for delivery. There are ready-made red velvet, black chocolate cake, Hokkaido-style cake, and sponge cake in the fridge, but you'll have to look elsewhere for coffee or tea to accompany your sweet treat (and in Sanlitun Soho, you won't have to look far).

We went for a box of four different kinds of cake (RMB 68), which we had to take away since the two tables were occupied. Let's start with the best: go for the chocolate cake (on the left top), with a dense, sticky bottom, airy whipped cream, and flakes of dark chocolate. It looks a bit rustic, but the flavors proved the honest quality of the ingredients they use. The other chocolate one was a bit bitter, and strawberry one was acidic with a soft sponge cake bottom lacking in flavor.

As a red velvet cake lover, we pass up the opportunity to try a slice for RMB 33. It seemed a bit too light and too flakey for us, and even the cream cheese frosting didn’t help – definitely not our favorite when we've had the famous richly flavored and satisfying rendition at the Waldorf Astoria.

Unfortunately, they don’t have slices of the popular fruit cakes, which are the bestsellers here, and we couldn’t consume a whole cake like that even they were appealing. While you can grab a cake and go, you can also get a wider range of cakes here if you book in advance, including double layer cake, tiramisu, matcha mousse cake, chocolate and banana cake, red velvet cake, chocolate cake, cheesecake, mocha cake, rose cake, and brownie (RMB 238 for a 6-inch, RMB 358 for an 8-inch, RMB 589 for a 10-inch, and RMB 898 for a 12-inch).

Perhaps the greatest appeal of this cake shop is that they also provide everything you need to decorate and serve your cake in a classic birthday party: balloons, hats, cards, candles, toys, and more – truly a godsend when you don't have time for Taobao. Even if the new Miss Mousse has some wrinkles to iron out, it will certainly do in a pinch, and could save you and your friend's birthday.  

Miss Mousse
Daily 9:30am-9:30pm. B1-302, Bldg 3, Sanlitun Soho, 8 Gongti Beilu, Chaoyang District (5785 3098)
朝阳区工体北路8号院三里屯SOHO3号商场B1B1-302

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Under Clouds Offers Elevated Yunnanese Dishes and Delicious Desserts

We find it hard to define Under Clouds, which has been open for less than a year (see our first impression here). Unlike the regular Yunnan restaurants such as Little Yunnan, Dali Courtyard, In and Out, or Middle 8th, this modern Yunnan restaurant is sparse in decor and color and lacks a certain ethnic flare. Our first impression of this airy and bright place is that it seemed somewhat Nordic in style – minimalist wooden café chairs in grey, white marble tables, and bright yellow sofas. But we slowly realized that three different colors – ocean green, cherry blossom pink, and spruce blue – represent the water, mountains, and flowers of the Yunnan landscape.  

Exploring their newly launched winter menu items, we kicked off the meal with some cold dishes. The beef rolls with mint (RMB 68) maintained their rep as a fresh and tasty Yunnan classic, dipped in soy sauce. Mashed yam with passion fruit juice (RMB 48) was odd: The yam’s texture was a bit like mashed potato, while the passion fruit juice gave the flavor some zest but made it a bit too sweet. We liked the fried Yunnan ham with wrinkled pepper (RMB 82), though – the jade green peppers proving to be more than just eye-candy. The peppers' dry and powerful spice was complemented by the savory and mild ham, enticing us to keep digging for more.

The plum stewed pork (RMB 118) is worth a try, too: It's a Yunnanese take on red-braised pork belly. It had a beautiful red-brown glaze with sweet and savory flavors, and a certain acidic taste from the plum to clean the palate. If we have to poke a hole, we would wish for less fat marbles.

As for their staples, we recommend the boiled rice noodles (RMB 42), with shredded carrots, termite mushroom, pickled vegetables, tomatoes, and chilies; the chicken broth was spicy and hot, with abundant umami flavor. You could also go for the Boletus rice (RMB 26), including a bowl of rice, with a bowl of boletus mushroom sauce to top it off.

You may find that the dishes for the meal are on the pricey side for a relatively small portion compared to your go-to Yunnan restaurants. Fear not, though, for we’ve found it is quite reasonable for the coffee, tea, and desserts. Espresso and Americano are RMB 25, while cappuccino, latte, flat white, and mocha are RMB 30-38. The cappuccino we tried (RMB 35) was very rich in flavor with a round body, lovely balanced toasty flavor, brewed with Yunnanese and Ethiopian coffee beans.

The desserts were surprisingly good. The mochi, or nuomici (糯米糍) set (RMB 78 for three) included three flavors of fillings: red bean, strawberry, and pumpkin. Our favorite was the pumpkin filling wrapped in thin glutinous rice skin, benefitting from the perfect little dash of cinnamon. The almond chocolate was good, too – the crunchy and nutty almond was coated with sugar and covered with abundant cacao powder, making each bite like a small flavor explosion as you crunch through the layers. The cheesecake is far from being the cheapest in town at RMB 68, but this sizable cheesecake with fresh fig is probably the most satisfying thing (with coffee) you could ask for on a winter afternoon.  

There are some interesting items, such as Dali porcini mushroom ice cream (RMB 48), yokan (RMB 68, cake made of red bean flour, sugar, and agar) that we saved for next time. The spacious place with floor-to-ceiling windows is good for enjoying their afternoon tea sets, in a price range from RMB 180 to 490. Located at the quiet north side of Parkview Green, Under Clouds might not be the traditional (read: cheap) Yunnan restaurant you're looking for, but we’ll come back for the honest and delicious coffee and addictive desserts.

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Photos: Tracy Wang

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What’s Up in Beer: Maovember Dog Pub Crawl, New Brews Arriving, and Old Brews Returning

Dear beer-lovers, how was your Singles' Day shopping spree? How involved were you in the RMB 168.2 billion GMV for Alibaba Group? I feel your pain – not from spending all my grocery money hoarding deals online, but from the intense keg-hoisting Beer-Active workout we held last Thursday. Better start to save for next week, since Thanksgiving is around the corner, which I can assure you will be more beery than ever.  

Man has two best friends: his dog, and his beer. Enjoy some pints with your little loyal friend at your side at the first Maovember Dog Pub Crawl on Nov 19. For RMB 100, you'll get a pint at five bars: Beer Mania, The Local, XL Bar, Paddy O’Shea’s, finishing at Jing-A Xingfucun. You'll also get a package of Penny’s for your dog (no beers, sorry). For more information check here.

Great Leap will bring the long popular Bearded General IPA back on tap this Friday, which was double dry-hopped with Amarillo hops, with notes of grapefruit and apricot. Named after General Guan Yu from the Three Kingdom’s period, whose typical portrait is a red-faced warrior with long, lush beard, this medium-bodied IPA has a deep amber color from New Zealand caramel malts. This beer will be available for RM B 25 for Collectivists (RMB 45 regular price) on Friday.

After 8X8 Beer Fest, Jing-A is now releasing not one but four beers on tap at both locations. A collab brew with Estonian brewery Põhjala – Late Night Date, a rich Baltic porter with dates and figs that were smoked on lychee and applewood, and a hefty 9 percent ABV. Day Day Hop (above) with (only) 5 percent ABV was surprisingly good. This pale ale is very hazy, with citrusy and fruity aromas, and a resinous backdrop. Death by Mango IPA (with 7 percent ABV) features tropical aromas from brewing with fresh mango with hops. Toasted Chestnut Brown Ale, with 6.7 percent ABV, is a balanced brown ale with warm caramel and toasty flavors from the Beijing roasted chestnuts.

After releasing the Worker’s Pale Ale, Jing-A has put out the bottled Flying Fist IPA: RMB 115 for a four-pack at both locations. Also if you missed the beers at 8x8, currently they put the beers from single breweries (i.e. Gitantic, Breakside, Taihu) as rotating guest taps at both locations, there will be a pop-up event for the collab-brews soon (shh).

Surviving the Great Brickening, the relocated Tiny had already run out of stock on half their beers during our visit. Now they've put three new beers on tap, Centennial Single Hop IPA with 6.8 percent ABV (RMB 45); Bubble in the Beard, a collab brew between Bubble and Cloudburst with 10 percent ABV (RMB 60); and a New England-style IPA.

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Spice It Up! Authentic Sichuan Chuanchuanxiang at Dongwai Xiaoguan

As a longtime Beijinger, we must always be ready for change. That's more true than ever today, with the ongoing "Brickening" and other constant renovations. We've learned to let go of the past and embrace the new – a muscle we were able to flex when, all of a sudden, we found the Dongbei restaurant at a local residential area replaced by a new Sichuan restaurant: Dongwai Xiaoguan. The new place is the total opposite of the former – neat, clean, and elegant, with no flies, kind waiters, and plenty of space.

Named Dongwai Xiaoguan, it is a place for chuanchuan xiang (串串香). You'll know what I’m talking about if you’ve ever been to Chengdu, but for those unfamiliar, it's a famous and ubiquitous Sichuan street food. Diners choose from a range of chuanr options, and put the food on bamboo sticks into a spicy hot pot – think boiling malatang (麻辣烫) in a hot pot broth, similar to Chongqing hot pot.

This 300sqm chuanchuanxiang shop is well-decorated with touches of both the old and new – grey walls, drawings of old Chengdu streets on the walls, traditional rattan chairs around large and heavy tables, and paper lanterns.

Originating from street food, the chuanrs here are upgraded but still down-to-earth. As with any hot pot establishment, it’s all about the broth. Here, they use beef tallow mixed with colza oil, made fresh daily and shipped from Sichuan. So are the ingredients: The tripe is also shipped from Sichuan simply because “the tripe in Beijing tastes different.” To balance the spicy flavor, they add Sichuan laoying tea to the chili and peppercorn-laden broth instead of adding the regular meat broth because the tea can soothe some of the broth's bite and cleanse the palate. The other half of the yuanyang broth (RMB 58) was made with pork broth with mushroom.

Don’t be overwhelmed by the fridges of chuanrs, which include over 100 varieties. Their price range is a reflection of the source – Sichuan, with one chuanr going for just RMB 0.9, and meat skewers just RMB 1.8 for two sticks. We especially enjoyed the beef with cilantro, which was refreshingly herbal in flavor.

As for the dishes, they are mostly on the spicy side (duh) – pork lungs in chili oil (RMB 36), poached pork brain in chili oil (RMB 68), prawns in chili oil (RMB 78), fried frog with chili (RMB 88), and many more things in – you guessed it – chili oil. The poached chicken (RMB 28) stood out with its peppery, sweet, and spicy flavor, benefiting from the Sichuan special peppercorn, Bird’s Eye chili, and ginger.

We couldn’t get enough of the beef with chilies (RMB 68), the beef tenderloin marinated first, then deep-fried with chilies, turning the beef brown and tender with a dry and crispy outside, and a juicy and flavorful interior. Since there were no bones, the spicy and peppery flavors were screaming out for a drink, making it a great companion for beers.

For the brave, try the poached pork brain in the chili oil (RMB 68), which tasted like beef marrow with a super soft texture, or you can go for the poached beef marrow in the chili oil (RMB 68). We also love the deep fried rice cake (红糖糍粑, hongtang ciba, RMB 22), deep-fried cakes of glutinous rice with crispy shells. Dip these piping hot cakes in the melted brown sugar then roll them in the mung bean powder provided for sweet and satisfying relief from all the spice.

To ease the burn like a Beijinger, order the suanmeitang, or sour prune drink. All the ingredients are from the time-honored traditional Chinese medicine drugstore, Tongrentang (同仁堂). This iced drink with smoked plum, rock sugar, osmanthus, hawthorns, orange peel, and licorice could easily ease the burning pain of your tongue, or you could go for the alternative soymilk, like a real Sichuan local, or get the bottled fresh Taishan beer.

There is a half-price dish every day, such as braised pork knuckle (RMB 34) on Tuesday, spicy frogs with ginger (RMB 44) on Wednesday, and the aforementioned beef with chilies (RMB 34) on Friday. They also offer a RMB 5 dish, mapo tofu (spicy bean curd), or stir-fried egg with tomato.

This week's icy wind calls for heartwarming and spicy dishes to warm you up, and thankfully you can sit comfortably at a small table for four in the hall or a group of people in the private room at this elegant restaurant instead of a hole in the wall with the greasy smell clinging to your hair for days.

Dongwai Xiaoguan
Daily 11am-10pm. 1/F, Bldg 6, 6 Shizipo Dongli, Shizipo Jie, Dongzhimenwai, Dongcheng District (6461 7202)
东外小馆: 东城区东外十字坡街十字坡东里6号楼一楼

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Photos:  courtesy of Dongwai Xiaoguan, Tracy Wang

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