Beijing trip 2015 – Day 2

After our first day in Beijing, we had a good night’s sleep on a soft and comfy bed and prepared for our buffet breakfast the next morning. The funny thing with booking hotels in Beijing it seems, you only get 1 person’s worth of free breakfast per room (perhaps they just want the other person to pay?). Yuye’s parents decided to eat out so Yuye and I ate at the hotel. For those of you who didn’t read the first post, the hotel we stayed in was the Beijing Hejing Hotel (北京和敬府宾馆 Beijing Hejingfu Bingguan) in the Dongcheng District.

There really wasn’t many people even though it was just on breakfast time but to my surprise, the food was actually not bad. You can choose from Western such as cereal, bread and fruit or traditional Chinese style with their wontons, noodles and congee.

The great thing about buffets is you can try a bit of everything. I ordered a bowl of delicious rice noodle soup which had a sour and umami broth with lots of box choy to accompany it. It was clean and refreshing and I ended up finishing the whole bowl.

Yuye’s wontons were good too. They were meaty and well seasoned and were actually better than the wontons we had at the buffet breakfast in the Shangri-la Hotel in Tianjin (which I will write about in a later post).

But of course, we just had to have some of the congee with pickles. Chinese breakfasts will never be without some form of pickles and usually we don’t have so many types at home so this was my chance to have a feast! Not that it was filling because the congee here don’t have much substance, mainly just soup but it was enough since I already had a big bowl of noodles. The salted duck egg is also a traditional side dish to accompany congee and is quite oily and salty.

After breakfast, we decided to move to a new hotel as Yuye’s dad thought to let us try out a few different styles. Our second day’s hotel was at the Grand Mercure Beijing also in the Dongcheng District so it was a short taxi away. The Grand Mercure was built not long ago so still looks quite new.

The high ceilings and the shining floors had me dazzled. The staff here are friendly and we quickly checked in and went to our room.

The bathroom was very spacious and clean, almost big enough to roll around in (not that I’d do that in a bathroom…).

The soft bed and plush pillows was so inviting I almost wanted to nap but was told we were heading out for lunch. I felt like we hadn’t done anything all day apart from eating! What a life.

Lunch was at a restaurant called Mei Zhou Dong Po Restaurant – Olympic Village store (梅州东坡酒楼 – 国奥村) which is a 2008 Beijing Olympics themed restaurant. It’s situated right opposite the Olympic Village where the athletes resided during that period. The Village has now been turned into private apartments. This restaurant is a chain and has over 35 other stores around Beijing.

The restaurant is very large and as we walked through the hallway to our booked room, we saw many Olympics related ornaments and information.

This restaurant is Sichuan cuisine based so ordering chilli dishes is a must.

We ordered quite a lot of dishes since it was for a table of 13. The meal started with a series of cold dishes such as this century egg dish, the Dong Po ham hock mung bean jelly (东坡漩子凉粉 – 20RMB) and the Dong Po Chinese sausage (眉州东坡香肠 – 35RMB).

The mung bean jelly dish consists of thin clear jelly like noodles made from mung beans and a sauce that’s true to Sichuan cuisine which was chilli and numbing with a touch of sesame sauce. It’s difficult to pick up as the noodles broke easily but it was very delicious and addictive. It doesn’t have ham hock in the dish contrary to what the name suggests but I believe the sauce may have used stock made from the ham hock.

The other cold dishes were just average compared to the remaining dishes, tasty but nothing spectacular.

We ordered another classic Sichuan dish called Mao Xue Wang (毛血旺), a stewed chilli dish consisting of duck blood, bean shoots, pork and various veggies. It’s a very chilli dish and is quite popular all over China. As I’m not too big of a fan of blood (and truth is it was also too chilli…) I didn’t eat too much of it.

The most standard out dish that day had to be their specialty the Dong Po ham hock (东坡肘子). It’s made with a large ham hock stewed in a delicious chilli sauce. The skin was so soft and melt in my mouth I was seriously in pork heaven.

The kung pao prawns (宫保虾球), like the kung pao chicken, is made with nuts (in this case cashews) and chilli. The star of this dish was the prawns which were cooked perfectly. It was the right amount of spiciness and sweetness with an added crunch from the fried noodle nest behind it.

The pickled cabbage fish (酸菜鱼) seems light and not chilli but you would be totally wrong. It was one of the chilliest dish of the day. The chilli used is a green type, therefore it doesn’t give that red colour but I can assure you, it was so chilli I had to sooth my mouth with a whole lot of water. It was still very tasty though so is recommended for those of you who can take a bit of heat.

Of course, this restaurant doesn’t just serve chilli dishes. After a whole set of fire breathing ones, we got to taste the sweet and sour Chinese perch (松鼠鳜鱼) which in Chinese means squirrel perch since its flesh is cut into the shape of a squirrel. It’s deep fried so the flesh sticks up, retaining that beautiful shape and texture while on the dining table. This is a famous dish that you can find in many Chinese restaurants and I highly recommend ordering this dish if you haven’t had it before.

Yuye’s dad ordered a special dish which I think cost over $1000RMB, just for this one dish. It seemed a bit crazy but boy was it tasty. It was a huge dish covered in crab legs in steamed egg. The egg had soaked up all the crab juices so was so umami and soft I just couldn’t get enough of it.

Chinese people have very different desserts I must say. One would think it consists of ice creams, cakes and pudding of some sort but no, our first dessert came with pork belly. It was literally just the fatty part of the belly purely there to give the sweet rice moisture and oiliness. I suppose it’s a little similar to maple syrup with bacon but this is taking it to a whole new level.

The dish is called tian shao bao (甜烧白) literally meaning sweet cook white. So it’s a sweet dish, cooked with white rice, pork belly and red sugar. It was definitely delicious, but was so filling I could only eat a few mouthfuls. This is something I wouldn’t mind making at home so perhaps you’ll see a recipe in the near future.

I really liked the ma zhan gao (马盏糕) a type of eggy steamed cake that’s so fluffy and soft but not overly sweet. It was quite soothing on the palate after the chilli battle.

The cakes were followed by another sweet sticky rice dish which was steamed along with Chinese dates. Again it was a delicious dish but quite filling and at that point our stomachs were losing the battle. Traditionally this dish is made with flour instead of sticky rice but I found this version to be tastier.

That was not the end, the last proper dish was the buns, you know, in case we weren’t full yet.

The fresh fruit platter was a welcomed by all, as it was refreshing and palate cleansing.

There were a few other that I didn’t write about but thought this was enough for you all to get an idea of the type of food here. If you enjoy eating chilli food, this restaurant will not disappoint. Even if you don’t eat chilli, there are plenty of non-chilli dishes for you to choose from.

The best thing about this restaurant is the closeness to the popular tourist attraction Beijing National Stadium, also known as the Bird’s Nest. Although it’s within walking distance, it will still take you about half an hour to get there on foot. If you’re going in winter though, on the way you will come across the frozen lake that leads all the way to the Birds Nest and if you have kids with you, it will be heaven. You can rent donkeys, camels and all sorts of sleds and have all the fun you want on the thick ice that forms on the lake every winter. We’ve gone down once, but feel like we may now be too old to enjoy this sport.

The Bird’s Nest for those of you who don’t know was built for the 2008 Summer Olympics. It was a collaboration between Chinese and Swiss architectural firms which cost over $400m to build and at its peak, hired over 17,000 workers. The steel structure looked like a bird’s nest from the outside and therefore attracted the nickname. You can tour the stadium by purchasing a ticket at the gate.

As we had visited the Bird’s Nest on a previous occasion, on this trip, we decided to head back to our hotel and enjoy some quiet and relaxing time instead. We went for another walk along Shichahai (什刹海) and came across this cute cafe called Kodo (可多) Zakka and Cafe. It’s a homewares shop downstairs and cafe upstairs. If you’ve been to cafes in China, you’ll notice just how expensive coffees are. For a not-so-good tasting coffee can cost you anywhere between 30RMB to 60RMB. With the current exchange rate, that would cost you about $6-$12AUD for a single cup. And did I mention they mostly taste horrible?

The coffees at this shop isn’t as expensive as some others and only cost (at the time) 29RMB and they give you a free mug to go with it. You choose the mug you wish your coffee to be served in and after you’re done drinking, there’s a sink where you can rinse the cup and then take it home with you. That’s great value compared to the other shops. However, the excitement stops there. The coffees, again, were not great by any means. It tasted like watered down milk with a hint of coffee flavour. I have to constantly remind myself when I’m in other countries (especially Asian countries) that I’m not in Melbourne and I can’t have too high expectations when it comes to coffee. Still, the disappointment lingers.

If you’re after a relaxing place to sit with a decent surrounding, then this cafe is a great spot, just don’t expect too much like I did.

Dinner that night was at a restaurant/bar called C’est La Vie or Shui Lin Tian Yue (水临天玥) in the Chao Yang district of Beijing. San Li Tun street is famous for its bars but this one is situated on the not so busy part, away from the noise and traffic. I think that’s why Yuye’s dad always comes here, because it’s more comfortable.

The food here is international. Obviously there’s many delicious Chinese dishes, but they also do western and Japanese. If you feel like a pasta, they’ve got it. If you feel like omurice (Japanese omelette rice) they’ve got that too. There’s also a bar in the restaurant with wines, beers and spirit. Every night at about 9pm, two singers will arrive to accompany your dining and drinking experience with their beautiful voices, singing familiar and nostalgic tunes from the days gone past.

It’s dark in there. Too dark to take nice photos, but definitely dark enough for a bit of class and romance. Dark enough to hide a tear that you don’t anyone to see, and dark enough for a first date where shadows on your face create mystery and sexiness. I like this environment. It felt like time had stopped. It felt like I could sit there forever, listening intently to those tunes and sipping away at my German dark lagers, reminiscing about the past and contemplating what my future might hold. C’est la vie…

The food here is tasty and colourful. Not the best you’d find but sufficient. Afterall, you’re here mostly for the ambiance.

Till my next post, I’ll leave you in my contemplations…I’m now craving to go back to that little restaurant bar for another beer or wine…

Beijing Hejing Hotel (北京和敬府宾馆)

Phone: (+86) 10-64017744
Address: No.7, Zhangzizhong Road, Dongcheng District, Beijing (北京市东城区张自忠路7号)

Grand Mercure Beijing Dongcheng

Phone: +86 10 8403 1188
Address: 101 Jiaodaokou East Street, Dongcheng District, Beijing

Mei Zhou Dong Po Restaurant – Olympic Village store (梅州东坡酒楼 – 国奥村)

Phone: +86 10 5739 3280
Address: 3 Hao Lou, 2 Hao Yuan, Lincui E Rd, Chaoyang District, Beijing

Kodo (可多) Zakka and Cafe

Address: 190, Gu Lou East Street (Gu Lou Dong Da Jie), Dong Cheng District, Beijing (东城区鼓楼东大街190号)

C’est La Vie or Shui Lin Tian Yue (水临天玥)

Phone: +86 10 6501 0957
Address: Taiyue Heights Apartment, 16 S Sanlitun Rd, Chaoyang District, Beijing

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