The next morning, The Pom wakes up and the first thing he says to me, “I am ready to face my fans today.” And I know he is being serious because I was there and witnessed it. *Rolled eyes* Since we arrived in Beijing and after visiting a numerous tourist spots, it didn’t take us long to encounter this utterly unusual behaviour from the locals – they all seem to want to take photos with The Pom! What on earth? I bet they all think they are starstruck by someone who is famous, a Hollywood star or something. like the Sean Connery or something. Bless the bloody hipster goatee and the silver fox look, they probably thought they just took a photo with Sean Connery.
And the worst thing is – The Pom is bloody loving all the attention! Today we will be visiting the Summer Palace and I am sure there will be lots of photo opportunities along the way.
Summer Palace – 颐和园
We have visited Tian An Men Square, Forbidden City and also the Great Wall of China so far, the only places that we really want to visit are Summer Palace and Temple of Heaven. Too bad we only have time for one tourist hop and decided to hit Summer Palace instead. To be honest, we were also a little templed-out so Temple of Heaven will have to wait till our next visit.
Summer Palace is the place where you can slow down, take a stroll and unwind. It served as a summer resort for Empress Dowager Cixi back in 1888. It covers an expanse of 2.9 square kilometres, but with three-quarters of which is a lake, the Kunming Lake. In December 1998, UNESCO has listed the Summer Palace as one of the World Heritage sites. A masterpiece of Chinese landscape garden design according to the ancient art and science of Feng Shui with Longevity Hill standing tall in the background overlooking the the Kunming Lake.
There are a few features at the Summer Palace that are worth checking out, including the seventeen-arch bridge. Like a rainbow arching over the water, there are a total of 544 distinctive lions on the columns of the white marble parapets. If you think kite flying is for kids, then you will be wrong. There is a group of kite flying enthusiasts on the bridge carrying giant wheels of nylon strings, gently tugging the string now and again as their kites soaring high, flying effortlessly in blue sky.
Suzhou Street, originally named Merchant Street, a street built in the palace to look like a common street in the style of South China towns, so the emperors and empresses could pretend to go shopping as ordinary people. There is a single arch bridge not far from the Suzhou Street.
Another highlight at the Summer Palace is the Marble Boat. It is also known as the Boat of Purity and Ease, a lakeside pavilion made from a base of large stone blocks which supported a wooden superstructure done in a traditional Chinese design. This pavilion was where the emperor and empresses came to have some quiet time and enjoy the tranquility by the lake.
The Opposite House
After staying in the old part of Beijing for several days, we decided to move and switch to another hotel in another district called Sanlitun, an up and coming district filled with fine dining restaurants, bars and nightclubs, shopping malls and high end hotels. We are very lucky to stay at the most prestigious boutique hotel in Beijing – The Opposite House.
The green building is designed by renowned Japanese architect Kengo Kuma, nestled in the heart of The Village of Sanlitun – a vibrant new open-plan entertainment quarter. Just like its sister hotel, the East Hotel, the design is minimalist with wide open space, they also invite local artists to exhibit their artwork in the lobby.
The room definitely has a Japanese feel to it, a simplicity of white walls and wooden floor boards and furnitures. The king size bed is on a low bed frame, very Japanese. It is spacious and neat yet feel casual and homely. All rooms also come with complimentary WiFi and an iPad! No, you can’t take the iPad home, is just for internet browsing during your stay.
And the best part…
A large traditional Japanese wooden bathtub! It is my little “zen” area where we happily dive in to soak away the rigours after a full day of walking and sightseeing. I’m also glad to discover a new Australian body care products, Appelles and loving it! A nice alternative to the Aesop.
There are two great restaurants inside The Opposite House, Sureno which is an Italian restaurant and Jing Yaa Tang, a modern Chinese restaurant but with familiar home cooked flavours and also, one of the best Peking Duck in Beijing. But more on that further down this post. Apart from the two restaurants, The Opposite House had also launched Beijing’s first food truck, the Bao House parked right outside the hotel’s north entrance. The Bao House serves up Beijing traditional buns and also the more trendy Taiwanese ‘Gua Bao‘ with flavours inspired from the South East Asia, think Banh Mi, Thai Lemongrass and so forth. Or opt for the luxe option, Baofather – rich wagyu beef, mushroom and black truffle.
Da Dong Roast Duck Restaurant -北京大董烤鸭店
As soon as we had our first taste of Peking Duck at Siji Minfu, we were hooked and determined to taste as many Peking Duck as possible for the rest of our trip. I guess you can’t come to Beijing and not visit the most raved about roast duck restaurant in Beijing – Da Dong. Da Dong branches are scattered all over Beijing but the most impressive branch will have to be the one at Dongsi 10th Alley, 30 minutes walk from Sanlitun.
It is hard to miss the giant sign outside the restaurant, but what lies within the compound is even more impressive. The front courtyard is as big as a soccer field, a long walk path in the centre with (manmade) lotus ponds on both sides. At the far back is the massive white building with huge front door that looks more like a science laboratory than a restaurant. I can’t quite make out what’s the deal with horses, there are horses sculptures outside at the lawn and also inside the restaurant.
Everything is big here, even the menu. It’s like a hand bound photo album (or shall I call it the bible?), each page has only one or two dishes shown in full details. We order a few dishes to share, and of course a full Peking roast duck.
I have to admit eating Peking Duck in Beijing is pretty awesome. The service is impeccable, the duck is carved right in front of us by a masterful chef. Each piece of meat and each tile of lacquered crispy duck skin is precise in size and thickness, all meticulously arranged back together like on the plate. We waste no time to wrap the succulent duck meat and crispy skin together with some condiments in a steamed pancake and devour greedily. The whole ‘superlean’ duck costs RM288 (AUD$60.30) and the condiments does cost an extra $2.50 per person.
Love my some Kungpao Chicken, I can’t get enough of this stuff in Beijing. I simply love the Szechuan ‘mala‘ tingling sensation in this dish which you normally can’t find it here in Sydney. This is a milder version and less heat comparing to the one at Siji Minfu.
The mushroom and burdock root is a nice comfort food. The shiitake mushrooms are satisfyingly chewy with crunchy burdock root that supposedly full of health benefits, all nicely coated in a thick and sticky sweet soy sauce gravy. I like the fresh soy beans that adds a refreshing crunch to the dish.
This is my favourite dish, the Chef’s Dong braised eggplant is cooked in the traditional style, each sliver of eggplant is soft but still holding its shape, heavily soaking up the rich and intense ‘yu xiang’ sauce. I can easily polish a bowl of steamed rice with this dish.
The food at Dadong was pretty good, but you do have to pay a premium price to dine at this modern Chinese restaurant. But we want more duck, so we head over to our next ‘must-visit’ restaurant.
Dadong Roast Duck Restaurant
Dongsi 10th Alley
Phone:+86 10 5169 0329
Opening hours: Daily 11am – 10pm
Duck de Chine at 1949 – The Hidden City
Duck de Chine is possibly one of the most high end restaurants in Beijing that specialises in Peking Duck. I mean seriously, where can you find a Chinese restaurant which has a champagne bar that serves nothing but Bollinger Champagne only? It is housed within 1949 – The Hidden City, a former machinery and electric institute that had been converted into Sanlitun’s hippest entertainment complex where art and food collide.
The restaurant is a lot smaller compared to Dadong, it has a casual yet sophisticated feel to it with contemporary artwork hanging on unrendered brick walls, deep purple table cloths and strikingly red lamp shades hovering above. Despite all the accolades and raving reviews about this restaurant, we somehow found the service is somewhat lacking. The waitresses seem unenthusiastic, I am sure to give the customer a smile is not that difficult.
One of the unique selling points of the Peking Duck here is their house-made dipping sauce, a swirly mix of hoisin sauce with sesame paste and a sprinkle of chopped peanuts. They keep the condiments simple with just a trio of cucumber, spring onion and radish.
The roast duck here costs 268RMB (AUD$56.20), but worth every penny. The lacquered crispy skin simply melts in the mouth, while the succulent duck meat has a subtle smokey flavour. The only let down is the pancakes, they are possibly the thickest pancakes among all the restaurants we’ve tried.
We keep this “second lunch” a light one, and only ordered one extra dish to try. The grilled soft tofu stuffed with prawn is a light dish to offset the richness of the duck.
Duck de Chine
gong ti bei lu,chao yang district
Beijing (behind pacific century place) 100027
Phone: +6501 8881
Opening hours: Daily, 11.30am – 2.30pm; 6-10.30pm
Jing Yaa Tang – 京雅堂
We don’t have to go far for tonight’s meal, as a table has already been booked for us at the Jing Yaa Tang restaurant within the hotel. “Taste the past today” is Jing Yaa Tang‘s motto; a place where you can experience food that is simply prepared but expertly executed which still encapsulates the taste that we are familiar with.
Not to mention they even have a very touching short film that I just want to dine there after watching it.
We kick off with some starters. The Szechuan ‘mouth-watering’ chicken will definitely open up your appetite; each slice of cold chicken breast is succulent and sweet which slowly turns fiery numbing sensation around the lips from the Szechuan chilli oil. But I can’t help myself and keep going back for more! Two refreshing starters also grace our table, these chilled cherry tomatoes pickled in plum sauce have changed the whole ball game, skins peel then soaked in sour plum sauce, each pop bursts with umami. The Cordycep Mushrooms and Chinese Toon might not look much, but the ingredients used are actually full of health benefits, probably better than your detox juice.
Then the one dish why we are here, the Peking roast duck. The ducks here are free range, sourced from an ethical duck farm just outside of Beijing. All ducks are prepared by a master who has only one role in this restaurant – to roast the perfect duck. While most of the ducks at other restaurants are roasted and smoked with cherry or apple wood, but here at JYT it’s done with Jujube (red dates) wood, which they believe it gives the duck a more robust, sweeter flavour.
Jing Yaa Tang also has its own twist with the condiments served in cute metal gourd-shaped bowls. Apart from the must-have cucumber, leek (or spring onion) and the house made hoisin sauce, there are also pickled garlic and rockmelon.
The duck is carved with perfection and beautifully presented in a heart shape on the plate, JYT is the only restaurant that also serves the roasted duck head as part of the dish. The house made pancake is also paper thin and soft, a nice carrier to envelop all the condiments, the juicy meat and crispy skin. Indeed the duck meat here is juicier and also smokey from the roasting in date wood, and the duck skin is also a lot darker in colour than the others we’ve had.
There is a lot more to offer here at Jing Yaa Tang, the extensive menu covers all cuisines from different regions in China from Guandong to Szechuan. The sautéed wild pink prawns wrapped in string beans are rather funky and modern but somehow a rather tasty dish. The prawn is perfectly cooked as most Chinese will say, “bounce off the teeth” springy.
This is the most impressive baby back ribs I’ve ever seen! This big hunk of jasmine tea infused baby back ribs is incredible! Slow cooked till falls off the bone tender, the top layer of fatty meat were cut off then thinly sliced and gingerly balanced on top of the ribs, before covering it with a thick layer of intense chilli and black bean sauce (and lots of chilli oil). If I wasn’t sitting next to the manager of the hotel and being all serious, I would have picked up the rib and started gnawing on it!
I love a good “three cups chicken” bubbling away in the claypot, here they jazz up this classic southern China dish with high priced cod fish. The velvety firm flesh is sweet, mingling with lots of garlic, chilli and basils in the fragrant sauce. Are you thinking what I am thinking? A big bowl of steamed rice please!
We cap the night off with some sweets but have to say the desserts are possibly the least impressive. I do like the Portuguese tarts, buttery pastry filled with egg tart with a slight burnt top for that extra caramelised flavour; the empress cake is moreish whilst the mango sago pomelo pudding, a Hong Kong classic that will never go astray.
Jing Yaa Tang
The Opposite House, 11 Sanlitun Lu, Chaoyang district
Phone: +6410 5230
Opening hours: Open midday-2.30pm, 6-10.30pm daily
Our time in Beijing has been wonderful and a lot more enjoyable than I anticipated. But this is only the first leg of our journey as tomorrow we will be heading south, another road to ride, another mountain to climb. Until then.
Related post – Being a tourist in Beijing, China – Part 1