Where to eat and drink in Beijing

The bustling capital offers insiders a taste of China unparalleled in depth and diversity. Sichuan is hot, jianbing is in, and there's a smattering of excellent drinking spots full of with renao.
A banquet at Transit, Beijing.

A banquet at Transit, Beijing.

Cherry Li

“A revolution is not a dinner party,” declared Chairman Mao Zedong, forecasting the famine, violence and destruction that his Great Leap Forward unleashed upon China for almost 20 years, until his death in 1976.

The first private restaurant opened in Beijing in 1980, and since then the city’s obsession with food has triggered a delicious counter-revolution. In the decade I’ve been living in the Jing, the city’s food scene has changed beyond recognition as the appetite for new ideas, new flavours and cool design grows.

The appetite for provincial Chinese cuisines, too, is growing in this city of 21 million, with the distinctive tastes of China’s 34 provinces represented in eateries run privately and by provincial governments. No other Chinese city offers this diversity. Beijingers have an eye for a trend, and the current love affair is with Sichuan’s fiery dishes laden with chillies and mouth-numbing peppercorns. Cantonese, meanwhile, remains an élite treat, mostly relegated to hotels and expense accounts.

The best districts for dining are both in the city’s east: Chaoyang, best known for its modern malls, and Dongcheng, surrounding the Forbidden City, the city’s 15th-century palace. In Dongcheng, some of the best eats can be found in the rapidly disappearing hutongs, the network of residential alleys that once radiated from the Forbidden City. Whether it’s jianbing, everyone’s favourite savoury crepe with egg, or zhajiang mian, the classic saucy noodle dish, or the imperial dish still known abroad as Peking duck, dining in the capital is a window to the soul of China.

Where to eat in Beijing

TRB Forbidden City

The location is priceless – a Qing-dynasty building beside the Forbidden City’s moat – and the views, the muted interiors, open kitchen and impeccable service make this Beijing’s most polished fine-diner. The maestro orchestrating the performance here and at upmarket sister restaurant TRB Hutong, the more casual Hulu in Sanlitun and newest addition Merci, a French bistro, is Belgian-born restaurateur Ignace Lecleir. He is credited with lifting service standards in a city until fairly recently unaccustomed to the arts of the maître d’. This is contemporary European fine dining, which might start with addictive gougères and proceed to an ethereal dish of sea urchin with cauliflower and yuzu, with oscietra from Yunnan. Also from Yunnan is white asparagus, served here with crayfish, almonds and hollandaise. Slivers of gravlax or the 200-day tomahawk – grain-fed, marbled and Australian – will be carved tableside. Finish with warm, lemony madeleines and a stroll in the palace.

95 Donghuamen, Dongcheng district, +86 (0)10 6401 6676,

Shen Yong Xing

When in the Jing you must have Peking duck, of course, but best call it Beijing roast duck or, better still, Beijing kaoya. And you must go to the right place, which is currently Shen Yong Xing. Inhale deeply as you enter, as rows of glossy, mahogany-coloured birds roast in a specially built oven over smouldering piles of wood. Start with pale Napa cabbage hearts dipped in sesame paste seasoned with black vinegar. The non-duck dishes are very good indeed: slivers of lamb with wok-fired leek and coriander; rich veal tendons in a sticky, collagen-rich demi-glace. But you can’t ignore the duck. With great ceremony, the bird is carved tableside and the accoutrements – cucumber, white leek, garlic purée, sweet sauce, a little bowl of sugar, and Hami melon or watermelon radish – are fanned out on celadon. Apply a brushstroke of sauce to a crêpe, layer with slices of lean duck and toppings, finish with a square of crisp skin, and roll. Or dip the skin in sugar and savour it as a first taste. The wine list features an unusually good selection of Chinese wines and imports that pair well with the star attraction.

5 Xindong Lu, Chaoyang district, +86 (0)10 6464 0968.

Carving Beijing roast duck tableside at Shen Yong Xing.

(Photo: Cherry Li)


On the lower level of the newly refurbished The Peninsula Beijing, Jing is a modern temple of haute cuisine cooked with classic French technique and characteristic Beijing confidence. Channelling his mentors – French chefs Ducasse, Passard and Alléno, and Japanese master Kei Kobayashi – chef Julien Cadiou brings a light touch to poached black cod with tiger prawns and vegetables in a delicate shellfish broth, and handmade cavatelli with lobster. His tartare, meanwhile, is an unusual combination of tuna and beef, and some dishes have muted pan-Asian tones with hints of miso and laksa.

The Peninsula Beijing, 8 Jinyu Hutong, Wangfujing, Dongcheng district, +86 (0)10 8516 2888,

King’s Joy

This secular temple, not far from the Tibetan Buddhist Lama Temple, is dedicated to refined vegetarian dining. Enter via a misted pathway lined by edible greens and take a seat beneath dramatically spotlit calligraphy. The à la carte menu is an odd mix of Italian and miscellany; choose the seasonal tasting menu instead. Expect some sublime and some strange flavours and an impressive variation of textures, vital in classic Chinese cuisine. Delicate sea vegetables might appear with velvety maitake mushrooms, the gelatinous Japanese tuber konjac with wood-ear fungus. The show-stopping centrepiece of the meal is a striking chrysanthemum crudité made from petals of lily bud beneath a smoky veil of dry ice. Reservations are essential.

2 Wudaoying Hutong, Dongcheng district, +86 (0) 10 8404 9191.

Bei 27 Hao

Follow the queue and you’ll eventually end up at this noodle house in Nali Patio, a weird, wildly popular mini-mall of restaurants and shops in the hip neighbourhood of Sanlitun. Highlights on the memo-like menu include a comforting bowl of lao lao jia saozi mian, a tangle of vegetables, tofu, minced pork and hand-pulled Lanzhou-style wheat noodles in hearty broth; and cool lip-smacking niangpi, a bowl of thick toothy wheat noodles that are great carriers for a fiery sauce of vermillion-coloured chilli oil, garlic, mustard and sesame paste, with a hint of sweetness. Translucent cubes of pan-fried bean jelly, called liangfen, melt in the mouth in a chillispiced sauce sprinkled with green onions and sesame seeds. It’s quite acceptable to slurp your noodles noisily – everyone else will be doing so. Nali Patio

Northside D105, 81 Sanlitun Lu, Chaoyang district, +86 (0)10 8418 5849.

Hand-pulled Lanzhou-style wheat noodle soup at Bei 27 Hao.

(Photo: Cherry Li)

Bao House

Ascend three floors of an unremarkable shopping centre for omakase to rival some of the best in Japan. Chef Alan Bao assembles seasonal menus that nod to tradition but focus on creativity and unorthodox flavours, the likes of dried blowfish with blistered gouda, or chilled monkfish liver with sweet sauce. Glazed cod might be topped simply with crisp fried scales – the sensation of the cod melting and the scales shattering produces a fleeting moment of joy. Seared and glazed foie gras might be served just as simply with seasoned rice and crisp nori – more joyful moments. Nigiri and sashimi are a Mondrian abstract of the day’s freshly imported fish, often personally transported from airport to kitchen by the chef himself. Ganbei!

Topwin Center, 3rd floor, 1 Nan Sanlitun Lu, Chaoyang district, +86 (0)10 5972 4070.

Jing Yaa Tang

Chef Li Dong’s deep understanding of northern cuisine is evident in regional dishes at his diner within The Opposite House. Dim sum, however, is the highlight – available only at lunch. Turnip cakes are fried golden, spiked with smoky cured pork and green onion and doused in XO. A basket of plump and perfect har gow, translucent prawn dumplings, demand repeat orders, and steamed rice noodles are made to order. If you can handle a pot of smoky pu’er, chase it with three-cup cod, a Taiwanese treat made with rice wine, sesame oil, soy sauce and basil.

The Opposite House, lower ground level, Taikoo Li Sanlitun North, 11 Sanlitun Rd, Chaoyang district, +86 (0)10 6410 5230,

Har gow at Jing Yaa Tang.

(Photo: Cherry Li)

Fu Chun Ju

Cantonese restaurants go with hotels like gin goes with tonic. Fu Chun Ju is a star Canton player at The PuXuan Hotel and Spa on the edge of the Forbidden City. Start with chef Waikit Yeung’s Fu Chun Garden: an edible landscape of artfully carved and pickled radishes, cucumbers and mushrooms. Follow with the likes of sea snails with lily bud and Sichuan pepper, or any of the tofu choices. Reassuringly, a platter of black pork is roasted Hong Kong-style – match with Chinese wines by the glass, including a standout white blend from Xinjiang province and a crisp chardonnay from Legacy vineyards in Ningxia.

The PuXuan Hotel and Spa, 1 Wangfujing St, Dongcheng district,


The fiery flavours of Sichuan are much loved in the capital, and the traditional cuisine of the south-west is refined and given edge at Transit. There’s plenty of flavoured oil, glistening chilli-red with sesame seeds on tender chicken thighs, in a pot of floating pork, and with a drop of litsea oil lifting wok-tossed broccoli. In an inspired version of shui zhu yu – the classic Sichuan boiled fish – boneless slices of sea bass are poached in oil spiked with numbing peppercorns and red-hot chillies. If it’s a celebration, order the braised pork belly with chestnuts and Cognac.

Taikoo Li North, N4-36, 11 Sanlitun Rd, Chaoyang district, +86 (0)10 6417 9090.

A banquet at Transit, featuring oxtail in dried chillies (anti-clockwise from bottom right), Sichuan-style dumplings, dan dan noodles, stir-fried vegetables, pork belly with bamboo and quail eggs, and ma la chicken.

(Photo: Cherry Li)

Southern Fish

Hunan is hot, and not just because green and red chillies are used liberally in the cuisine of this mountainous southern province. Hunan-influenced Southern Fish was one of the city’s first stylish hutong restaurants, with a tight menu that sold out quickly at just a few tables seemingly permanently occupied. It soon expanded to a bigger space in a nearby hutong, and an outpost opened recently in Sanlitun. (The latter location is more convenient for travellers but lacks the charming atmosphere of its sister hutong eatery.) Order the pounded roasted green chillies with century eggs, and fish head – served just as it should be: halved and full of incendiary pickled chillies typical of Hunan. Dried long beans with housemade larou, China’s answer to bacon, are chewy and full of smoky flavours. Braised quail eggs with pork ribs might be the pick of the menu.

Hutong: 49 Gongmenkou Toutiao, Xicheng district, +86 (0)10 8306 3022; Sanlitun: 3rd floor S9-32 Taikoo Li Mall, 19 Sanlitun Lu, Chaoyang district, +86 (0) 10 8454 3711.

In and Out

The name gives no clue to this eatery’s purpose or provenance – or its popularity with a loyal local clientele. It serves the food of Yunnan, the huge southwest province spanning a melting pot of minorities and diverse landscapes from the tropics to alpine terrain. The cuisine is just as diverse, and dishes such as whole fish wrapped in banana leaf with chillies and lemongrass crib flavours from provincial borders with south-east Asia. Start with crisp squares of rubing, an addictive fried goat’s cheese dipped in brown sugar or seasoned salt, or both, and survey the line-up of mushrooms, an important Yunnanese ingredient; perhaps porcini stir-fried with hot green chillies or mixed with other mushrooms in banana leaf. There’s more heat in a dish of comforting, crunchy squash tips stir-fried with garlic and in a dish of pan-fried tofu with green chillies and green onions, a specialty of the Yunnan city of Shiping where the local water naturally curdles tofu. Finish with fermented rice wine, sweet and lightly sparkling, and the moreish pineapple sticky rice.

Tun San Li Mall, 21 Gongti Beilu, Chaoyang district, +86 (0) 10 5801 0086.


It’s hard to find good southern Chinese food – particularly good dim sum – in the capital, which makes this all-day dim sum joint special. The owners of The Orchid, a boutique hotel in the bustling centre of Baochao hutong, outfitted the cavernous building next door and serve modern dim sum – without the trolleys. Stained by red-wine lees, the Chaozhou fenguo vegetable dumplings are very good, and so are crispfried long-tail shrimp spring rolls. Sticky sesame balls lose their traditional red-bean sweetness in a version containing chicken curry and cheese – an improbable combination that somehow works. Order street-style egg and mushroom rice rolls, steamed to order, while you watch beef congee be cooked tableside. Great Leap Brewing is on tap and the secret back-bar mixes teabased cocktails such as an oolong-infused Rye Whiskey Sour with berries. Finish with a beer on the hotel rooftop next door.

63 Baochao Hutong, Dongcheng district, +86 (0)10 8565 9295,

Where to drink

Migas Mercado

The notion of a rooftop bar in a city with notorious air pollution seems baffling, yet Migas developed a loyal clientele in its first location, on the rooftop of Nali Patio in Sanlitun. It shifted and expanded last year in new digs in the Mercado, inside the CBD restaurant row near the Kerry Center. Migas Mercado is part-marketplace, part-restaurant, part-rooftop bar and full of renao, the Chinese word for buzz. The drinks list features destination-inspired cocktails: a Thai Mix contains gin, citrus, lemongrass, mango and basil, while The Italian has Campari, vermouth, orange and rosemary. But it’s the Negronis that flow all night, house-barrelled for six to 18 months. Team with tapas, perhaps cannelloni with duck and pork.

China World Mall, 7th floor, 1 Jian Guo Men Wai Ave, Chaoyang district, +86 (0) 10 6500 7579.

The bar at Migas Mercado.

(Photo: Cherry Li)

Jing-A Brewpub

One of the city’s original brewpubs opens a new outpost this month, Jing A Taproom Longfusi, in a traditional hutong in Dongcheng district. With some 20 beers on tap, Jing-A brews a range of styles, including lagers and IPAs, and is known for its clever blends. A Guizhou smoked chilli porter evokes the heat of the south-west province’s cuisine, and its Worker’s Pale Ale is an award-winning American style ale. Team an Airpocalypse IPA – a malty unfiltered ale that’s discounted when air pollution rises – with Sichuan pepper-spiked mala popcorn chicken or sourdough pizza from a brick oven.

Original venue: Jing-A Brewpub, 57 Xingfucun Zhong Lu, Chaoyang district, +86 (0) 10 6416 5195,; new venue: Jing-A Taproom Longfusi, 38 Qianliang Hutong, Dongcheng district.

Where to stay


This industrial-chic 180-room hotel on the edge of the Workers’ Stadium/Sanlitun quarter shares space with galleries, studios and a community workspace.

4 Workers’ Stadium East Rd, Chaoyang district, +86 (0)10 5871 5588,

Mandarin Oriental Wangfujing

This new five-star has 73 rooms, a lap pool, spa and a rooftop terrace that overlooks the Forbidden City.

269 Wangfujing St, Dongcheng district +86 (0)10 8509 8888,

The Orchid

Seventeen rooms and suites are located deep intraditional hutongs in a vibrant neighbourhood. Features include a rooftop lounge and weekly cooking classes.

65 Baochao Hutong, Dongcheng district, +86 (0)10 8565 9295,

The PuXuan Hotel and Spa

This cool, contemporary hotel overlooks traditional hutongs, close to the National Art Museum and the Wangfujing shopping enclave. It features terraces with reflection gardens, and a stand-out restaurant, Fu Chun Ju.

1 Wangfujing St, Dongcheng district,

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