April 18, 2009
In the past few weeks, we've been to a few really amazing restaurants set in very different but beautiful locations. This is the first of three posts describing the restaurants. The others are Maison Boulud a Pekin and Green T. House Living.
This may be my favorite restaurant in Beijing now and is certainly the best Beijing duck place (IMHO). This gorgeous restaurant is part of the 1949 Hidden City complex -- a set of very cool bar/restaurants in an old factory complex in Chaoyang. The area has my favorite balance of swish yet comfortable.
I had the good fortune to meet the manager and chef on one visit; they gave us a tour of the kitchen and explained their process. They have very strict quality standards, using a particular kind of duck, fed a particular way, and harvested at exactly 39 days. The cook the ducks over a wood fire (and the wood is aged, etc.) and even make their own hoisin sauce. The chef is from Hong Kong, so he brings the more delicate Cantonese style to their Beijing cuisine. (Their slogan is the cheeky "One Duck, Two Systems" borrowed from the phrase that China uses to describe how they rule Hong Kong, "One Country, Two Systems".) The duck was lightly smoky, not dry at all and yet not fatty or oily. They presented slices of crispy skin-only, skin with meat, and just meat so each diner could choose their own balance. Simply perfection. The other dishes were well-prepared also. One mixed veggie dish is a good example. While it seemed simple, each of the different vegetables was perfectly done (even though they had different cooking times) and coated with exactly the right amount of the sauce; there was no extra sauce pooling on the bottom of the dish nor was anything under-covered.
According to Michelle, their lunchtime dim sum is among the very best dim sum she's ever had (and we've had some damn good dim sum before). The restaurant also has a good (if expensive) wine list, makes good cocktails (hard to find in Beijing), and has the first Bollinger champagne bar in Beijing. They have English menus, and the staff can manage some English. There are a few other places in the 1949 Hidden City I want to try including a noodle bar and taverna. They also have a private club called the 49 Club; we looked into it, but it was just an expensive way to get private dining rooms. Maybe good for people who do a lot of business entertaining, but not worth it for us. In any case, 1949 and Duck de Chine are definitely worth visiting.