Oh what a dilemma, I want to tell you about my favourite restaurant in Beijing, but on the other hand, I don’t want everybody to know about it.
Guoyao Xiaoju (which means ‘Guo’s little place’) is, as I said, a very small place – only five tables and a single private room. It is tucked away in a hutong in the Jiaodaokou area of central Beijing, and you could walk past the simple door with it’s two red lanterns and never guess it was a restaurant, nor what delicious food it serves. We were introduced to it a couple of years ago by friends who happen to live in the next hutong, and we’ve been going back ever since.
The chef is the eponymous ‘Guo’ and he is the brother-in-law of the owner. He used to be Chef at the old Beijing Hotel and there he cooked for many Heads of State, Deng Xiaoping, Clinton, Thatcher. Chef Guo is the forth generation in his family to become a notable chef who cooks classic ‘Imperial Cuisine’ which is to say the style of cooking that was used in the Gugong (Forbidden City) during the days of the Emperors. Nowadays this style of food is usually referred to as ‘Tanjia cai’.
Unlike much Chinese food in which chillis are used liberally, Tan cuisine relies on exceptionally high quality ingredients, and very careful and subtle techniques which make each dish taste of itself and yet the whole dish being greater than the sum of its parts. It is certainly not bland but the flavours are delicate and perfectly balanced, and the food looks as attractive as it tastes.
When we dined there a week ago we started with a wonderful salad composed of shredded mu’er (wood ear mushrooms – a passion of mine) tossed with thin slivers of celery and red capsicum in a very light dressing and we also had Sanse sun jian which is a cold dish roughly translated as ‘Three coloured bamboo’. Tender bamboo shoots, one lot in a light red chilli dressing, one lot mixed with minced green spring onions and one lot just the natural yellow colour of bamboo shoots – utterly delicious. This was followed by a dish of stir-fried squid tossed with blanched snow peas green beens, and strips of red pepper with just a drizzle of XO sauce.
After that we had a whole slew of dishes – Baizhojielan was stalks of mustard leaves (not mustard and cress these stalks were the size of a pencil) blanched and stir-fried with garlic, they were tender but crisp and looked like pieces of jade.
We also had one of the dishes I have to order every time we go there as it is so moreish: Yasi danjuan, shredded tea-smoked duck and chives rolled in a thin crepe which is then dipped in egg and fried, then cut into slices. Light and crispy on the outside with the most succulent filling, the duck and chives are a marriage made in heaven, and the dish looks so pretty.
I could go on and on – the Lion-head meatballs in a delicate broth, the home-made wine sausage – but you would become bored with superlatives, suffice to say I think that this cooking at a restaurant in Europe would get a Michelin star.
They have a short but very acceptable wine list, and of course a whole range of beer, and teas.
Dinner for three with one beer, a pot of chrysanthemum tea and a bottle of white wine came to 568 kuai – £56.80 – you wouldn’t get away with that in a Michelin restaurant!
Writing this has made me quite hungry – I wonder if we should go there later this week before we take our autumn break… what do you think?
58 Jiaodaokou Bei 3 Tiao, Dongcheng District, 1000007 Beijing
Tel: +86 10-64031940