Beijing's imperial parks are not just nice places to relax. In these leafy havens you can also find a variety of Chinese delicacies to taste. Park restaurants are ideal spots to rest and replenish after a long stroll, especially in this season.
Lai Jin Yu Xuan 来今雨轩红楼菜
The restaurant's name is taken from a poem written by Chinese poet Du Fu (AD712-770), meaning "the house old and new friends visit." Located inside Zhongshan Park, the restaurant was first built in 1915. The cuisine is based on the ancient Chinese literary classic A Dream of Red Mansions, which listed many dishes served to a late Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) Chinese aristocratic family.
Since 1981, the restaurant has served 22 dishes, six soups, five porridges and four dim sums as described in the famous book. These light dishes are beautifully presented and are made from only the freshest ingredients.
Some examples are fragrant eggplant with assorted nuts (茄鲞), fried crown daisy with chicken slices (鸡丝蒿子杆), fried pigeon egg with white fungus (银耳鸡蛋) and braised king prawn with peach-shaped steamed bread for birthday (怡红祝寿).
As for dim sum, there are yam cakes with mashed Chinese jujube stuffing (枣泥山药糕) and small steamed dumplings with crab meat stuffing (蟹肉小饺).
Each major dish comes with a story taken from the classic book. The waitresses dress in traditional Chinese cheong-sam and the decor is old but clean. The scenery is the best part, with a fountain, rockwork and a cloister leading to the 2nd floor. There is a set menu that costs 168 yuan for two to three people on the ground floor. The second floor's private rooms offer only set meals starting at 1,000 yuan for 10 people. Parking is difficult at the west gate but those who book a private room can park inside the west gate.
10:30am-7:30pm. Inside west gate, Zhongshan Park, Nan Chang Jie, West Chang'an Avenue, Xicheng District. 6605-6676. 西城区西长安街南长街中山公园西门内
Xiao Wang's Home Restaurant 小王府日坛公园店
Owner Wang Yong's splendid restaurant is located in Ritan Park, where Chinese emperors paid homage to the God of the Sun. Service is expat-friendly, and the decor is modern and elaborate. Those who prefer to sit outdoors can perch on one of the four tables in front of the porch or on the roof of the 2nd floor and 3rd floor. Both floors have a good view of the park.
The cuisine is hand-picked homestyle cooking, but don't expect rough and ready street cooking. The ingredients appear to be the same, but the cooking, preparation and presentation are a cut above. Recommended dishes include the roast duck (烤鸭), braised diced eggplant with assorted nuts (茄鲞), pan-fried chicken slices with Hawaiian nuts (夏果炒鸡丁) and deep-fried crispy bean curd with mild chilli sauce (脆豆腐).
Average spending is 100 yuan per person. Park entry is free.
11am-10pm. It is a teahouse from 2-4pm. Inside Ritan Park, 100 metres from the North Gate, Chaoyang District. 8561-7859. 朝阳区日坛公园北门内100 米
Ting Li Guan 听鹂馆
Located inside the Summer Palace, this courtyard restaurant was once where Qing Empress Dowager Ci Xi would listen to Peking Opera. It is named "house to listen to birds sing".
The menu is based on what used to be served to Ci Xi herself. The staff carefully chooses the nutritious ingredients, and the dishes are well prepared.
The lunch set menu starts at 68 yuan per person. But only reservations for a table of 10 people spending 3,000 yuan is accepted. Park entry costs 30 yuan. But if you reserve dinner, entry is free.
Lunch: 11am-2:30pm. Dinner: 5-7pm. 60 meters east of the stone boat, south of Wangshoushan mountain, Summer Palace. 6288-1955. 颐和园公园万寿山下，石舫向东60米
Fang Shan Fan Zhuang 仿膳饭庄
Fang Shan: imitation imperial meal. The name says everything about the kind of cuisine on offer at this restaurant in Beihai Park. Established in 1925, it was one of the first imperial style restaurants opened in Beijing, and it still does a roaring trade.
Customers in small groups will be treated to a set meal costing from 150-500 yuan per person, featuring up to 14 helpings of appetizers, soups, meat dishes, vegetables, cakes and fruit. Each dish is served in small quantities, but you'll get your fill after 14 courses.
If you come in a big group, you will be treated to a banquet featuring well-presented dishes, beautifully arranged in various patterns. The restaurant is famous for its range of Manchu and Han nationality foods.
Dish by dish, the quality is rather stable here, although service can be a little lacking during the busiest times. Traditional Beijing dim sums here are also worth trying. Park entry costs 10 yuan.
Lunch: 11:30am-1:30pm, dinner starts from 5:30pm. 6401-1889. Yilantang, Beihai Park, Jingshan Xijie, Xicheng District. Enter from east gate. 西城区景山西街北海公园东门内
Text by Ye Jun and photos by Lu Zhongqiu
(China Daily June 2, 2007)