The capital's cooks brought plenty of scrumptious surprises and tasty treats to the table in 2007. Early in the year, somebody got the bright idea of opening Dark Restaurant - a place where foodies feast in a photonless room, where they can't see the food or each other. Toward the end of 2007, the company opened a second branch, this one being a place where people could vent their frustrations by smashing plates and saucers against the wall.
But gastronomy trumps gimmickry, as evidenced by the closure of Han Feng Shi Yi, a restaurant which relied on Han Dynasty costumes to attract customers. It is slated to become a beef giblet hotpot restaurant in 2008.
But the major food trends of the time seem to indicate that people who think with their stomach are becoming increasingly health conscious and practical.
A case in point is Hui'ai Nutritious Restaurant, which opened two weeks ago near Beijing Maternity Hospital and serves meals specially tailored for those women with one in the oven. And the nearby Meizhou Dongpo Sichuan Restaurant broke Beijing conventions this year by promoting non-smoking dining. 2007 was also a time for an increase in the availability and popularity of foreign foods. Never before have so many wine companies poured into the capital, while French cheese, British breakfast cereals, Russian draft beer and Norwegian mineral water brought more diversity to the Chinese table.
Embassies pushed to make their foodstuffs familiar to Chinese, with the Uruguayan, Greek, Malaysian and New Zealand embassies making some of the greatest efforts. And a who's-who of chefs came to the capital in 2007, such as the Michelin one-star chef at the Spanish restaurant Mare Nostrum. French restaurant Le Norte at Wanda Sofitel, brought on board a three-star Michelin chef as an advisor working from Paris.
And I, Beijing Weekend's humble food editor, took the opportunity to travel to Greece and Xinjiang in June and October to sample the marvelous meals from these places. I was treated to iconic of Hellenic foods, such as Greek salad, Greek coffee, olive oil and wine made from grapes growing on 300-year-old vines at Santorini.
And I later encountered many of these wonderful wines at Greek restaurants in Beijing, such as Athena and Serefino.
Visiting Xinjiang reminded me that it is still where the best whole-roasted mutton and mutton chuanr (kebabs) are made. And I was able to later relive these dining experiences at Xinjiang restaurants affiliated with Beijing's offices in Xinjiang's Urumqi and the Bayinguoleng Mongolian Autonomous Prefecture.
A growing number of players marched into the capital's catering industry in 2007, and the business transformed from a melting pot for regional cuisines to one of international foodstuffs. And Beijing's best chefs will spend the early part of 2008 cooking up plans for the coming Olympics, which is sure to bring a slew of new treats to the table.
Below, you'll find BJW's picks for best restaurants of 2007. Each has something special to offer, and so I feel comfortable making the recommendations.
Best local Xinjiang: Urumqi's Beijing Office's Xinjiang Restaurant (乌鲁木齐驻京办新疆饭庄)
Expect plenty of mutton dishes, such as hand-torn lamb rack and sauteed lamb chops with black pepper. The naan and homemade yogurt are must-tries. Also get some Korla pears, grapes, hami melon and red jujube from Qarkilik at reasonable prices. 60 yuan per person. 11am-9:30pm. Inside Urumqi's Beijing office, 1 Chegongzhuang Beidajie, Xicheng District. West of Guanyuanqiao on West Second Ring Road, turn right at first traffic light, go 150 meters, to the left. 6836-2795. 西城区车公庄大街北里1号乌鲁木齐驻京办内(近展览路医院) , 西二环官园桥西第一个红绿灯右转(北)150米路西
Best Shaoxing food: Xianheng 咸亨酒店
The service is improving. But everybody comes for the food. Start with hand-peeled bamboshoots (手剥笋), then try the fried, dried fish with spring onions (葱煎黄鲞), bound pork (扎肉) and three crisp vegetables (福果三脆, lettuce, water chestnut and preserved lettuce). Wash it all down with yellow rice wine, which comes out for 38 yuan per 500 grams (散装太雕黄酒). 50 yuan per person. 11am-1:30pm, 5-8:30pm. Northwest corner of Heping Xiqiao, 19 Eastern North Third Ring Road, Chaoyang District. 6443-1558, 6443-1668. 朝阳区北三环东路19号，和平西桥西北角
Best Malaysian: Malacca Legend马六甲传奇
The restaurant offers Malay munchies, with influences from Chinese, Indian and Arabian cuisines. Try their BBQ chicken wings, Hainan chicken rice, nasi lemak (coconut rice), curry chicken and sambal kangkong (fried water spinach with shrimp paste). 80 yuan per person. 11am-10pm. On the bank of Luoma Lake, Houshayu, close to ISB, Shunyi District. 8049-8902. 顺义区后沙峪镇罗马湖畔，靠近顺义国际学校
Best Cantonese creation: No 78 Chinese Restaurant, Marco Polo 78号中餐厅
The restaurant operated by a father-and-son team is very creative in cooking Cantonese dishes using unique techniques. Honey-glazed pork tenderloin (非一般叉烧) is cooked to order and sliced on the spot, just like Peking roast duck. Crispy, fried whole chicken, prawn dumplings, seafood soup and seafood tart are other good offerings here. 150-200 yuan per person. Morning tea 7am-noon, lunch 11:30am-2:30pm, afternoon tea 2:30-5:30pm, dinner 5:30-10:30pm. 1/F Marco Polo Parkside Beijing, 78 Anli Lu, Asian Games Village, Chaoyang District. 5963-6688 ext 6415. 朝阳区亚运村安立路78号北京中奥马哥孛罗大酒店一层
Best Taiwan: Shin Yeh 欣叶京品台菜餐厅
The decor is a bit more formal than Bellagio, and the food is totally different. Baked karasumi, a naturally dried fish roe, and baby abalone are the most expensive of its specialties. But the restaurant has plenty of more reasonably priced dishes, such as small dried fish with crisp peanut, sauteed oyster cake, sauteed pork liver and braised chicken in casserole. 60 yuan per person. 11:30am-2:30pm, 5pm-midnight. 6 Gongti Xilu, Chaoyang District. 6552-5066. 朝阳区工体西路6号
Best Fusion presentation: Jewel 金城阁
Jewel takes the fusion of Chinese and Western foods to new heights, especially in terms of presentation. Beautiful glassware, Japanese-styled hotpot and glass goblets are used to make dining here a fun, aesthetic and enjoyable experience. Worth trying are their dim sum platter, abalone shabu (hotpot), deep-fried shrimp with spicy breadcrumbs and sauteed celery with gingko nut and bean curd. The set menu is 380 yuan per person. 11:30am-2:30pm, 5:30-10:30pm. 1/F The Westin Beijing, B9 Financial Street, Xicheng District. 6606-8866 ext Jewel. 西城区金融大街乙9号北京金融街威斯汀大酒店一层
Best Northeast Chinese: Shuangfu 双福东北菜
Most restaurants in this style are classified as a hodgepodge of ordinary homestyle foods for people who are not culinarily critical. And this place also fits that bill. But what makes the difference is the food's quality and homey, country-style decor. Sample horse hoof-shaped baked buns (夹肉马蹄烧饼) with pork stuffing while they're hot; then try smoked pork spine with bone (烟熏脊骨) and stewed chicken with wild mushrooms - to be accompanied with their strong, 40-degree Chinese liqueur, or Harbin Beer. 40 yuan per person. 11am-2pm, 4:30-11pm. Opposite the eastern gate of the Temple of Earth, 5 Hepingli Wuqu. 8422-2388. 东城区地坛东门和平里五区5号地坛东门对面
Greatest gimmicks: Dark Restaurant & Faxie Canting 巨鲸肚黑暗餐厅双安境界店
Ok, as for the food... forgot how it tasted. But you can smash your plates, bowls, beer bottles or even the CD player - as long as you pay for it. If that's not enough, you can give a few of the old one-twos to the punching bag or compete with your friend to see who can pound nails in a wooden chopping block faster. There are three set menus each comprising six courses, including a soup and a dessert. 168-218 yuan per person. 10am-10pm. 40 Shuangyushu Dongli, Haidian District. Opposite Shuang'an Department Store, behind Huaxing Film City to the north. 8211-8855. 海淀区双榆树东里40号,双安商场对面,华星国际影城后
Best Original cuisine: Golden Yan'an 金延安This is not often seen in Beijing: a compilation menu of former Chairman Mao Zedong's favorite foods from Shaanxi Province. Yan'an was China's revolutionary base before 1949, and now, it brings its mutton, potato dishes, steamed cake in mutton soup and deep-fried millet cake to Beijing. 40 yuan per person. 48 Baofang Hutong, Dongsi Nandajie, Dongcheng District. 8915-8326. 东城区东四南大街48号
Best traditional hotpot mutton: Tiandi Shuanrou 天地涮肉
This is a Chinese neighborhood restaurant. But over the years, its freshly cut mutton (鲜手切羊肉) has been comparable with the best of any other big name hotpot restaurants. It helps you to remember that mutton should taste like mutton. Pots are bronze, as they traditionally should be in Beijing. Also order sesame paste sauce (麻酱小料), fish balls (鱼丸), mushrooms (蘑菇), cabbage(白菜) and deep-fried sesame cakes (炸烧饼). A bottle of Yanjing costs 4 yuan. 30 yuan per person. Northeast corner of east end of Dahuisi Lu, 50 meters north of west gate of Beijing Northern Jiaotong University, 23 Daliushu Lu, Haidian District. 6218-7844. 天地涮肉,海淀区大柳树路23号,北方交大西门北50米,大慧寺路东头东北角
(China Daily January 22, 2008)