Location:38 Nanchang Jie, near Tian'anmen, Beijing,China/ 程府宴，北京南长街38号
The unparalleled culinary craftsmanship, unique cultural heritage and perfected service at ChengFu make it the premier Chinese dining experience in Beijing.
"Are you able to find the front door?" Our host RenFeng has, no doubt, guided many guests to the unremarkable doorway off NanChang Jie. Once inside, however, we finally see the quiet elegance of ChengFu Courtyard, whose meticulous chef and quality ingredients have been favored by every generation of communist elite. We are guided through the small inner courtyard past private rooms housing restaurant relics, such as the bamboo box used to serve the Great Helmsman himself, to our second floor escape. Like the three other private rooms, ours includes a small lounging area to relax post-meal or between any of the eight courses.
When we arrive, our table is already lavished with individual servings of, house made morsels—spiced peppers, pickled radish, fried smoked fish. Our host explains that all of the food at ChengFu is organic and prepared to the highest standards. This commitment to excellence can even be seen in one of Deng XiaoPing's favorites, the bread and house-made butter (truly the best in Beijing). Our first course was a delicately cooked seafood sampling, including octopus, sweet scallops and prawns paired with a tangy ginger sauce—briny and succulent, the dish was perfectly executed. The main ingredient for our next course, soup, was nearly unrecognizable as it arrived at the table. We were presented with what seemed to be a giant puffball, floating ethereally in a bowl of clear broth. Our host explained that this furry wonder was actually silky tofu that was hand-cut over 100 times to create a flurry cloud of goodness. It was quite unique. The next course was in homage to the chef's time in Germany—house-made cheese-stuffed, deep-friend prawn with shrimp har-gau dumpling disguised as little bunnies. The rich creaminess of the cheese married perfectly with the springy crunchiness of the fried prawn,.. The sweet shrimp and its delicate rice skin rivaled the finest dim sum in the city.
With the promise of improved beauty and vitality, I tried the next course, beef cheek skin. The intricate sauce paired well with the thinly pounded, rice noodle ravioli. As a blue-blooded American, I admit that this was not my favorite dish, in concept, but the gelatinous skin, which takes over 24 hours to prepare, was succulent and flavorful. Next, I enjoyed the most famous dish in ChengFu's repertoire, Mao's hongshao rou. As explained by our waitress, the chef at Chengfu combined Mao's three favorite things—rice and hongshao rou presented in a baked pumpkin shell—to present to the Great Helmsman himself. It is easy to see why this dish is so famous--the sweetness of the pumpkin combined with the soft, rich meat made for an incredible mouth sensation and the rice added additional depth, as it soaked up the juices and spicy peppers (served on the side). Although it was nearly impossible to top their signature dish, ChengFu did an admirable job with their mushroom stuffed, phyllo codfish, served with a sesame rice fish cake. The presentation, complimented with Chinese greens and sliced oranges, was a feast for the eyes, while the perfectly cooked fish was a dish for the senses. The last course was also good, but perhaps not up to the remarkable standards of the rest of the meal—tofu noodles and greens set in a savory sauce. Admittedly, it may have been that I was so full from the other courses that I was incapable of enjoying the dish to its full potential.
As the main meal came to an end, we sampled another ChengFu exclusive—5 yr Danxi Huang Jiu. Reminiscent of fine German ice wine, Danxi is typically reserved exclusively for Zhongnanhai, but due to ChengFu's uniquely singular relationship with the leadership compound, they (and thus, we) enjoyed certain privileges. Accompanying our aperitif was our final dessert course, ying and yang style chilled pumpkin and yogurt. The golden-hued, puréed pumpkin was subtly sweet and accented with a white mixture of almond pudding that melted into blueberry tinged yogurt. The light creaminess of the course was the perfect end to an absolutely stunning meal. The unparalleled culinary craftsmanship, unique cultural heritage and perfected service at ChengFu make it the premier dining experience in Beijing.
Service quality: excellent
Food quality: excellent
Price per head (RMB): 400-500
Feature dish or menu: Mao's Roasted Pork, Seafood