Number 8 School Hotpot (八号学苑)
Theme A 1980s school classroom.
The story Valid IDs (or passports for non-Chinese residents) are mandatory for entry into this hutong resto. The reason? It only allows those born in the 1980s to dine here. The interior resembles an '80s-style Chinese primary school classroom (portraits of Marx and Lenin observe every bite); it's basically a love letter to the first generation that grew up under the yoke of China's one-child policy. We say try the mashed potatoes (10RMB) and chuan chuan (20-38RMB) – a Sichuanese hotpot that involves boiling your chuan'er (0.3-3RMB per skewer) in a spicy broth. But be sure to book your table at least a day in advance; this place is pretty popular.
Mei Mansion (梅府家宴)
Theme Peking Opera star Mei Lanfang.
The story One of the greatest Peking opera singers in modern history, Mei Lanfang elevated the art to the world stage. He was also noted for his epicurean tastes, and held a deep respect for simple flavours, seasonality and quality ingredients. An ode to the performer's culinary persona is found today in an elegant 200-year-old Houhai courtyard, as converted by Mei's son. Stage costumes and old photos are scattered throughout. Inside, a spectacular array of dishes is carefully prepared by a fourth-generation successor of Mei's personal chef. The recipes are all the singer's favourites, from red-braised pork to lightly sautéed crystal shrimp. There is no menu; the chef decides what to serve based on what's fresh and in-season at market that day. Our advice is to call ahead to book a private Peking opera performance in the courtyard with your dinner – and make sure to ask for a guided tour through the courtyard's rooms and artifacts.