Collin, a diner at Barbeque Ji Restaurant in Houhai with his American friend Laurie is reacquainting himself with this "renowned Muslim restaurant", which has hosted figures such as former U.S. President George Bush and is adjacent to the former residence of Soong Ching-ling.
They are enjoying a plate of stir-fired snow pea and the roast lamb kept hot on a candle stove, a must at the eatery founded by chef Ji Decai during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) that has catered to diners for 160 years.
The century-old recipe includes several critical steps: select choice lamb and beef, pickle and barbecue them on the specially made grill with onion, coriander and other spices. The dish was a favorite with the nobility living in the lake area when the restaurant opened.
The best way to eat the meat is to make a Chinese "beef/lamb burger" by stuffing the meat into a pre-sliced baked wheaten cake.
Chinese beans, vegetable hors d'oeuvres, quick fried white turnip, spiced beef and laurel-lotus roots are most popular starters.
Beijing roast duck here is less greasy compared with some other roast duck eateries in the city as Barbeque Ji has its own finely selected duck breed.
Other popular main dishes include curry beef, savory beef, roast lamb back, braised ox tail, grilled beef cutlets, diced chicken with chili pepper, chicken with cashew nut, deep-fried prawns, stir-fried asparagus and sauted celery and lily.
The small dish is enough for two and the large for more than three.
Sipping 5-year-old Chinese rice wine beneath pictures from ancient Chinese mythology at the lakeside restaurant is a very oriental experience.
You can ask the waiter to spice up your rice wine with salted plums and take away the porcelain wine bottle as a souvenir.
The chef's own plum juice can cool you off on a sweltering summer day.
The three-storey traditional building is set against the Yinding Bridge (Silver Ingot Bridge), at the southeast end of the lake, about 15 minutes walk from the southern gate of the lake.
The servings at the always-packed restaurant have diminished over the years and the service during peak hours is a bit slow.
So be patient. You can spend the wait by the Yinding Bridge with a view of the mountains in the west of Beijing if it is a clear day. This is rated as one of the eight best views of the ancient city.
Barbeque Ji Restaurant (烤肉季)
Phone number: 8610 6404-2554.
Opening time: 11:00 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.
English menu available and major credit cards accepted.
You would spend around 60 yuan (8.8 U.S. dollars) to 80 yuan for a meal per person on average here.
(Xinhua News Agency July 16, 2008)