I have always wanted an excuse to write about Vin Vie. For years, Beijing chefs and food writers have told me that it’s their favorite place to eat, but how on earth am I supposed to write about something that is just, like, consistently nice? I can’t write a review that reads “BREAKING: 10-year-old restaurant is STILL good.”
Then they opened a new branch.
Vin Vie part deux is South Sanlitun, just down the road from Haidilao and an adult store named SEXY TOWN. But before we dive in here, let’s make sure you’re not confusing Vin Vie with Vin Vino (a wine bar in Maizidian) or InVino (a wine bar in Gongti). ‘Vin’ is the Latin root for ‘vine.’ ‘Vie’ is French for ‘life.’ ’Vino’ is Latin for ‘wine.’ ‘In’ is English for ‘in.’
But I digress. Nan Sanlitun Lu is Sanlitun in the same way that rows of public squatter toilets are part of Jingshan Park. This is the bowels of Sanli, a long-forgotten strip of ancient establishments like Q Bar and Beer Mania. It’s a neighborhood that harkens back to a time long before craft breweries and Moka Bros. A time as long ago as… 2010.
Vin Vie, to some extent, fits the part. It’s homey in a way that makes it seem like it’s been around for years. Bookshelves full of wine bottles line the walls, and a brick fireplace befitting of an English country manor takes center stage. The quiet room is host to a handful of tables and one bar, lit just a tad too brightly.
But you, my friend, are here for the food, which is French and Japanese with a smattering of Korean and even Spanish influences (there are small plates). This, not the decor, nor the menu that reads ‘Wine Rist,’ is why chefs flock to this place. Our Vin Vie style seabream carpaccio (RMB48) peeks out from underneath carefully picked niblets of beet and pickle. The grilled rice ball with spicy cod roe (RMB15) is, whether intentionally or not, a high-end reinterpretation of those rice snacks wrapped in seaweed that 7-Eleven sells. It is much better than the 7-Eleven version (and I love the 7-Eleven version). Tiny bites, like the chicken-and-corn meatball (RMB45), are impressive in their creativity – yet comfort food nonetheless. Even our bowl of edamame (RMB35), is pan-fried and spiced to perfection.
The menu is a 10-page affair with everything from pork paté to Japanese sukiyaki, and every dish we try is excellent. It all makes for a surprisingly elegant dinner in a less-than-elegant part of town – until a fight breaks out, that is. Towards the end of our dinner, three men launch into a screaming match. Then, just when the loudest of them is about to storm out, he regroups, and says the most Sanlitun thing of all: “I’m gonna smoke this cigarette. And then I’m gonna buy you guys more drinks.”