Encased in grey walls, pink petal-shaped tables at Ling Long circle an impressive centerpiece. The set evokes an image of a flower blooming in winter, highlighted by transparent chairs and fancy spotlights. It is an exhibition; of flourishes and fine touches, of specially-commissioned tables and hip patrons filling the space, of the art on your plate and meticulously-placed flower petals.
The amuse bouche consists of dainty bites with flavors close to home: The sesame flat bread with caviar on top is a nod to Beijing, and the double-boiled chicken soup transports you to a warm family through silky consommé. But it’s the tomato dipped in ginger juice that brings a spark to the evening. Mildly savory at first, the tomatoes of varying shades have a jelly-like texture that unpacks the gentle gingery aroma with a slight sweet and sour tang in every bite.
Snapper carpaccio presents meaty slices of fish with bean paste, dried daikon and more caviar, which accentuate the sweetness and bounciness of the fish. The next bowl has almost translucent pork belly slices covering a heap of bamboo fungus and lily bulb, with pork and sour cabbage jus poured at the table. The unmistakably porky aroma does not distract from the crunchy fungus and lily bulb, and the paired wine gives a bright contrast to the hearty jus.
For seafood lovers, the red grouper is a highlight of the meal, cooked sous vide to plump perfection. The small chunks of asparagus beneath are rather salty on their own, but together with the house-made sauce, work well as a deep yet delicate seasoning to the flaky fish.
Subsequent courses, however, create mixed emotions. A sizable section of lobster tail is curling around pieces of Chinese onion and puffed rice, surrounded by – the server says – three kinds of sauce. The meat is firm and flavorful, but sadly lost in the intense sauces. While the server warns that the sauces are strong and there is no need to finish them – which we certainly do not – we question the point of offering such strong sauces to begin with.
Oyster and wagyu also gives and takes away. House-made oyster sauce and chili flakes add an interesting bite to stalks of fresh leafy greens and tender wagyu. Based on the name, we expect whole oysters placed alongside chunks of wagyu instead of just in the sauce, but we carry on.
Dessert is indeed a “journey of sweets.” Three delicate bubbles of yogurt, each with different flavors, are surely a charming attempt at molecular gastronomy, but a bit indistinguishable apart from being overwhelmingly tart and woody. The trufflelike sandalwood ice cream is similar in this way, but stays pleasantly aromatic with a hint of creamy chocolate. Pineapple cake – jammy pineapple and salted egg custard enveloped in crumbly pastry – is a welcome change of direction, but the Sichuan pepper macarons take the cake. Delightfully chewy, the Sichuan pepper comes only in a mild fragrance that balances the sweet filling.
No a la carte orders here: Ling Long only offers five, six or seven courses menu, complete with wine pairings. The friendly service makes for an enjoyable experience, though on occasion, the overly engaging conversation results in a delay in our next course. The creative re-imagining of Chinese dishes and exquisite plating are delightful, and the chef’s techniques and artsy flair certainly show there is potential for Ling Long to become a popular fine-dining venue in Sanlitun.
[Images via Ling Long]