For many in the West, 2016 will be remembered for Trump, Brexit, terrorism in Europe and an absurd number of pop culture deaths, from Bowie to Muhammad Ali. By comparison, China had an unusually quiet year. Nonetheless, there were still a few goings-on in the world's most populous country.
In our 2016 Year in Review series, we recap the best (and worst) of China's year in the worlds of technology, social media, sport, fashion, food, arts and more.
It's been a great year for eating and drinking here in Beijing. And because we always get a little nostalgic for all things food and drink at this time of year, here's a look back at the best new bars and restaurants that we reviewed in 2016. (If you have yet to try these places, we highly suggest you do. Just saying… these are some great restaurants.)
As we wrote in our January review of The Georg "This is Beijing’s best new restaurant. This is maybe just Beijing’s best restaurant, period. In terms of international-standard fine dining, anyway, The Georg has already cemented itself in the echelons of Beijing greats." Almost a full year later, and we stand by those words. Perhaps it should be no surprise, then, that The Georg was the winner of the New Restaurant of the Year award (editor's choice) at the 2016 That's Beijing Golden Fork Restaurant Awards.
The terrace at the InterContinental Beijing Sanlitun’s Char is stupendous. It's even more stupendous with a glass of Veuve-Cliquot in hand. It will make you want to commission a painting of the sun setting over Yashow. Inside, Char is everything you’d imagine at a place where you can drink Veuve and look down at the pedestrians below. Steaks are Australian. Wines are specially branded. Foie gras sits proudly on the menu. Best yet, futuristic animations are projected all over the walls, like the backdrop to a fashion show. It should also be noted that Char was the winner of the New Restaurant of the Year award (reader's choice) at this year's Golden Fork Restaurant Awards.
Saigon Mama was imported from our sleek and splashy sister city to the south, Shanghai. Its expansive menu features generous portions of Vietnamese comfort food at bargain prices. Take the classic beef pho (RMB58), for example – a massive bowl of what is quite possibly the best pho we’ve had yet in Beijing. The Vietnamese spring rolls are bursting with fresh shrimp, and the fried egg rolls are close to perfect (RMB45). The Vietnamese chicken salad is refreshing with house seafood dressing on top (RMB45), and the fish-tofu pancakes (RMB45) are a delightful snack to go along with all of the above.
Mauro Colagreco is a big deal. He’s a judge on Top Chef Italy. His Menton, France restaurant Mirazur has two Michelin stars. In rankings we personally consider more important, his Bund-side restaurant Unico won Best Latin American in That’s Shanghai’s 2015 Food and Drink Awards. And now, he’s brought his culinary prowess to Haidian. Azur’s menu encapsulates the Mediterranean flavors that influence Mirazur, Colagreco’s lauded original. Splurge on the RMB988 seven-course signature menu (Michelin stars don’t come cheap) or the four-course lunch – fresh oysters, Champagne, tender squid and some of the best desserts in Beijing (do not leave Azur without sampling the osmanthus-tinged creme brulee with salted caramel ice cream).
Mary had a little lamb. Bayi has a lotta lamb. And cheap. This palatial spot on Gongti Beilu (no, seriously, it looks like a palace) is our new favorite for holding court over chuan’r and naan. The food is authentic, the prices are low and the decor is veritably bonkers. In a good way.
While Sanlitun’s newest hot pot restaurant Coucou is certainly swankier than its casual sister chain Xiabu Xiabu, it’s imperative that you wear a bib. But ignore this minor informality, and you’ll find an upscale restaurant that is just about worth the higher price tag. Pick the meat and vegetables you’re partial to and get dipping. (It’s hot pot – our menu recommendations are hardly necessary.)
Parkview Green has long been lacking a proper bar. And man, is George’s a proper bar. In fact, it’s two proper bars – one accented with 19th-century bowler hats and a perfume-bottle motif, and another (made for whiskies) at the back, which overlooks Parkview Green through floor-to-ceiling windows. The cocktails range from good to fantastic. We loved the creamy sweet chocolate martini (RMB80), but if your sweet tooth’s not as strong as ours, the delightful bell-pepper punch (RMB80) was interesting and… vegetal?
The once-Sanlitun-based incubator (get it? the lexical theme is ‘EGGS’) has reopened with a spot that’s even hipper and sleeker than the last. This is thanks to 5LMeet, the new co-working-and-lifestyle-and-other-buzzwordy-things space. Hatchery shines as a workspace - during our daytime visit, we see laptop warriors and power outlets galore. At 5pm, Hatchery’s metaphorical sun sets, and Soul Bowls transforms into its Peruvian-inspired sister, Buena Onda.
Toast, the restaurant at The Orchid, serves an excellent dinner. The diverse menu features Toast’s special bread and dips (RMB98), a simple shakshua (RMB78), a beautifully plated poached egg kofte (RMB78), spicy coconut wings (RMB68) and so much more. Toast’s food is excellent value, its service swift and its atmosphere hushed, calming and great for date nights.
The population of this particular tribe has grown substantially – enough for it to spread to new hunting grounds. The territory in question, Lido, is a fertile one (ok, we’re done with the pre-industrial nomadic tribe metaphors). Thankfully the consistency that matters most – food quality – hasn’t suffered in the transition. Salads, grain bowls and other favorites from the original location have made their way across intact. The new dishes we try are equally on-point.