The Beijinger’s 2011 Restaurant Awards: Blabbers, Ramblings and Alternatives.
This past Monday, The Beijinger announced their winners for the 2011 restaurant awards, all voted on by readers. I might not agree with a lot of their selections or with the winners but i must respect them as the popular choices by that species known as the Genus-Expatus.
Looking at the list, one can’t help but notice that Chaoyang in General and Sanlitun more specifically still reigns supreme. Establishments like Mosto, Le Petit Gourmand, South Beauty, Haidilao, Middle 8th and more. Like it, love it, hate it or whatever, it’s just a reality. To get exposure and food traffic, you wanna be in the holly quadrant: dongzhimen, liangmaqiao, guomao, jiangguomen.
Interestingly enough, this year, there doesn’t seem to be much controversy/comments or reactions to the results. Last year’s edition caused quite a few stirs online and offline with people agreeing/disagreeing with over 30 comments on the original post as well as enough reactions around Beijing to keep the conversation going for a while. This year, it’s pretty darn low key so far!
I was really pleased last year with extra categories for Chinese restaurants but unfortunately, that has gone by the wayside. GM Mike Wester explained that there wasn’t enough nominations to warrant a real category for many types of Chinese cuisine…. how about that Beijing? There’s more of you having an afternoon tea than eating Xinjiang food? really? wow, I had no idea that we got so posh in a year. That said, joking aside, what do you expect when one of the winners from the previous years was ” my neighborhood’s Chuanr stand” ?
Looking at the current list of Chinese restaurant that have won, it seems like most of them are extremely foreigner friendly with English names and more often than not English menus. That bothers me a bit but then again, if that’s where the readers go to, then why not? These are establishments that are playing the game and trying to draw a certain clientele.. if it’s working, then even better.
Truth be said, when it was time for the nominations round, I had to think really hard about my meals over the past 12 months to see if anything stood out… and it wasn’t easy! If anything, 2010 was not eventful or breathtaking in Beijing… Yes, there were some great meals but nothing impressed me that much. It was pretty safe actually… and I do eat out quite a bit.
Now, who were my winners for the past 12 months?
Best Sichuan: Chengdu Representative Office
This place is definitely worth seeking out. They’re smaller than their more famous older sibling ( Chuan Ban) and a lot more convivial. The way they managed to handle a giant group of rain-soaked laowais that showed up late and made a mess out of everything was commendable. And the food quite tasty!
– Best Xinjiang: Kashgar Representative Office
This place is the king of all Xinjiang restaurants. The food is excellent, the atmosphere genuinely authentic and the staff is fairly effective. When I walk into that place, I do feel like I am in Kashgar and that is a feeling i like. Their location is backward at best but that is also why they have remained so genuine. It’s more than worth the trip to niu jie for.
– Best Laziji: Xiao Yu Shan (gui jie)
This place just rocks. best restaurant in gui jie for my money! They do dishes from all corners of China and they do it well. Not to mention that their prices are beyond reasonable. The laziji is on a class of its own: Generous amounts of chicken scattered between lovely capsicum. It’s juicy and crispy at the same time and plenty of spice so that you get up the next day singing Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire”
– Best Hotpot: Manfulou / Haidilao (sanlitun)
Not being a huge hotpot fan, these are the two restaurants I’ll go out of my way to eat it at once or twice every winter. Manfulou is on the imperial muslim side of things with beautiful setting, classy service and delicious individual servings. Hai Di Lao should actually get a category of their own… It’s one of the few restaurants i’ve eaten at where the staff just decides that we’ve ordered too much and the food shouldn’t be wasted so they drop a few items off the list.
– Best Imperial: Na Jia Xiao Guan
I could ramble about them for a long time but I’ll do you a favor and avoid that. Read one of my many posts on this gem!! Venison stew, shrimps, pumpkin cakes…. the whole lot
– Best French: Brasserie Flo
some of the most memorable meals I’ve had in 2010 were there. once for their anniversary celebration and also during the City Weekend gourmet month. A+ all over the board for quality, variety, presentation, service, atmosphere and more at a price that won’t break the bank. As far as I go, they set the standard in Beijing for mid-high end!
– Best Steak: Brasserie Flo / Salt
What was said above about Flo goes for Salt as well. These two places represent the upper limit of what I’m willing to pay for a quality meal in Beijing.
– Best Service: Capital M / Hai Di Lao / Mosto
It’s a personal thing… I just like how they do things in those 3 establishments. Alex from Mosto is a great host!
– Most Memorable Meal: Mosto / Brasserie Flo
Brasserie Flo Anniversary meal and Mosto’s charity meal for haiti. They’re both in that “food porn” category and the two best western meals I had in Beijing over the past year.
– Best Value: Peter’s Tex Mex / Flamme
Old favorite and New entry… Peter’s continues their tradition of good value tex mex that still rocks my socks after all this year. I could resent them for removing my “Sangre de Toro” from the menu but I won’t.. meal for two with a bottle of wine still under 300 RMB.
Flamme has taken over my going out habits over the past few months thanks to great cocktails, fantastic specials and a commendable attitude. Their selection of appetizers is second to none in this town, period!
– Best Cheese plate: Scarlett (hotel G)
words cannot describe it… they just can’t! it’s what every cheese platter should be!
– Best Desert Plate: Flamme
The first time I faced it, I was fearing that i might have to go straight to the hospital due to a sugar coma… diabetes in a plate with a great diversity.
– Restaurant of the Year (western): Brasserie Flo
I explained it all above…. it deserves more recognition that in gets.
– Restaurant of the Year (Chinese): Guo Yao Xiao Ju
I had my birthday meal there this year and I can still vividly remember the meal and service…. One hell of an impressive experience. it’s tucked away in a little hutong where it feels like a gem for the initiated only!!! most memorable Chinese meal this year.
so… it all comes down to tastes…and you know what? Tastes are like assholes, everybody got one… NExt up, the Time Out awards at the end of the week!!!
This is in no way a connaisseur list or anything like that, but more a starting point for what i hope is a fruitful discussion. I’m curious about what others pick as their favorite restaurants away from the sanlitun/chaoyang cluster.
As the proud nominator of “my neighbourhood chuar stand” I think their win in 2010 was both well deserved and a nice little stick in the eye. I do wonder where they put the trophy though… ;p
I made a list too, but didn’t really bother with western restaurants or restaurant of the year, which I find way too amorphous. I must agree that the Brasserie Flo anniversary meal was amazing, though.
On my visit to the Chengdu provincial, the staff there seemed completely shocked that anyone would want to eat dinner at 8pm, and told us that the chefs were off-duty, but they could cook us a few things anyways. It was also raining, as I recall. The food was decent, but perhaps I should give them another chance at an earlier hour.
Hawberries’ this list is great.
I think it’s inevitable the expat constituency is going to favour more high-end (and user-friendly) places. And another problem with trying to honour Chinese regional cuisines is that it’s much harder – impossible – to achieve consensus.
For Middle Eastern, Indian, Thai, American and so on there are probably only 5 or 10 contenders – and there’s not often going to be much dispute about which the most outstanding are. But for Sichuan or Xinjiang or Guizhou, where do you start? There are hundreds, maybe thousands to choose from.
BD’s assumption that the Representative Office Restaurants are likely to have the most authentic cuisine is reasonable enough. But it might not always be so. And ‘authentic’ ain’t necessarily the same as ‘best’. When you throw in service as a criterion as well – the Chinese scene is just way too multifarious to navigate!
But props to Badr and Hawberries for trying! You’ve given us some great tips in these two posts.
[I just hope it doesn’t become a trendy laowai thing to do to check out these more out-of-the-way Chinese restaurants. It would spoil a lot of the charm of them if hordes of expats started latching on to them.]
My rant was not about which Chinese restaurant is the best, it was more about the fact that there weren’t enough nominations to have a category for some of them. I was, and still am, extremely surprised that there are enough people that feel strongly about their afternoon tea as opposed to chuanr.
At the same time, you’re right, we don’t want all these places overrun by trendy laowais i guess… maybe..