In the ancient capital of Beijing, there are many places of interest and historical sites. But when it comes to the four major cuisines of China (i.e. Sichuan, Cantonese, Huaiyang and Shandong Lu Cuisine), they seem to have nothing to do with Beijing.
However as the capital of the last feudal dynasty in China’s history, Beijing was the place for the highest standard banquet in the country – the imperial banquet of the Qing Palace, which gathered the essence of major cuisines of both the Chinese and Manchurian. It has since become a display of traditional Chinese food culture during diplomatic banquets.
In 1911, the Xinhai Revolution overthrew the Qing Dynasty. In 1924, warlord Feng Yuxiang 冯玉祥 led his army into Beijing, imprisoned President Cao Kun 曹锟, and expelled the last emperor Puyi from the Forbidden City, which officially ended the exclusive rights of the emperor on the royal properties.
In 1925, Beihai Park 北海公园, a royal garden that was once only for enjoyment by the royal family, was opened to the public as a park. Father and son team of Zhao Renzhai 赵仁斋 and Zhao Bingnan 赵炳南, who were former officials of the Imperial Kitchen, opened the Imperial Dining Room 仿膳茶社 at the North Bank in order to help the old cooks of the former palace to make a living.
凉意双姝 Two Cold Appetisers
The name for this dish is very beautiful, “Cool and Beautiful Two Ladies”. I wouldn’t really describe braised beef shank and pork jerky as two beautiful “ladies”, but they were quite tasty appetisers.
豌豆黄 Sweet Pea Pudding、芸豆卷 Kidney Bean Roll
Sweet pea pudding and kidney bean roll are traditional snacks that originated from the streets of Beijing and made their way in the Imperial Courts. They were purportedly the favourite snacks of the Empress Dowager. They were served at room temperature, but I had them cold before and they tasted better.
夹心酥 Sweet Date Shortbread、小窝头 Cornbread、圆梦烧饼 Meat Sesame Bun
This snacks were quite exquisite, especially the shortbread and cornbread.
This sesame seed bun has been on the menu since 1925. However the bun has been updated for modern palate by making the inside fluffy and soft, instead of the original biscuity texture.
I am not a fan of the Chinese cornbread called wowotou 窝窝头. They miniaturised it to a cute little corn and you can finish it in two bites. If only the cavity was larger for filling in more meat.
热菜 Main Course
I wasn’t impressed with the main courses of this set menu. But as I was dining alone, I couldn’t bring myself to waste any food by ordering more.
干贝溜鸡脯 Chicken Flakes with Conpoy Soup
A very runny soup with almost no taste.
炸烹虾 Crispy Shrimps
Rather pathetic shrimps.
抓炒里脊 Sweet and Sour Pork
This was surprising quite delicious.
冬菇菜芯 Shiitake Mushroom and Bokchoy
And the vegetable was a pleasant surprised too.
水果拼盘 Fruit Platter
As for whether the imperial dining is worth it or not, it depends on whether the purpose is to enjoy the ambiance or the taste. Taste, it was not the best Beijing has to offer; ambiance, it has plenty of that.
Beijing Fangshan Restaurant 仿膳饭庄
Tel : +86 10 6404 2573
Visited May 2023
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