Wang Bin, head chef of The Georg, grew up in Beijing and found his culinary passion while working in fine-dining kitchens in France. The Georg is the only contemporary European restaurant to be awarded a star in the 2020 Beijing Michelin Guide. Wang’s fine palate combines the familiar flavours of his childhood with the precision of French cooking techniques. These are chef Wang Bin’s best restaurants in Beijing.
“Nobody should leave Beijing without trying the Peking duck!” asserts Wang Bin, head chef at contemporary European restaurant, The Georg. The imperial dish has a 600-year history in the Chinese capital and has not declined in popularity. But there’s so much more to this culinary destination than just roast duck.
“We can find the best of any type of Chinese cuisine in Beijing, whether it’s hotpot, Yunnanese or Sichuanese food,” says Wang. And like other cities across the world, Beijing is starting to embrace the trend of plant-based eating. “Vegetarianism has a long history in China, so this is not new for us,” says Wang. “It is very easy to dine out as a vegetarian in Beijing.”
“Increasingly, there are also plenty of Western dining options that are simple and affordable,” says Wang, whose own restaurant near the Nanluoguxiang hutongs has not only helped elevate Beijing’s standing as a culinary destination, but also strengthened the city’s fine-dining credentials.
Locally sourced produce plays a huge part in The Georg’s 12-item menu, which changes depending on the season. “We must respect nature, and create flavours and textures that help our seasonal produce shine on the plate,” Wang notes. “Agriculture and local produce is such a big part of Chinese cuisine and our way of life, how we eat and what we cook.”
Here are chef Wang Bin’s favourite restaurants in Beijing.
Sheng Yong Xing, a newly minted one-Michelin-star restaurant, arguably serves up the best roast duck in Beijing. The fowl is equal parts crispy duck skin and moist tender flesh – it’s so moreish that chef Wang suggests ordering two ducks to enjoy the second service in two ways. “Usually you choose either a soup or shredded duck meat to wrap in cabbage. Here, they do a soup or they deep-fry the remaining flesh – it’s so rich and full of flavour.” If you must choose, Wang suggests taking the fried version. “Also, the traditional Beijing noodles, zhajiangmian [noodles with soybean paste], is worth an order as well as the cold dishes – plenty of options for vegetarians.”
“People often mistake Sichuanese food as super spicy, but the magic lies in the balance where all the flavours dance together like a party in your mouth,” Wang says. And according to the chef, the best place to experience this alchemy of tastes is Transit, located in Taikoo Li North, a shopping centre in Sanlitun. “The food is well balanced and modern, and the Sichuan spices and chillies are subtle and not overpowering.” He recommends ordering the koushui ji (which translates as saliva chicken), a delightful cold dish comprising a poached whole chicken drenched in chilli oil and vinegar; the sea bass cooked in sichuan peppercorn-infused oil and chillies; and the spicy wonton dumplings.
“Hotpot is super popular in Beijing, and there are many different types of soup bases and condiments,” Wang notes of the perennial favourite. “The local places are very simple, and people are smoking and talking quite loudly.” For a slightly more relaxed ambience, Wang suggests Red Bowl, a beautifully designed restaurant that offers the best cuts of Wagyu beef and a variety of organic greens. But perhaps the star of this hotpot joint is the range of broths, which are left on a low simmer for hours.
Located in the former Zhaolong Hotel near Liangmaqiao, Ling Long serves contemporary European cuisine with locally sourced Chinese ingredients. The restaurant is run by French-trained Taiwanese chef Jason Liu, whose kitchen whips up a range of different tasting menus. “There is some molecular-style execution, and it was an interesting discovery for me as they serve Sichuan caviar and Mongolian cheese.” Go the whole hog by ordering the largest tasting menu for ¥900 (£100).
If you’re up for a truly local experience, Wang recommends Fu De Yu, a traditional Beijing lamb hotpot that is made by cooking slices of meat in a copper pot with burning hot coals in the centre. “It’s famous for Inner Mongolian fresh-sliced lamb, the texture of which is different from frozen meats,” Wang notes. “If you like innards, the beef tripe here is also very good. It’s located in Guijie (Ghost Street), a very cinematic street with red Chinese lanterns hung all over.”
Baoyuanjiaozi is renowned for its cheap, cheerful and colourful dumplings. The rainbow-hued wrappers are infused with vegetable juices (beetroot, spinach, etc) and folded into the shape of Chinese ingots. Unlike their counterparts in the south, dumplings in Beijing tend to be made from a thicker, chewier wheat-flour dough. “I always order the pork, cabbage and chives, and minced lamb dumplings,” says Wang. “The vegetarian options are nice, too, filled with smoked bean curd, mushrooms, chives, cabbage and egg.”
Dian Shan Yun Shui is a beautiful restaurant located in a siheyuan (a traditional courtyard). While the setting itself is worth the visit, the Yunnanese restaurant has gained a reputation for its nutritious, comforting fish soup – a milky savoury broth cooked with fresh slices of fish. Order along with the deep-fried tofu and the cold dish of beef garnished with mint. “Many of my Beijing friends come here for the Yunnan crossing-the-bridge fish soup,” Wang says. “The boss is from Yunnan, and you can taste the authentic flavours in the dishes. The service is friendly and the ambience lovely.”
Yan Jin Tang is also situated in a siheyuan. The restaurant has just two tables, a single service and 18 covers, so you’ll have to make reservations at least month in advance. “[The food] retains its Beijing flavour but is presented and cooked in a contemporary way, also with very expensive and prized ingredients,” Wang notes of the menu, which is replete with abalone and shark’s fin. “Signature dishes here include crawfish pickled with yellow wine, fish maw tempura with huadiao [yellow wine] and bird’s nest with orange.” The interiors are nothing to write home about, but it’s cosy and guests are encouraged to bring their own wine.
Xiao Wang Fu showcases the greatest hits of China’s provincial cuisines. “The Sichuanese gongbao chicken is really good here, and they do a good Peking duck as well as a cumin-spiced Xinjiang-style lamb,” chef Wang notes. Come here with friends to try as much as the menu as possible. Between the two branches, the one in the central business district is better; you’ll find it tucked around the back of a busy main road.