Cai Yi Xuan restau­rant at the Four Sea­sons Ho­tel Bei­jing

Qantas - - Contents - CAI YI XUAN Level 2, Four Sea­sons Ho­tel Bei­jing, 48 Liang­maqiao Road, Sanyuan­qiao, Chaoyang Dis­trict foursea­sons.com

IN AL­MOST ev­ery coun­try town in Aus­tralia, there’s a Chi­nese restau­rant. The tastes of China are as much a part of our cul­tural fab­ric as Vegemite and spaghetti bolog­naise. It’s no secret that Chi­nese flavours are a culi­nary ob­ses­sion for me and I’ve been lucky to travel to many parts of China to ex­pe­ri­ence them first­hand.

And now I’m back in Bei­jing, which I last vis­ited in 2007. I’m al­ways struck by the equal pull of its history and cul­ture. There are so many won­ders to see. The Bei­jing sec­tions of the Great Wall are a must – imag­ine what they’ve wit­nessed over the past 700 years – and the size of the For­bid­den City is ex­tra­or­di­nary. If you have time, in­clude the Tem­ple of Heaven and the Sum­mer Palace on your itin­er­ary. And visit the house of Soong Ching-ling, one of three sis­ters who were prom­i­nent in Chi­nese pol­i­tics be­fore the 1949 Rev­o­lu­tion. The wife of Sun Yat-sen, a founder of the Repub­lic of China, she is known as the Mother of Mod­ern China, as she was heav­ily in­volved in its 20th-cen­tury so­cial development. Her for­mer res­i­dence (now a mu­seum) tells the story of con­tem­po­rary China and is worth an hour of your time.

But I’m re­ally here for the food. I seek out the ducks first. Tra­di­tion­ally, they’re roasted in square wood-fire ovens, with the fire at the front and the ducks hang­ing at the rear (this dif­fers from the Can­tonese con­i­cal oven). The chef hooks the ducks with a long rod and pulls them for­ward so the flames lick the skin, mak­ing it su­per-crisp.

Bei­jing has some of the best roast duck in the world but there are myr­iad other plea­sures, too. Here’s my pick of some of the city’s best places to eat, from ca­sual you’ll­have-to-queue joints to fine-din­ing es­tab­lish­ments.

IF YOU’VE dined at Lung King Heen at Four Sea­sons Ho­tel Hong Kong, you’ll know what to ex­pect here. Cai Yi Xuan is an op­u­lent din­ing room where the ser­vice and wine list match the fine cook­ing.

We start with won­der­fully crisp suck­ling pig on a lit­tle steamed bun with a smear of hoisin sauce. Please may I have this ev­ery day for the rest of my life? There are also beau­ti­fully ex­e­cuted baked pork buns with in­cred­i­bly light, fluffy pas­try. The crab xiao long bao is ex­cel­lent, too, as is the yum cha.

But it’s the sig­na­ture red-braised pork belly with abalone and truf­fles that I’m here to try and it doesn’t dis­ap­point – melt-in-the­mouth pork with a rich, earthy truf­fle sauce and the ex­quis­ite tex­ture of the abalone. It’s so good that I’m de­ter­mined to cre­ate a ver­sion in the not-too-dis­tant future.

Salt-and-pep­per prawns are en­cased in the most del­i­cate, crisp bat­ter, which pro­vides tex­ture to com­ple­ment the sweet fresh seafood and salt high­lights – they’re ir­re­sistible. A plate of crisp-skin chicken ar­rives next. It’s the ul­ti­mate roast chook, with skin that’s crunchy and de­li­cious.

I’m a mas­sive fan of stir-fried snow pea run­ners. (Snow pea shoots grow into vines, or run­ners, from which the pods even­tu­ally sprout. When young, run­ners are tastier than snow peas.) Here, served with a dash of gar­lic and a lit­tle shaox­ing wine, they have a nat­u­ral deep-green veg­etable flavour with the added sweet­ness of the snow pea.

The wine list’s by-the-glass se­lec­tion en­tices you to lunch in style. I have a cou­ple of glasses of Do­maine la Bar­roche Châteauneuf-du-Pape – the per­fect match for the chicken skin and pork belly.

Neil Perry has been in love with the flavours of China since he was a boy. So who bet­ter to take us to the best fine-din­ers and hid­den hu­tong restau­rants in Bei­jing?

Red-braised pork belly with abalone and black truf­fle sauce at Cai Yi Xuan

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