Upscale countryside cooking in Beijing
It’s a rare thing for a fine-dining restaurant to focus on the fortifying food of China’s north — all hearty wheat and meat from the windswept regions skirting the Great Wall — but Country Kitchen inside Rosewood Beijing is a rare and wonderful kind of restaurant.
By eschewing the fine-dining-friendly southern Cantonese cooking typically favored by luxury hotels in Beijing, with Country Kitchen, Rosewood Beijing has planted its flag in the hardscrabble Beijing soil and created a uniquely local dining experience. As the name might suggest, it’s comfort all the way here.
The executive chef hails from the noodle-mad Shaanxi province, so it’s no surprise that northern wheat (as opposed to rice) is celebrated in a multitude of forms. You won’t go hungry with Shaanxi’s you po mian, hand-pulled, chewy belts of noodles with a hot splash of chilli oil and dark vinegar. Likewise, the potstickers, bulging with pork and cabbage and fried into a latticework matrix, are similarly rib sticking.
Classic Peking duck comes with all the trimmings, but for an unusual northern Chinese banquet treat, go for the roasted leg of inner Mongolian lamb, spiced and slow-cooked so that the meat falls away in tender shreds; it’ll feed a hungry party of four to six.
Sichuan cuisine gets a spot on the menu, too — unsurprising, considering this spicy cooking style is perhaps the most beloved of Beijingers. Kungpao chicken, mala tang (meat and vegetable skewers in a mouth-numbing soup), and twice-fried spicy pork with vegetables, are all fine additions to your meal. And just to be clear, this is the sort of restaurant that rewards sharing. Bigger groups can order more and try a bit of everything.
An intriguing section of the menu is titled “lost recipes.” These are supposedly unearthed Qing Dynasty dishes once beloved by Beijing folk but forgotten during the austere Mao era. Think warming clay pots of pork belly, and black chicken feet (an uncommon dark-skinned breed often used in Chinese medicinal soups), deboned and terrifically tender.
Vegetable dishes are numerous, too. Try the braised winged beans, immensely flavorful due to the black fermented soybeans.
Desserts happen to be some of the most creative dishes at Country Kitchen, with more than a nod to Western sensibilities. A riff on the Chinese jianbing savory crepe, the crispy pancake with peanuts and banana sorbet, is a moreish treat. Equally so is the Northern Chinese take on churros — deep-fried youtiao-style fritters (usually eaten at breakfast) served with a sweet peach sabayon.
Country Kitchen is roomy but cleverly divided, so that no matter where you sit, the open show kitchen is always on view. And it’s quite a performance; chefs in cream-colored robes twirl floury noodles and suspend plump, plucked ducks atop fruitwood flames.
The décor blends terracotta with granite textures and warm wood tones, evoking the rural simplicity of a Chinese countryside farmhouse. In fact, some of the decorative wall bricks were repurposed from derelict rural homesteads outside Beijing. But underneath the rustic vibe lurks an undeniably upscale restaurant DNA — hand-sculpted clay tableware, polished copper drinking vessels and thick woven cloths branded with the restaurant logo.
The adjoining sun terrace serves up decidedly urban panoramas to accompany the countryside-inspired cooking. And it’s quite the view, across the East Third Ring Road towards Rem Koolhaas’ magnificent CCTV Tower, Beijing’s most iconic building, a vision of the future accompanied by tastes of the past.