You ca't please 'em all, especially when it comes to eating out. With the weather warming up, we wanted to feast on something seasonal, but had to consider those with delicate palates in our party and also the spice-lovers. Epiphany occurred when we decided to satisfy the former with One East on Third's seasonal menu, and then appease the latter with Zhu Yu Fang's generously spiced fish.
The good value-for-money set lunch (RMB 120, two courses) at One East on Third proves that less is more when it comes to dressing up spring's produce. Their appetizer, Two Peas in a Pod, must be the quintessential spring dish. Three little appetizers in spring's archetypal color, pastel green, are daintily presented. First is the hot puree of peas. This soup is barely seasoned and the familiar taste of peas is reassuring, reminding you that behind the sophisticated presentation is a humble ingredient. It readies you for the more aggressive sweet onion salad with raw pea shoots, and the out-of-the-ordinary chilled pea soup, an opaque green jello that takes some getting used to.
Portions are moderate and bigger stomachs may need to fill up on the complimentary bread (which is delightfully fluffy and baked to order). On the other hand, this is a business lunch that won't send you to sleep when you get back to the office.
Chicken paillard is breast meat pounded thin and wrapped around portobello mushrooms. The chicken was a tad dry, but earthy portobellos and mozzarella gave texture to the dish. Snappy cherry tomatoes and onions marinated in balsamic vinegar helped round out the dish.
Those of us who preferred more vigorous flavors and wanted to greet the sunny season with something loud and dramatic opted out of the delicate dishes at One East and went to check out what all the fuss was about at Zhu Yu Fang.
Since opening its first venue near Tsinghua University in 2003, Zhu Yu Fang has expanded to seven branches all over Beijing. We had long heard good things about the one in Dongdan, tucked away in Beijigesantiao, a little hutong just opposite the Oriental Plaza. With lots of glass walls and peek-a-boo lattice woodwork, this branch manages to create a feeling of spaciousness within the tiny courtyard that it occupies. Reservations are a must or you risk being turned away at the door.
Beijingers flock here for kaoyu, Chongqing-style roast fish. In Sichuan and Chongqing, this manner of cooking fish is actually more popular than shuizhuyu (fish slices poached in oil and broth with Sichuan peppers). A whole fish is seasoned and roasted over charcoal, and then placed in a metal pan along with copious amounts of spices and flavorings. Charcoal is placed under the pan to ensure the dish is kept hot.
Zhu Yu Fang offers only kaoyu. There are some side dishes like pai huanggua and liangban xihongshi, and you can fill up on fluffy egg fried rice, but kaoyu is their only entree and one alone is enough to feed four people. They keep 1.5kg fish and sell them at RMB 28 per 500g.
There are three dressings for the fish: mala kaoyu is covered in numbing Sichuan peppers and is a perennial favorite of Beijingers; paojiao kaoyu is of a moderate level of spiciness; and for the spice-intolerant there is douchi kaoyu, a savory black bean sauce.
tbj tried the paojiao kaoyu and found the fish had absorbed all the flavors of cumin, celery and chili peppers, without overwhelming the taste of the fish itself. Sitting in the restaurant's open courtyard it can be accompanied by a clear starry night for an evening meal, or soft spring sunshine for lunch.
One East on Third
Address:2/F, Hilton Beijing, 1 Dongfang Lu, Chaoyang District Lufthansa Center area
Tel: 010-5865 5000 ext 5030
Zhu Yu Fang
Address: Beijige Santiao, Dongcheng District