Friday fun: Taste over 100 Chinese wines

bettane and dessauve

Friday is your lucky day if you’ve been wondering, “Where can I start my weekend with more than one hundred Chinese wines? French critics Michel Bettane and Thierry Desseauve are in town for a few days of events that will include a tasting at the Himalaya Club in the 798 Art District.

The organizers say there will be two hours of sniffing and sipping, starting at 5 PM, followed by a break to announce the winners of an expert tasting held earlier in the day, followed by sniffing and snipping and perhaps even guzzling. Entry is rmb180, and space is quite limited, so RSVP ASAP via commissionrouge (at) jcef-pekin.fr.

Swiss Taste: Fondue, zopf, pizza and more at Central Park

swiss taste restaurant central park beijing china with zopf fondue and more.jpg

My friend CM recently invited me to try a new restaurant dedicated to food and drink from her nation, Switzerland. That timely missive justified ending a long crappy day of work and heading to Central Park with two bottles of wine as a contribution to the night.

The restaurant is called Swiss Taste, seats up to sixty (with forty more outside when the weather is nice), and is in the Building 18 space formerly home to Navena Cafe and, before that, Nasca Cafe.

While Swiss Taste is still in “soft opening” mode, with the official launch slated for March 18, there are plenty of options on the menu. We shared a slew of dishes, including some with owner Peter Troesch, a veteran of China’s hospitality business. Here’s what filled our table (the collage above has photos of every item):

  • A plaited bread called zopf, a Swiss staple. Don’t expect something soft, sweet and tasteless: this bread is far heavier than it looks.
  • Cheese and cold cuts alongside the zopf.  CM says this is how she starts dinners in Switzerland.
  • Steak tartare, made with grass-fed Australian beef, and in-house marinated salmon appetizers.
  • A crispy “pizza” with sour cream where one typically finds cheese.
  • “Shots” of pea soup with ham and of pumpkin soup with seeds.
  • Fondue with three cheeses: that inspired another round of zopf.
  • A veal sausage with sauce and rosti, a shredded potato pancake. And sides of ratatouille and pasta.
  • A trio of desserts, including an apple pie-ish dish called apfelwähe, chocolate mousse and meringue.

Whew, that is a slightly overwhelming spread. I enjoyed most the moist-on-the-inside slightly-crusty-on-the-outside potato-y goodness of the rosti, and its partner sauce; the fondue, especially to see CM try to scrape every bit of hardened cheese from the pot; and the pizza, although it is best eaten right away before the crust cools and hardens.

I also liked that most of the dishes — from charcuterie to pizza to fondue to soup shots — were easy to share and would allow a group of friends to work their way through a good part of the menu.

And I was tempted to experiment: I wanted to dip that sausage in the fondue and drip gooey cheese on the pizza. But I wasn’t sure how that would go over with CM, who was raving about the food’s authenticity, and who, as someone who hails from the Swiss alps, had already given me a dubious look when asking if I could ski.

As for drinks, we polished off several bottles of wine. That included a pleasant Swiss one with Chasselas grapes, a waxy green pear aroma and a pleasant mineral-y taste, and a light fresh Chinese one made with Riesling grapes. (Troesch says he is already stocking several dozen Swiss wines.) Oh, and we had a delicious Etter pear brand from Switzerland as a digestif: the company’s site says it takes 11 kilograms of pears to make one bottle of this beverage.

Anyway, that’s a first taste at Swiss Taste, one that had me close to a food coma. I’ll have more details on this place when it opens, including on its brunch menu, the range of Swiss products it will sell for takeaway, and its plans to serve as a cocktail hub, particularly for the crowd from Central Park.

You can reach Swiss Taste via 6597-9229 or info (at) swisstaste.org.

Hole-y War: The Beijing Bagel Battle Begins

traitor zhou bagel beijing china.jpg

The closing of Tavalin late last year resulted in many sad faces and an empty hole in the Sanlitun bagel scene. But it looks like this might be a case of one step backward and three steps forward.

First, Max Levy of nearby Okra Works recently announced that he has started making bagels and they will be available at the Traitor Zhou’s shop set to open in Nali Patio about 100 meters away.

Second, word is the Tavalin space itself has been taken over by Andy Horowitz of Andy’s Craft Sausages and will include bagels on the menu when it reopens. (The upcoming Jue Market lists “Andy sausage + bagel” as a vendor.)

Third, Facebook friend V-Mo posted that two former employees at Tavalin plan to open their own bagel shop in the same area.

In sum, in about a month or so, we could well have three places selling homemade bagels within 100 meters of each other.

I call the situation the “Beijing bagel battle” but maybe it is better to look at is more as a baked goods lovefest. Who’s up for a bagel crawl?

Craft beer in Beijing: Great Threep officially opens March 13

great leap brewing pizza beer beijing china-001

The third outpost of the Great Leap Brewing empire will officially open on Friday, March 13, and include guest beers Hop Devil IPA and Golden Monkey Tripel from Pennsylvania’s Victory Brewing. You can try them against Great Leap’s Hop God 120 Imperial IPA and Three Door Tripel.

The newest Great Leap, at 45 Xinyuan Street, is currently open from 11:30 AM to 11:30 PM, Tuesdays through Sundays, but as of March 13 will extend its hours to 11 PM to 1 AM, Sundays through Thursdays, and 11 AM to 2 PM, Fridays through Saturdays.

It is also extending its February special, which saw all beers at rmb30 per pint. That will continue until St. Patrick’s Day, save for the wheat beers, which are rmb40 for a 620 milliliter glass.

Oh yeah, and this new Great Leap features pizza. And a free Pale Ale #6, Edmund Backhouse Pilsner or soda when you buy two slices of pizza between 11:30 AM and 2 PM on weekdays. And one beer on special at rmb25 per pint every Monday and Thursday.

By the way, the next installment of “The Chef & The Brewer” will be this Saturday afternoon at the new Great Leap and feature Rob Cunningham from East Hotel, who will :prepare a family-style feast paired with beers from Great Leap Brewing, and free flow Pale Ale #6 and Edmund Backhouse Pilsner.” The event is from 1 PM to 5 PM, with tickets at rmb200 ahead of time or rmb250 at the door.

London Calling: Paul Mathew and friends to open two London bars tomorrow

the arbitrager demon and wise london 1

Beijing imbibers with a few years beneath their belts will well remember bartender Paul Mathew and the fine cocktails he made in our fair city before he moved on to greener pastures. Even before he came to Beijing, however, he had established himself in London with the bar The Hide. Tomorrow, he and his partners at Blood & Sand will add two more drinking establishments to the portfolio.

One is a revival of Arbitrager, a dormant pub that is being revived with a “Drink London‘ theme. That means a focus on products from the city’s breweries and distilleries, including some three dozen gins made within ten miles of the place.

The other is Demon, Wise & Partners, a cocktail joint downstairs from Arbitrager. One curious twist will be the “Demon” and “Wise” cocktails, derived from the twitter accounts of Mathew and co-director Rufus Grantham, namely, @demonbitters and @wisebartender. Each cocktail will only be made 100 times, then retired, to be replaced by new concoctions. The first pair include: “a Rob Roy twist with Port Askaig 19 year old single malt and Martini Gran Lusso, and a Sidecar twist with Chateau de Laubade Intemporel No.5 Armagnac and house orchard syrup.”

I asked Mathew a few questions about the new places:

What inspired the made-in-London focus at Arbitrager and what can patrons expect?

“We’ve been amazed at the speed with which London’s beers and spirits have diversified in the eight years since we opened The Hide. We originally started using the few brands that were around us at The Hide — just Meantime beers and Jensen’s gin at that time — but the variety now is simply astonishing. Whilst there are lots of places selling one or two local products, we felt it would be great to open somewhere that showcased all that London has to offer!

Dan [Persson] is running the show upstairs, and as a beer sommelier and enthusiast, you can expect him to find some of the best beers that are lurking around London. We are selling in 2/3 pints and 1/3 pints, so if it’s variety you’re after, that shouldn’t be a problem. Once you’ve identified a favourite, we’re also making them all available to take away with our Arbitrager growlers.

“If beer isn’t your thing, our London spirits selection covers most of the products distilled in London, from 30 or so gins, through to vodkas, vermouths and British aperitifs. We’re making our own tonic in-house and supplying it on draught, so everything really is made in London. That includes the bar snacks — charcuterie from Islington and Scotch eggs from Brixton.

“The Arbitrager is not a cocktail bar, but we will have a seasonal punch also on draught, with recipes drawing on London’s historic gin punches and cups.”

As you say, Arbitrager is not a cocktail bar, but you have that covered by opening Demon, Wise & Partners downstairs. Given your time in Beijing, will there be any China twists there?

We do use teas in one of the drinks at DWP, but I’ve very much let the team come up with their own recipes. I am one of the people behind it, but definitely not responsible for all their fantastic creativity! I guess if anything, China has helped me to appreciate the role that lower- and non-alcoholic drinks play in a bar.

Chinese guests were always keen to try more things, but without necessarily getting drunk, so I made sure there were lots of lower alcohol options that had just as much care and attention placed on them. I think we’re finding these are an important part of London drinking now too, as guests might visit a few different cocktail bars any want to try lots of things. Vermouths, sherries and wines are an important part of retaining flavour without too much alcohol.

What does all this mean for The Hide?

The Hide bar continues with a great team, and even as we’re opening the new venues, we’re working on the next drinks list. We already stock many great made-in-London products there, and may well draw on our experience of draught tonic and punches.

Note: The Arbitrager will be open Monday-Friday, noon to midnight, and can seat 40. Demon, Wise & Partners will be open Monday to Tuesday from 5 PM to 1 AM and Wednesday to Friday from 5 PM to 2 AM. Cold bar snacks available at both.

arbitrager demon wise opening poster

De Refter: Beijing’s Brand-New Belgian Beer Bar


de refter belgian beer bar sanlitun south beijing china

A heads up that Belgian beer bar De Refter has opened in Sanlitun South, across from The Rug, around the corner from Nanjie, and in the same building as Home Plate but on the opposite side.

A patron known as FoTS* says De Refter is a “nice cosy bar with a traditional Belgian feel”. He adds there are a half-dozen beer taps, though only two are operating at the moment, and a good selection of bottled brews. There is room for about 15 people downstairs, and the same amount upstairs, which fits the basic floor plan of the previous tenant Q’er. FoTS also said there is a kitchen though he didn’t check the food menu. “Hopefully there are lots of cheeses,” he said. He would say that.

Word is this bar is backed by beer distributor Vandergeeten . Whatever the case, it is one of numerous places in the Sanlitun-Workers Stadium corridor with a solid selection of Belgian beers. Others include Beer Mania, The Hidden Tree, Morel’s, The Local and Trouble Bar.

* Fan of Tom Selleck

de refter belgian beer bar sanlitun south beijing china (2)

Jue Market 2015: Sausages, Pies, Beers, Cookies and More

jue market 2015 lanng center guomao beijing china-001

I don’t attend many fairs and festivals, not because I think there is anything fundamentally wrong with them, but because they are typically on weekends and that’s when I’m at my most lethargic / likely to stay close to home. But I have gone to the annual Jue Market the past two years and it has been most excellent.

This year’s market, slated for Sunday, March 15, should be another good one. (I know the poster says Saturday, but March 15 is a Sunday, and I confirmed that is the right day.) Along with book, jewelry and other hard goods vendors, a nice lineup of food and drink sellers is coming along, including Andy’s Craft SausagesBig Bear CookiesJing-A BeerShangrila CoffeeStuff’d Sausages and Two Guys and a Pie.

I imagine more vendors will join in the next two weeks and those will hopefully include some from last year’s event, like 1421, Great Leap and Sue Zhou. Especially Sue Zhou. Because last year we convinced Sue Zhou and Two Guys to team up and create the “pie bing” a.k.a. “Two Zhou” (see below). This year could see… a Double Two Zhou? Or maybe the Beijing comfort foods version of a turducken:  a giant meatball inside a pie inside a bing.

The Jue Market runs from 11 AM to 6 PM on March 15 at Lanng Art Center. The address is listed in the poster above. Get more details via the Jue website here.

pie bing matt wong two guys and a pie andrew papas hani gejiu at jue festival beijing china (3)

Beijing New Year fireworks. From a plane. At midnight.

For the better part of a decade, I have been taking photos of the Chinese New Year’s Eve fireworks in Beijing, from positions ranging from ground-level to the twentieth floor of an apartment building. As this video shows, it’s a completely different experience taping them while in an airplane approaching Beijing Capital Airport at midnight. I wonder how things would look if the plane, or a drone, passed over central Beijing. In any case, here are two minutes that help show the scope of the fireworks:

And if you want the opposite effect, that of an extreme closeup, here are fireworks exploding at midnight a few meters from my window a couple of years ago:

Happy Chinese New Year! Plus, free fireworks!

Our ride with the Year of the Horse is almost over and we will soon butt heads with the Year of the Goat. That transition will offer the most impressive displays of a night full of fireworks in Beijing. If you aren’t able to witness them firsthand, check out this video I took from apartment at midnight in 2007, an especially intense year. (That dark area in the middle is Workers Stadium.)

All the best to my friends in the Year of the Yang.

Bai Jiuve! Chinese New Year in London features Baijiu Cocktail Week

baijiu cocktail week london bo drake casino empire gong hakkasan hutong opium ping pong salvatore's bar spice market

While many of my friends in Beijing cringe at the thought of drinking baijiu, nine places* in London are embracing the fiery spirit as part of a ten-day promotion. That event is called Baijiu Cocktail Week and, runs from February 13 to February 22, and is sponsored by the Diageo brand Shui Jing Fang.

The cocktails include China-evoking names like Dragon Claw, Longan Baijiu Firecracker and Lucky Goat and include an intriguing range of ingredients, from agave nectar to plum wine to rosemary to ginger bitters to egg white to green Chartreause,

Get the recipes here and maps for all nine bars here. You can also check out this Highball Hoodoo review of six of the cocktails:

…the various bars did show how different aspects of the complex spirit can be highlighted with the right ingredients. Bo Drake showed us a palatable way for newbies to enjoy the entire spectrum of the spirit’s complexity. Ping Pong presented a soft, silky cocktail emphasising Baijiu’s sweeter flavours; whereas the Spice Market had the burnt-bitter flavour balanced and softened with its citrus and herbal cousins.

 See the full review here. (h/t Paul Mathew)

By the way, for those staying in Beijing for the holidays, a heads up that Capital Spirits a.k.a. The Baijiu Bar will be closed February 19 to February 25.

* The nine places are Bo Drank, Casino, Gong, Hakkasan, Hutong, Opium, Ping Pong, Salvatore’s and Spice Market.