Just back from a week in Beijing. Ate a few outstanding dishes, but no one meal was all that great. Language difficulties probably played as large a role in our disappointment as anything. Speaking Manadarin or having some sort of guide would probably help immensely.
The most disappointing meal was at the highly hyped and widely acclaimed Li Family Restaurant, essentially traditional imperial court cooking served in a private residence by the family of the last emperors food tastor made according to authentic recipes.
First up was ten different appetizers, all of which were good, if not extraordinary:
Stir-Fried Pickled Cucumber
Fried Eggplant Box
Mustard Seed Beijing Cabbage
Then came the main dishes:
Deep Fried Chicken
Pork Fillet in Soy Sauce
Sweet and Sour Pork Ribs
Gong Bon Chicken
Fried Potatoes Sauteed With Soy Sauce
Sweet and Sour Mandarin Fish
Baked Beijing Duck
Very, very average. Not bad, but certainly not good and certainly not worth fourty five bucks a head.
Service was abysmal. Slow and indifferent. Keeping our tea cups full seemed to be a challenge they were not up to, and leaving the pot on the table out of the question, for some reason we couldn't figure. Mild cohersion to buy a bottle of wine, which was semi-reasonably priced, but really does no justice to the food, and wasn't what I went to Beijing for.
The only highlight of the place is Mr. Li himself, who is charming, entertaining and funny. We called him the Chinese Ibrahim Ferrar (of Beuna Vista Social Club Fame), one of those guys that may be past eighty, but still knows he's the hippest cat in the room. Perhaps they are trading on their reknown, rather than their cooking, certainly seemed to be the case on our visit. Save your money. For the 130 bucks we spent ther, you could eat very nicely for three or four days at least, maybe more, and ceratinly better.
The best place we ate we found by accident on our first day, and maybe set our expectations too high. I don't know the name but it is directly across the main street from the Silk Market and was a Szechuan place. Filled with locals, in spite of it's semi-touristy locale, the food was excellent. The waiter accidently brought us an appetizer of boiled celery on our first visit, honestly one of the best things I've ever eaten. You have to be seriously on your game to make boiled celery appealing. Spicy, sweet and nutty, with a background of peppery celery flavour, so good. Meals of three or four dishes and a couple of beers were less than fifteen bucks.