Beijing’s restaurant scene has been somewhat stagnant. In a city that mostly sees ambitious openings under the auspices of luxury hotels, not much has changed over the past year or two. The Country Kitchen at the Rosewood Hotel is like a breeze of fresh air therefore.
One of the most ambitious, and beautiful hotels to have opened in Beijing for a long time, the Rosewood’s restaurants are decidedly different from the other hotels’ in the city. One is even dedicated to hotpot! Another of the three Chinese restaurants, the Country Kitchen, also takes a different approach to the usual Cantonese hotel-restaurant.
First of all its design sets it apart: somewhat reminiscent of Made in China with its open cooking stations, the room here, however, is somewhat slicker. Using darker, rougher materials, it is one of the more attractive dining rooms around.
Furthermore, the service here is most attentive and helpful. This is not a given in Beijing, where poor service ruins countless meals. At the Coutnry Kitchen, however it is surprisingly good with a number of small details such as bringing a guest with a cold some hot water, and a warm smile making you actually feel welcome. If this can be sustained, it would be remarkable.
Most importantly, however, the food here is very good. Using a majority of locally sourced products, the kitchen focuses on Northern Chinese cuisine, with Beijing duck and various noodle-based dishes forming the pièce de résistance. To begin with, a surprising product is 36-month aged ham from Hangzhou. Reminiscent of iberico ham, if perhaps a little drier than that, this is very fine ham indeed. Its nutty, rich flavour is eye-openening for anyone who associates China with poor quality meats.
Another interesting dish is pork belly with sour cabbage. Made after a recipe that was supposedly lost, and recovered for the opening of this restaurant, it combines the scrumptious, fatty belly with the acidity of the cabbage. This is a rather idiosyncratic flavour profile that will perhaps not please everyone, but that we enjoy an awful lot. No matter where the recipe came from, this is assured, and exciting cooking.
More conventional, but equally satisfying are the potstickers. Perfectly crisp on the bottom, with a filling that really tastes of the advertised meat and vegetables, these are quite a step up from the countless holes in the wall selling dumplings in Beijing. The same degree of refinement is applied to the duck. Stylistically more in line with the slightly rustic version served at Made in China, it is at least as good as that. The skin has that unique texture-tender, crunchy and brittle at the same time-and the meat is juicy, and pairs well with the traditional garnishes.
The Country Kitchen is probably the most exciting restaurant to have opened in Beijing since Mio or Okra. A carefully conceived, and exciting concept that delivers in every respect, it should quickly become one of the most popular places in town.