Beijing is a city full of surprises. Whilst most restaurants aren’t all that exciting, it is not uncommon to stumble upon the one or other pearl. When reading about Xi Yi Lang, the CV of head chef Asano Kiichiro certainly makes it sound appealing. Having worked all around the world, notably opening the first Inagiku restaurant in New York in the 1970s, it seems intriguing that a 70 year old chef would find his way to Beijing of all places…but these things do happen.
Xi Yi Lang is located in a non-descript building in a part of Beijing not particularly known for qualitative restaurants , and yet the restaurant has immediately attracted a large following after its opening. The décor is rather attractive, especially when you sit at the counter and not the pretty sizeable dining room.
The menu is a little too long and offers too many choices to really be able choose, so it is best to let the chef prepare something for you. This will probably start with a selection of cold appetisers that are simple and to the point. These are not culinary fireworks in any way, but competently executed small dishes. When it comes to the tempura, it has to be said that until Xuewei opened in the city, this probably was the finest tempura restaurant in all of Beijing. The execution is of a fairly high standard, although the various pieces do retain a little more frying oil than would be ideal. Where Xi Yi Lang does fall behind is on product quality. Not only is some of the seafood frozen, but seeing queen scallops being taken out of the vacuum-bag in which they were delivered is hardly appetising.
A meal at Xi Yi Lang is certainly not bad, in fact there is a lot to like about this restaurant: the fair pricing, the warm welcome from the chef, and the generous menu. For anyone who has eaten tempura in Japan’s top restaurants, however, eating here will feel like the owners have not gone all the way, and made too many compromises.