As different as their cuisines are, there’s an enduring love affair between French and Japanese culture – the former’s intimacy and the latter’s minimalism seem like an odd couple, but maybe all the best couples are.
This theory is tested with aplomb at Vin Vie
’s second branch, which recently opened in Sanlitun. The interior is certainly sumptuous: Vin Vie is all leather booths, dark wood and atmospheric candlelight. So far, so French – a feeling bolstered by a lengthy and inviting wine menu, including many rarely-found-in- Beijing options.
But Vin Vie’s modus operandi is as an izakaya – a Japanese style of bar that specialises in small, inexpensive bites (which is welcome alongside the fairly pricey drinks menu). We start with a cheese platter (55RMB), which offers a serviceable if not excellent selection of Brie, Roquefort and an unspecified third variety. Things get better with the kushiyaki skewers, which are in fact small plates of unskewered, flash fried veg, with imaginative and delicate sauces, such as the leeks with miso paste (15RMB), and a quintuplet of plump, blistered cherry tomatoes (10RMB) that glisten beneath a gentle, herby sauce.
The food is served as and when the kitchen makes it, so there’s a pleasing flow of dishes during our meal rather than any main event, a nod towards the restaurant’s Asian aspect. The horsemeat Carpaccio is tender and juicy, topped with chopped olives and Japanese mayonnaise, and a steal at 55RMB. The flavours here are strong, but we found ourselves coming back for more, again and again. Where the horse comes from is perhaps a mystery that doesn’t want to be solved, but the resulting dish is something akin to a traditional beef Carpaccio’s younger, slicker cousin. Another hit is the spicy edamame (35RMB) – fried beans topped with a preserved vegetable sauce make for an addictive nibble.
The rest of the menu offers flavours and combinations that you can’t find anywhere else in Beijing. There’s a warm, comforting and delightfully stringy anchovy and garlic mashed potato (45RMB) and an incongruously German plate of sausages with sauerkraut (48RMB). But there are also lighter Japanese and fusion options, such as pan-fried Japanese style clams and vegetables (58RMB) or a Japanese appetiser platter of various styles of sashimi (68RMB).
The phrase 'there’s something for everyone' often implies a lack of concept; at Vin Vie, the phrase is executed with style and a flair that can be hard to find at this price point in Beijing, making it a very welcome addition to Sanlitun’s south side.
Dinner for two with wine: around 800RMB.
By Amy Hawkins