It’s lunchtime on a weekday, and things are popping at the Rosewood Hotel's Country Kitchen. The lively hum of spirited conversations knocks about with the soft clatter of pots and pans from the open kitchen. Steam billows up from pots of rollicking water as deft hands drop in freshly cut noodles. Towards the back, there’s the flicker of flames roasting whole ducks and legs of lamb over logs of jujube wood. Tiny, perfect flourishes litter the scene – old-school copper cups polished to a high sheen; pale, weathered bricks usually only found in the countryside.
The menu is unapologetically Northern Chinese, a tribute to the noodles of Shaanxi and dumplings of dongbei. Drop 50RMB (all prices plus 15 percent) on a generous bow of thick, knife-cut noodles topped with tender chunks of braised beef brisket, or on rolled-up, steamed buckwheat noodles accompanied by an outstanding roasted duck and black mushroom sauce. It’s more than double what you’d pay at any small hole-in-the-wall on the side of the street, but they’re good – very good – and you’ve got a more stylish ambience than you’d ever know what to do with.
There are outrageous dishes like crisped-up prawns simmered in tomato sauce (140RMB) that we promise will disappear quickly and become the frst gorgeous memory of the meal. They’re sweet, crunchy, multi-dimensional favour bombshells, rippling with umami from the tomato. At this point we take a sneaky side jaunt into Sichuan spice with an excellent koushuiji (40RMB) featuring Shunyi Farm chicken, poached and swimming in chilli oil.
Chef de cuisine Leo Chai has dug up ‘lost recipes’ from the pre-1950s Beijing countryside. The story goes that these fatty pork belly dishes disappeared during the mid-century run of austerity, and only now can you rip into roasted slices (130RMB) jammed, Peking duck-style, in a fluffy bun with onion and cucumber, or into a seductively complex clay pot stew of pork belly, sour cabbage and glass noodles (170RMB).
Equally as admirable as elaborate kitchen acrobatics that turn out complex favours is a chef’s restraint. The Liu Gou Village tofu (70RMB) comes from a town in Yanqing county renowned for its bean curd, and Chai’s kitchen treats it with due care. A pleasing, wobbly block of the delicate tofu is gently steamed and served unadorned. It’s spectacular in its simplicity.
This, ladies and gentlemen, is Country Kitchen – complex when you want it, simple when you need it and pretty much on point at every turn.