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.