The 798 Art District is not known for its restaurants, many of which are little more than tourist watering holes or bland cafés. That might change with Buddha’s Bite, a diner that delivers sumptuous Chinese vegetarian cuisine in pleasingly elegant surroundings.
Tucked away at the south end of 798, close to the Cave Café, Buddha’s Bite is decked out in chic Chinese furniture, lending the spot a timeless feel. The restaurant’s speciality is fake meat and yangshengcai, loosely translated as ‘health food’. It lives up to this title: the dishes here contain no ingredients derived from animals. Just as importantly, the chefs use a mushroom-based natural flavouring instead of MSG.
Alongside the healthy cuisine are a staff charming and eager to please. When we first visited, affable young head chef Li Hucheng not only gave us a complementary dessert at the end of the meal, but also asked for help translating ‘Chinese broccoli’ for a new English menu he was writing. This is a cook who pays attention.It shows in the food. Dishes are derived from different provinces in China – some are quintessential, while others are spiced up with an innovative or fusion twist. As Li has already worked in vegetarian cuisine restaurants for eight years, he really knows his craft. This is most apparent in the fake meat: they probably serve the safest chicken in China here. In this case the jixiangsanbaois made with faux ‘chicken’ aided by a black pepper taste made with southern Chinese herbs (52RMB).
For a taste of different ‘meats’ try the malaxiangguo
, or dry hot pot (43RMB), which is packed with veggie goodness. Other ‘standard’ dishes include heijiao niuliu
, beef strips with peppers (49RMB) and shuizhuyu
, Sichuan-style boiled white fish (68RMB), which both look and taste winningly like their real meat counterparts.
Many dishes here nourish as well as tantalise. Zibuyangshengtang
, described by the chef as a special ‘health soup’, contains multiple varieties of mushrooms, flowers and traditional Chinese herbs cooked over a slow flame. Though it’s priced at an expensive 168RMB, the soothing flavour is worth the price tag. A cheaper, but just as interesting, option is the xihuchuncaitang
, a soup made with herbs from the famous West Lake in Hangzhou (39RMB).
For drinks, we spurn beer and wine in favour of a more appropriately salubrious pot of chrysanthemum tea (68RMB), dotted with floating red goji berries. To finish, a refreshing Cantonese desert of passion fruit stewed with white light cream and honey (28RMB) hits the spot.
Buddha’s Bite’s name in Chinese rather charmingly means ‘The Zen Bean’. It is inspired by the ethos that we all need to take a break from the fast-paced cant of everyday life and treat our bodies better. At other spots this could come across as holier-than-thou, but this is a restaurant that doesn’t take itself too seriously in its successful quest for wholesome cuisine.