Zhang Mama Boutique

  • Restaurants
  • Chinese
  • Sichuan
7 Sanlitun Lu

Zhang Mama, long the understated authority on cheap Sichuan soul food, has essentially just released an ill-timed disco album that we neither wanted nor needed.

Following branch openings in Hepingli and Fengtai, Zhang Mama’s glitzy new Sanlitun 'Boutique' location is hard confirmation that the one-time chuancai nook-that-could is franchising like an amoeba with an MBA.

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Gruff service, glacial wait times and all, we’ve nothing but admiration for the original-and-best Fensiting Hutong location, and naturally, news of a fresh dispensary just 1,100 Mobike metres north of Sanlitun is big. But has Zhang Mama spread herself too thin? Or is this the part where we get everything we’ve ever wanted?

Zhang Mama Boutique packs an embarrassment of outdoor seating – great news for you outdoor types, but the main event here is the Vaudevillian Taobao circus that is the interior design, and to miss that would be to miss arguably the main reason to be here.

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With its walls adorned with the choicest Taobao finery, Zhang Mama Boutique, whose first and second floors are connected by an actual spiral staircase, is a chuancai Cave of Wonders. A busy water feature strikes a mood, of sorts, and walls are lined with bottles of wine and fistfuls of extraordinarily arranged bric- a-brac; framed doorknobs, for one. We wind up the staircase like Princess Gongbao to the second floor, pull up a turquoise velvet seat and ponder the week-old helium balloons hovering ominously above us like crinkly jellyfish spirits.

The restaurant is roughly half-full on a Sunday evening, and thus, there is no wait – a luxury Boutique does not share with its forebearers. And whereas the Zhang Mamas of yore request that you write your own order in Chinese, Boutique’s bilingual menu is another stride in a confusing, newfangled direction. On paper, the menu items are largely the same. The prices and execution, alas, not so much.

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Clutch Sichuan dishes huiguorou and yuxiang qiezi arrive quickly and are recognisable, if loveless renditions: the deep-fried crisps of the huiguorou are on the wilt, while the thickness of the wuhua rou further disrupts the textural balance. That said, it’s still delicious slabs of pork and fried things. The mapo doufu is hot and watery and served in an upright barrel, causing the liquid to separate entirely from the food and the pork mince to float in unwieldy congregations.

Boutique’s ode to Earth’s best thing- contender ganbian doujiao is a salty mixture of pork mince, pickles and bean sections and is trend-buckingly good, but then, when is it not?

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If you’ve been to Zhang Mama Fensiting, you’ll be disappointed by the food and offended by your bill, which has roughly doubled. If you haven’t, Boutique will unlikely blow minds, but it will be better than many Sichuan alternatives in Beijing. If you’re into psychedelics or you’re a set designer or both, it’s worth eating here for the decor alone. And if you’re just looking for a restaurant with an empty turquoise velvet seat, well, Zhang Mama Boutique has plenty.

Dinner for two with a beer: 130RMB

Venue name: Zhang Mama Boutique
Opening hours: 2-11pm
English address: 7 Sanlitun Lu Chaoyang district
Chinese address: 朝阳区三里屯路(东直门外大街附近)
  • 4 out of 5 stars

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