Back in March, the closure of Danish design house Georg Jensen's flagship restaurant left a sizeable hole in a Beijing F&B scene that's already somewhat scant on fine dining options – not to say anything of Nordic cuisine itself. Fortunately, The Georg made its triumphant return this past August, unveiling refurbished interiors, a new head chef and revamped summer menu.
In a city where fine dining establishments are largely relegated to hotels or shopping malls, The Georg has consistently bucked the trend due to its singular riverside spot next to Nanluoguxiang’s hutongs, falling somewhere between off-the-beaten-path courtyard house and contemporary artists' compound. A vaulted glass ceiling and rustic tiled floor have long made The Georg’s two-storey-high atrium a distinctive focal point, yet it now boasts a refreshed interior (courtesy of Danish studio Space CPH) that flows effortlessly into a similarly redesigned lounge, bar and adjoining art gallery.
With all its Nordic influences, it's unsurprising that the first word that springs to mind upon entering the new-and-improved Georg is the increasingly ubiquitous lifestyle buzzword, hygge
. Bistro-style seating, plenty of candlelight and a central fireplace (that crackles away even during summer) create that almost ineffable quality of cosiness and comfort that’s proven particularly pervasive over the last year (check out this year's Beijing Design Week
themed around Copenhagen).
The Georg has always been careful to describe itself as 'casual fine dining' – austere, formal fine dining doesn’t exactly fit the hygge mould – and its fare manages to be both technique-driven yet suitably unfussy. Those who’ve dined at the Nordic eatery prior to its abrupt closure will be relieved to discover that The Georg retains much of what initially drew the city’s admiration, including its restrained 12-item menu.
Salsify, comté and leek.
Developed by new head chef Bin Bin Wang (formerly of Four Seasons' Opus
), this new summer menu offers a very democratic selection of three seafood dishes, three poultry dishes, three meat dishes and, you guessed it, three vegetarian dishes priced at 130RMB apiece. In true New Nordic fashion, Wang also employs a variety of traditional techniques such as smoking, curing and pickling, with a focus on seasonal ingredients.
We start the meal with a generous basket of complimentary baked bread served with truffle butter (the rye is a standout), followed by appetisers of sweet onion and comté balls, and wafery cones filled with smoked salmon roe (both 38RMB). Gourmet ingredients aside, preparation is elegant and unpretentious allowing for its fresh ingredients to sing.
From the selection of dishes, we start with the truly Nordic combination of mackerel, smoked cheese and pickles, which manages to be nuanced and well-balanced despite its heavy-hitting flavours. A follow-up of wagyu beef tartare is unctuous and deeply flavourful, its combination of herbs lending itself for a fresh, summery kick.
Chocolate, banana and hazelnut.
Despite the menu not being divided into starters or mains, dishes are brought out in instinctive courses, with heavier dishes following relative lighter fare. Sous-vide New Zealand lamb brought out with lobster tail are both meltingly tender, however special mention must be made of the salsify, comté and leek. Braised for hours in cream, it's both comforting and moreish – and somehow looks like spring while tasting of winter. It's hygge gastronomy.
We round out the meal, naturally, with two desserts. A plate of deliciously creamy banana-chocolate mousse (78RMB) encased in a chocolate shell is unexpectedly accompanied by popping candy, evoking a childlike sense of surprise, while a dessert of avocado ice cream and pistachio sponge (78RMB) is given the refreshing addition of flash-frozen yoghurt, mixed directly at the table. The avocado ice cream tastes eerily, yet alluringly, of avocado, though the concept itself divides opinion. However, as we end the meal languidly slumped and, dare we say it, comfortable, musings of the merits of avocado sweets are all but forgotten in lieu of thoughts that simply say 'welcome back'.
By Leanne Wong