This year marked a return to the city for Brasserie FLO, after the venerable chain shut the doors on its previous Beijing establishment – the first to open outside Europe – last year. As you might expect, it has returned in a style befitting a chain that exports not just high-class cuisine, but also a Parisian flair for atmosphere, around the world.
Beijing’s Brasserie FLO continues the spirit of grandeur, with the vast patio that spans the length of the restaurant’s facade making a staggering first impression. Enter and you are welcomed with bonjours or bonsoirs from a gorgeous bar with a marble slab surface. The beautifully tiled mosaic floor sweeps you into a palatial dining room, divvied up by brass railed booths, that sings with the sounds of a bona-fide brasserie: forks and glasses clink, dining carts wheel by, and conversations float throughout the high-ceilinged hall.
A ‘power lunch’ menu (118RMB for two courses, 148RMB for three, available Monday to Friday) is a draw for the work week’s bustling crowd, trailing in from nearby businesses and embassies. The Menu Brasserie (298RMB) is slightly more robust in offerings, as well as price.
The a la carte menu offers brasserie fare, but, despite all the effort placed into the stunning surroundings, the colour photos in the ‘promotional menu’ look like something out of a US franchise, rather than a Parisian brasserie. The wine list is modest but carries some favourites, like Louis Jadot Meursault (1,588RMB bottle).
Start with Brasserie FLO’s traditional escargots Burgundy-style with Isigny garlic butter (138RMB for 12; 78RMB for six) and a half-dozen Fine de Claire oysters (48RMB each). It’s hard not to indulge when eating within such grandeur and these enormous oysters are a remarkable way to start the meal. The steak tartare (158RMB) is a generous measure of beef, made even better with more mustard – perfect for sharing, and a better choice over the bland beef carpaccio (98RMB), which lacks spirit and flavour.
The artichoke, hazelnut and smoked eel soup (62RMB) is a dark horse; its army-green murk is not attractive, but it proves a winning gamble – take one mouthful of these toothsome bits of eel, submerged in rich, velvety soup, and the odds are that you’ll spoon it to the finish.
The service is attentive, team-driven, and aims to please. When one Brasserie FLO waiter grabbed all the silverware, causing a series of soup drops to spatter across the tablecloth, another immediately remedied the situation, gracefully covering the eyesore with a fresh napkin without missing a beat. Not perfect service, but with strong teamwork and a clear knowledge of where to improve.
Sadly, not everything lives up to these high standards. The Australian lamb cutlets (296RMB) are an arduous chew, and the wagyu beef skirt steak (288RMB) is most memorable for the frites. Confit ‘Rougié’ duck leg with carrot purée, chateau potato and orange duck sauce (168RMB) is two timbers of duck toppling towards disappointment. The purée is a sugary carrot mash, and our bird tasted like it had been cooked, frozen then reheated on a pan.
Both signature dessert Ile flottante (56RMB) and the lemon tart (48RMB) taste right but have beady custard – evidence of overcooked eggs. Opt instead for the profiteroles, three golf-ball sized puffed pastries made with Tahitian vanilla ice-cream and Valrhona chocolate sauce (78RMB).
Brasserie FLO is a beautiful place to bask in a slice of Paris (and the packs of weekday lunchers agree, making reservations essential), and its staff are certainly eager to please. Sadly, the food isn’t living up to the rest of the restaurant just yet; the kitchen needs time to perfect the song of flavours and technique. There is an enormous amount of promise in Brasserie FLO, and it’s almost ready to make good on it – we look forward to seeing it flourish.