Chapter, the all-day dining establishment at the new Conrad Beijing, makes no qualms about showcasing its own cultural pedigree through its breathtaking design.
For one, you're eating beneath a three-story bookshelf that could've been lifted from the library of an English country manor. Although perhaps a better analogy would be the famous grand library in The Great Gatsby (in which Gatsby's books are all unbroken and unread), as all the books on Chapter's shelves are hollow replicas of the same handful of titles. One of which, bizarrely, is entitled Furniture Culture. Still, even if Chapter is rather thinly read -- and enjoys perusing furniture store catalogues -- the gorgeous art deco flooring and floor-to-ceiling windows illustrates a thoroughly educated approach to fine dining.
From every angle, the stunning design of the restaurant's sole dining hall creates a distinguished atmosphere. What's more, there are no pesky librarians imploring you to shush!
The food matches the surroundings well: a carefully presented jumble of world cuisines mainly focusing on Japanese, Chinese, and European specialties prepared with an austere simplicity. Even a dish as simple as the caprese salad (98RMB) -- a staple choice -- was outstanding with its crisp tomatoes and creamy buffalo mozzarella; thick slices arranged in a colourful tower, smartly dressed with olive oil, honey and a smattering of pine nuts.
The international bent comes from the noodle dishes: bowls of Japanese udon in dashi stock (best known as the base for miso soup); 74RMB) and fried domestic rice noodles in a pepper sauce (90RMB). The high quality just about warrants the price tag, even considering the innumerable, cheaper options just around the corner. But it's the Western classics that really excel, particularly the perfectly cooked rib eye steak (198RMB); a marbled, tender cut that gently yielded to the knife. The accompanying pepper sauce not needed with such a flavoursome cut of meat. The rich Italian tagliatelle pasta (120RMB) comes topped with a slice of thick bacon and is big enough to share whereas the slice of ocean-fresh grilled sea bass (170RMB) is pleasantly flaky, particularly when paired with its lemon-butter sauce.
In general, the restaurant exudes a casual atmosphere; families are welcomed with a cute list of kids' specials (65RMB) and a sumptuous buffet options (lunch 195RMB, dinner 258RMB) -- the food stations discreetly tucked in-between the shelves (a nice touch). Chapter easily has potential to become a popular dining option for special occasions. With such a grandiose motif, we really weren't expecting such refined food in s relaxed setting. Then again, you should never judge a book by its cover. Especially when that cover is for Furniture Culture.