First Taste: Bei


In the wake of the Olympics, food-loving Beijing is in thrall to a new restaurant. At Bei, some of the city’s most interesting modern Asian food is being cooked not by a Shanghai or Hong Kong player, but a New Orleans-born New Yorker. Max Levy comes to the Chinese capital via apprenticeships in traditional Japanese sushi bars, as well as stints at Manhattan’s Jewel Bako, Bond Street, Sushi Yasuda, Megu, and The Tasting Room. His obsession with Japanese cooking provides the framework for many of the dishes, but the menu as a whole incorporates influences which are more broadly northern Asian (bei means north in Mandarin; hence “Beijing” translates to “northern capital”). Happily though, we’re not talking Peking duck–nigiri here, and most of the pan-Asian clichés are given a wide berth. There’s spiny lobster, but with Shaoxing wine. Chicken, but with roast tomato kimchi. Seared slices of red clam and scallop come dressed with dried radish, watermelon, daikon, and watermelon radish. Levy’s New York experience probably accounts for the shiso-scattered terrine of eel and foie gras (though the liver in question is from Shandong), while the superbly flinty unsweetened chocolate consommé is just good eating, pure and simple.

Bei sits within a lower level of The Opposite House, a thoroughly brand-new boutique hotel in Sanlitun, the district of Chaoyang that sees college-kid beer bars rubbing shoulders with fortified embassies. In designing the restaurant, Shanghai couple Lyndon Neri and Rosanna Hu has created a pretty magical room, its contemporary black space and steely trim picked out with a constellation of frosted bulbs and cloud-like light-fittings.

There’s plenty of noise in the room, and the buzz is good. Levy balances economy of gesture and verve to great effect, whether it’s the fresh bamboo rice that plays off the riches of thoroughly marbled grilled Wagyu or the funkiness of the house XO sauce accompanying king crab legs. And yes, he makes great sushi.

Bei The Opposite House, Building 1, No. 11 Sanlitun Rd., Beijing (+86 10 653 60601)

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