Things to see and do - Beijing
Beijing: Hippolyte Romain’s addresses
Beijing: Hippolyte Romain’s addresses
Hippolyte Romain - 2008-07-28
All the shops and restaurants I have recommended are situated mainly in the Gulou district.
This is nowadays the meeting place for all the young people of Beijing who are interested either in the West or the arts. A stone’s throw from here is a big stage and film school, which trains the future stars of the audiovisual and show business professions. A friendly, trendy crowd hangs out around here to have a drink, talk and plan a wealthy future. The entire street and all its cafe-bars have a Beijing-style Greenwich Village atmosphere. Asian Andy Warhols rub shoulders with young designers, photographers and also the whole colony of expats, students of Oriental languages or journalists posted here, on the lookout for any celebrity gossip about shows or the possible artistic censorship of underground performances. There is a constant creative buzz here that is peculiar to young people all over the world yearning for recognition. A sometimes rather old-fashioned spirit of adolescence hangs over all these places.
Passby Bar at no. 108
The meeting place of foreign journalists posted to Beijing. This place is one of the first to have made Nanluoguxiang fashionable. English, Americans, Tibetans passing through, shady “culture vultures” of all ages crowd here to drink beer, eat spaghetti or stuff themselves with frozen pizza. Fashion has no price, nor does snobbery: if you want to pass for someone who knows Beijing inside out, then plant yourself here from morning to night.
Passby restaurant at no. 114
An annex of the Passby bar. In a very trendy-new-China decor, you can sample a western menu or a club sandwich.
Drum & Gong Luogu at no. 104-1
This is where students at the nearby art school, future starlets, advertising students and future film directors come for lunch. Commotion is guaranteed but still amazing to behold. The cuisine is very reasonable and the menus easily decipherable because they are translated into English and illustrated.
Bar Sandglass coffee at no. 1 (on the corner of Maver and Nanluoguxiang)
This place has the advantage of being very welcoming but above all very cosy. Ideal for an English breakfast if you don’t fancy noodles and bouillon first thing in the morning. The staff are effortlessly charming. On Friday evening, the bar sometimes gets musicians in for a concert of Mongolian music.
Zhazha café at no. 101
This bar opens very early in the morning and also offers Anglo-Saxon breakfasts. Exceptionally nice welcome. A great place to get together, shoot the breeze and share countless secrets.
Salud bar at no. 66
I have to mention this place because it is used by many expats as a pick-up joint, although the ambience and style do not necessarily merit a visit (unless you have to write a guide on the manners of our exiled compatriots).
At no. 49
The sign will strike you as very authentic and if you like dairy products (quite rare in China) you can sample real Chinese yogurts with their rather peculiar taste.
The best is simple (on the corner of Nanluoguxiang and Heizhima hutong)
In this Korean restaurant, a 10-second kiss with your partner will earn you a free meat dish.
At no. 121 Guloudong dajie
This restaurant is recommended for fans of Sichuan cuisine which, in my opinion, is one of the most refined in China. It is worth remembering that the dishes are always very spicy and that pepper and chilli are king. However, the chicken or prawns sealed beneath a mountain of chillis remain an unforgettable memory for those with a hardened palate.
In Houhai Park
You will find several bars including the Lotus bleu and River Romance, which are quite trendy but above all very pleasant in summer for the terrace looking onto the lake.
In Dongzhimennei dajie
You will be spoiled for choice of restaurant, but I recommend either of the two Zaizai yuxia establishments, at number 181 or number 213. Two exceptional canteens open 24 hours a day, offering spicy Sichuan cuisine (the prawns with chilli are unique).
In Jiugulou dajie
At number 145 Desserts in caffé (a student cafe which sells very good shortbread) and at number 58 a very good little canteen-style restaurant (menu in English and reasonable prices, but be sure to avoid the neighbouring restaurants).
On the corner of Jiugulou dajie and Zhangwang hutong, the Bed Bar appeals for its unusual ambience: you can have a drink lying on an old bed or walk about a little courtyard; at night time it can be a place of seduction.
Shitiao Huokou Station in Beijing dadong
Very smart restaurants, including the Peony pavillon or Sun flower.
Hatusne, an exceptional Japanese restaurant (Tel: +8610 65813939).
In Yonghegong dajie
The Café de la poste, a French restaurant situated next to the Lama Temple, at number 58 (Tel: +8610 64027047).
Near the Workers’ Stadium
On the 3rd floor of the Pacific Plaza in Gongti beilu: a very chic Italian restaurant; very good and very expensive (Tel: +8610 65393773).
Situated at the waterside on a level with the East door of the Stadium in Gongti beilu: very sophisticated. (Tel: +8610 65511636).
Green T House, 6 Gongti xilu
For years, this restaurant has undeniably been the smartest in all of Beijing, with its excessive decor. The chair and cutlery design is worthy of an Alice in Wonderland set: just imagine eating a refined meal with chopsticks that are 80cm long! The cuisine is also unexpected: it is more of a traditional Chinese cuisine reinterpreted with a touch of creativity, where steam and acid colours are the order of the day. The service is both excessive and disembodied – the deep-seated charm of highly priced detachment. Worth trying if you are feeling rich or if your company is paying. (Tel: +8610 65528310)
In Wangfujing, Beijing’s Champs Elysées
A vast and merry crowd strolls past looking for the “wedding” church. This is where all the photographers who immortalise freshly joined couples officiate: the husband always in a white suit and the bride in a long hire dress pulled on hurriedly over her jeans. To the right of this church, at number 36-3, Sunyifu is one of the best restaurants for ravioli – delicious and inexpensive. The service is fast and diligent. A must.
If you take a stroll in Wangfujing in the evening, you will find a charming large night-time market devoted to take-away food.
The Stone Boat
Set in a delightful little park, this cafe-restaurant is built on the principle of Ming period boats. Here you can have a light meal, a drink and daydream like nowhere else. You can even hire a fishing rod to catch a few fish and take them away with you afterwards. Around this haven of peace and beauty, worthy of the prettiest paintings, you will find other very chic restaurants at your disposal. (Tel: +8610 650199868610).
La Galerie Restaurant
Located in an old siheyuan (traditional Chinese house) in Ritan Park (Ritan Park, south gate, Guanghua dajie (Tel: +8610 85628698).
Immense restaurant revamped by Starck, located on the 4th floor of the shopping centre’s LG twin towers. The place to be seen.
Lusongyuan,22 Banchang hutong
This recently renovated hotel, set in a siheyuan, offers an old-style decor with its lacquered furniture and four-poster beds. This is the dream hotel par excellence.
The bilingual staff are more than up to scratch on tourism. The restaurant located inside the surrounding wall allows you to imagine what the peaceful, voluptuous life of a man of letters living in a siheyuan could have been like. The scent of wives and concubines still hangs in the air.
Guxiang hotel,20 Nanluoguxiang dajie
This recently built hotel seeks to stick with tradition with rooms furnished in old-dynasty style. A word of advice: avoid dining here.
The home on journey, in an alley leading to Nanluoguxiang dajie
In a different style, this unpretentious little backpackers’ hotel offers rather rudimentary comfort.
The lodgers passing through create the ambience here: many Anglo-Saxons with guitars, harmonicas and dreams of Kerouac in Asia. Try for one or two nights, just for the fun of it. Tel: +8610 84025238.
This hotel, which opened in autumn 2007 in a 27-storey building, combines every western comfort and luxury. You won’t feel homesick. www.sofitel.com
Park Hyatt Beijing
Set to open in July in a luxurious 66-storey building. Tel: +8610 85181234, www.hyatt.com
Wuju Tai, 44 Dongxibei dajie
Immense tea house which also sells accessories, teapots and books.
Confucian Tea House, 28-1 Guozijian dajie
Tea house situated opposite the Temple of Confucius. Tel: +8610 84048539, www.eatea.com.cn
285 Guloudong dajie
For traditional Chinese slippers.
In the Wangfujing district
This is where the bigger hotels are to be found (Peace Hotel, Hotel Hyatt, Novotel, Oriental Plaza, etc.) and all the boutiques selling luxury brands. Nearby, in Donghuamen Dajie, a night-time market is held, where it is pleasant to eat.
Panjiayuan (north gate)
The flea market is open on Saturday and Sunday all day, but it is best to go there in the morning to unearth any real gems. Haggling and negotiating are an integral part of the pleasures of making a find; don’t deprive yourself, the sellers like play-acting and drama.
The entire street is devoted to antique dealers and shops selling (new) calligraphy accessories.
If you want to buy rings, necklaces or other exceptional Tibetan and Chinese items of good quality, then get in touch with Yann. This Frenchman will sell you a few pieces if he likes you. His knowledge of Beijing is indisputable and exceptional. Tel: +86 13488738883.
8-1 Yizhuang Guiyuan dongli
To purchase calligraphy brushes: made of stone, bone, wood and of different sizes, but authentic and good quality. Tel: +8610 67899269.
141 Gulou xidajie
If ever you feel like having some clothes made or having a tear repaired, this adorable little tailor will help you out for a modest price.
Tango, 79 Yonghegong
Centro, 1 Guomao Guanghua lu: at 7pm for an aperitif, correct attire required.
Bed bar, Jiugulou dajie Zhangwang hutong: to have a drink stretched out on old beds.
Suzie Wong, 1A Nongzhanguan lu, Chaoyang Park (west gate): ideal for meeting a soulmate.
Block 8, Chaoyang Park (west gate)
Cargo club, 6 Gongti xilu
La baie des anges, 5 Nanguanfang (Houhai lake): French karaoke wine bar.
Maggie’s, Ritan Park (south gate) in Guanghua lu.