PUBLISHED : Friday, 05 August, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 05 August, 2011, 12:00am


Aqua (aqua.com.hk): Solid Spanish fare in the heart of the city's most popular nightlife zone. Chef Jorde Valles is proud of his home-cured meats as well as Iberian staples such as suckling pig. He also rustles up a mean risotto and ravioli. After dinner, head to the nearby bars of buzzing Sanlitun. Wow factor: The amazing value lunch.

Duck de Chine (elite-concepts.com): In a city that offers (naturally) the best Peking duck in the world, this is generally agreed to be the finest of all. It has a vaguely French theme, fun decor, a champagne bar and - in summer - a large outdoor courtyard to enjoy drinks. Try the special Peking duck accompanying sauces that include one made with Cantonese-style hoi sin. Wow factor: The main entranceway, through a contemporary art gallery.

Madame Zhu's Kitchen (tel: + 86 10 5907 1625): There are few Chinese restaurants that manage to get it right when they try to serve classic food in a contemporary, western-influence setting, but this one succeeds. Wow factor: Madame Zhu does exist and can be seen on photographs.

Maison Boulud (maisonboulud.com): The much-loved maitre d' of this French-style restaurant, ultra-smooth Belgian Ignace Lecleir, has left to start his own operation, but the service and food here remain the yardstick for Beijing fine dining. The suckling pig and burger with foie gras are standout dishes. The building is in the old American embassy and, reputedly, was the site of meetings between Henry Kissinger and Zhou Enlai that set the scene for Sino-US diplomatic relations to be restored. Wow factor: The elegant champagne bar, to the left of the dining room Room (room-beijing.com): This is a fun spot with wildly coloured sofas and chairs, contemporary Chinese art and quirky touches such as toilets with secret doors. It is the creation of chef Brian McKenna, who made his name with molecular gastronomy. Specials include roasted black cod with garam masala and coconut milk. Wow factor: The wall-mounted urinals in the gent's toilet.

Apothecary (tel: + 86 10 5208 6040): The food should be good at this cracker of a bar, as it is supervised by Max Levy, who also presides over the menu at the highly rated hotel restaurant, Bei, nearby. People come primarily for the cocktails which are mixed with home-made bitters. Even the ice is made from specially selected water that is frozen to Apothecary's precise specifications. Wow factor: Marvelling at the detail that has gone into the cocktails.

Atmosphere (shangri-la.com): Beijing's top spot for a drink - literally - a lounge that is 80 storeys above street level. During the day, it is a rather genteel kind of place where tai tai's meet for afternoon tea chats and executives gather for deal-making talks, but at night it really starts to rock. Wow factor: The powerful telescopes, placed at strategic intervals, are a great way to zero in on key buildings.

Chocolate (club-chocolate.ru): Want to see the way new-money Russians flash the cash? This is the place to come, a brash nightclub with spinning ceiling lights, fluorescent floors and gold toilets. It's a last-stop kind of spot, where you are likely to wake up wondering: did I really boogie to Abba songs? Wow factor: The surreal factor of being spiritually in Moscow while in Beijing.

While often considered the bridesmaid to the capital, Shanghai is emerging as a powerful force on the world's culinary stage. Sam Wainwright tempts our tastebuds.

The Apartment (theapartment-shanghai.com): A laid-back lounge, dining room and self-proclaimed 'luxebar' that pulls the scrubbed-up professional crowd - local and expatriate. Boasting a private VIP room and a rare-for-Shanghai rooftop patio, the Apartment attracts with its extensive cocktail menu, DJs and late-night nibbles. Wow factor: A cool spot that doesn't discriminate against over-35s.

Yucca (yuccashanghai.com): A dynamic Mexican-themed lounge, and the latest in prolific Australian restaurateur David Laris' extensive portfolio of wining/dining hotspots. Forget sombreros and cacti: Yucca's look is more Andy Warhol than Emiliano Zapata, and is a riot of geometric patterns. Wow factor: The zany d?cor.

el Coctel (elwilly.com.cn): Effervescent Spaniard Guillermo 'Willy' Trullas Moreno quickly became a legend on the Shanghai culinary circuit with the opening of his eponymous tapas-with-a-twist restaurant El Willy. Bartenders treat cocktail creation as a cherished craft: deep-frozen ice is carved by hand, juices freshly squeezed and only top-shelf liquor makes the mix. Wow factor: Even a simple gin and tonic becomes a marvel.

Vue Bar (shanghai.bund.hyatt.com): Frequently bland and devoid of character, hotel bars rarely make it into 'best of' lists, but chic and sophisticated Vue, located in the upscale Hyatt on the Bund hotel, is a worthy exception. The main draw here are the astonishing views of the picture-postcard Bund and the crystalline and cloud-busting sci-fi towers of Pudong. A rum and kiwi caipirinha and the zesty orange-flavoured mandarito are refreshing highlights. Wow factor: The pictures you'll take.

Pane e Vino (tel: +86 21 5465 2177): At the other end of the scale is undemonstrative Pane e Vino, an intimate and home-style Italian eatery. Run by husband-and-wife team Antonio and Echo, Pane e Vino uses only imported Italian flour, spices and other ingredients for authentic Italian fare like-a mama used to make. The thin-crust pizzas and the fresh and restrained pasta dishes are arguably the finest in the city. Wow factor: Everything on the menu - bring friends to share.

Southern Barbarian (southernbarbarian.com): With its chefs hailing from Yunnan, this restaurant specialises in home-style food from that province, and is an excellent option for those on a budget. Specialities include edible flowers and wild mushrooms, 'cross-the-bridge' noodles and deep-fried bees. The beer selection is excellent. Wow: The grilled goat's cheese.