Destination: Sanlitun, Beijing

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 15 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 15 November, 2012, 9:37am

A slew of new bars and restaurants have opened in the Sanlitun district of Beijing, reinforcing its position as the city's prime nightlife zone.

What makes the district so appealing is the broad mixture of options, from hole-in-the wall local bars serving cheap bottles of Yanjing beer to fine-dining establishments that will put a serious dent in your wallet. At least three new wine bars - a rarity in the capital until recently - have opened, reflecting the increasingly sophisticated and cosmopolitan tastes of the population.

Widely travelled locals and expatriate oenophiles are the target audience for renowned nightlife entrepreneur Leon Lee's latest venture, Bar Veloce (Building B, 1949 The Hidden City, Courtyard 4, Gongti Bei Lu, Chaoyang District; tel: +86 [10] 6586 1006). This is located in a compound that houses Duck de Chine, arguably the best Peking duck restaurant in Beijing.

Lee, an American, hired former Aman resorts sommelier Krishna Hathaway to draw up a list of lesser-known, but largely affordable wines, with a wide by-the-glass selection. Bar Veloce focuses on vintages from Italy and the Mediterranean, including Greece, and also offers a small menu of salads, cold cuts and panini.

Says Lee: "We wanted to open something that was different and interesting, a place for people who really appreciate wine, and the selection has been groomed very carefully. We will aim to have 65 wines on offer and about 15 that can be ordered by the glass; you can ask to taste those before ordering."

A short stroll away, on the fringes of Sanlitun proper, is Everwines (10 Xindong Road, East Avenue Block A, B1-102 103 Chaoyang District; tel: +86 [10] 8442 5008), a wine-bar-cum-store owned and operated by the giant Spanish wine group Torres. It offers a choice of 300 wines. The bottles are displayed shop-style, with a 50 yuan (HK$62) charge for those who want to enjoy their drinks at the bar, or in the sunken courtyard.

It is a great spot to share a bottle with friends - popular items are the Celeste (269 yuan), made from tempranillo, or Te Mata Estate Sauvignon Blanc (218 yuan) - before heading out into the seething streets of Sanlitun.

For first-timers, the experience can be unnerving. The main north-south alley is filthy and smelly with overflowing drains, shady characters, beggars, balloon sellers, knock-off DVD shops, stalls selling food that is possibly dysentery-inducing and - maybe oddest of all - a nail salon that keeps a real, metre-long crocodile in a fish tank.

Yet in the modern malls surrounding this unsavoury street sit classy establishments such as the Spanish restaurants in Nali Patio, the wine bar Mesh in the Opposite House, and the vast array of restaurants in Village North, a Swire Properties development.

One of the most popular is Transit (N4-36, Third Floor, The Village North, Sanlitun Lu, Chaoyang district; tel: +86 [10] 6417 9090), a former hutong restaurant reincarnated in a swanky mall. The young chef specialises in modern takes of Sichuan classics such as dan dan noodles, mapo dou fu and stir-fried eel.

She also cooks more elaborate dishes such as pork knuckle with honey and ginger, and prawns with chocolate (116 yuan), the latter not a dish that features too often in rural households in the western province.

Simple American fare is on the menu of the neighbouring Let's Burger (Basement, The Village North, Sanlitun Lu, Chaoyang district; tel: +86 [10] 6415 2772), which is due to reopen in a few weeks after expanding its premises. The brainchild of two Hong Kong advertising executives, Patrick So and Ellis So, the newly expanded Let's Burger in Sanlitun will feature the staple 68 yuan Australian beef patty, the 118 yuan fillet steak burger, and the 78 yuan crispy rice burger, topped with home-made black pepper cream sauce.

The city's community of beer lovers were delighted by the opening of Brussels (4 Gongti Bei Lu, Chaoyang district; tel: +86 [10] 6591 9525; a bar-restaurant specialising in brews from Belgium. On tap at the premises are Vedett blond (35 yuan a glass) Vedett white (40 yuan) La Chouffe (50 yuan) and De Koninck (45 yuan).

The two-level operation, which shows sports events on large screens, also serves a wide range of food such as Flemish beef-beer stew, mussels and French fries, chicken parmigiana and beer-battered fish and chips. All are priced at between 50 yuan and 80 yuan.

"We are solidly a bar, but there is no reason why we can't serve good food," says American co-owner Kenneth Bermel. "We also carry Strongbow cider, Guinness, and Tiger draught, and we have two types of Slow Boat on tap [a locally brewed beer with ingredients imported from the US]. As we grow, I plan to add more draught beers. I wish we could have 50 or even 100 taps but, in Beijing, that's just not realistic yet."


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Destination: Sanlitun, Beijing

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