Ken Hom describes some of his favourite dining experiences on a recent visit to Beijing, where foodie friends based in the Chinese capital sometimes acted as guides. Tianjin Bai Jiao Yuan; Xinwenhua Lu, Jia 12, Xicheng district Tel: +86-10-6601-6934 Hong Kong friends had long raved about Tianjin Bai Jiao Yuan, a well-known and inexpensive place that specialises in jiaozi, or dumplings (below). This typical northern dish is usually made of minced pork and cabbage, salt, ginger and spring onions all in a thin wrapper of wheat dough. The dumplings are eaten with great relish with an array of dipping sauces. I knew I was in for a treat when I walked in and was immediately confronted by an open, glassed-in kitchen where chefs were making fresh dumplings. Ignore the kitschy red and gold decor and ask for the English menu (full of misspellings) from the sleepy, half-stoned staff in their pink pyjamas. We chose the classic pork and Chinese cabbage, which was savoury and delicious. The shrimp meat with bean curd was delicate and light, while both the curry beef and hot and spicy beef lived up to their description with a real jolt of spices. However, the best was the crab roe jiaozi, where rich roe was combined with pork to create a sensational dish. This alone was worth the journey. I also liked the way you made your own dipping sauce from plastic containers that had red rice vinegar with pickled garlic, freshly chopped garlic, chopped fresh coriander and chilli oil. South Beauty; Oriental Plaza, Dong Cheng Qu, Chang An Jie Yi Hao, Dong Fang Guang, Chang Di Xia Yi, Cheng BB Ba Ba Tel: +86-10-85186971 The trend in Beijing seems to be Sichuan food and everyone was raving about the South Beauty chain of restaurants. I went to one (above right) to see what the fuss was about. Unlike restaurants 17 years ago, this had beautiful decor - modern with Chinese traditional touches. However, the main attraction is the food. Try the classic Sichuan tofu dish called fried bean curd with beef and chilli sauce. Here soft cubes of tofu float in a fiery sauce of Sichuan peppercorns and chilli. It was as good as any I've had in Chengdu. The smoked duck was smoky, tender and flavourful. We found the steamed green shoots with soup rather bland but were told it was to cool the palate. A strangely titled dish, updated sliced tender beef in hot oil and stone, was delicious: sliced marinated beef was first cooked in boiling oil with onions, coriander and then drained on a hot stone. Surprisingly, it was not greasy and very tasty. We finished off with spicy noodles with hot sauce, where slender noodles are tossed in an aromatic sauce of chilli oil and minced pork. We were transported to Sichuan that evening. Fu Jia Lou, 23 Dongsishitiao Xi, Dongcheng district Tel: +86-10-8403 7831 Nostalgia seems to be part of the scene these days as restaurateurs try to sell comfort dishes in settings that recall old Beijing. Fu Jia Lou's menu has xiangsu heye ya (a crispy lotus duck stuffed with meats) and douzhi (sour bean curd milk) which you can drink with your meal. Don't miss the classic zhajiang mian, thick noodles that you mix yourself at the table with bean paste, cold cucumber slices, soya beans and various greens. Be sure to ask for la you (chilli oil) to spice up the whole affair. Worth a visit for a fun, delectable lunch. Noodle Loft; No. 18, Baisiwan Road, Chaoyang district, Beijing Tel: +86-10-67749950 This restaurant features the food of Shanxi province, which is renowned for noodle dishes. It was filled with a hip crowd of young business people. In the centre of the restaurant is an open kitchen where the chefs show their skills, making, pulling, cutting and tossing noodles from one end of the kitchen to the other. However, there is more to this restaurant than mere noodles. My friend Patrick Leung ordered a number of other delectable dishes well worth trying. We began with sliced salted mutton that was delicate and surprisingly mild. The crispy kidney was crunchy in texture in a tasty sauce. Crispy peanuts with cucumber was an unusual match but good. Fried mutton was balanced with a touch of black vinegar. Fresh walnuts with lily buds was certainly a new dish for me. We were told that sturgeon boiled in millet congee was a typical Shanxi dish. But the Wutaishan mushrooms cooked with chives were the best. We finished with the house speciality: shaved noodles accompanied by a choice of three unusual dressings: one with fried egg and tomatoes that was tart and rich; one with vinegar dressing which was both refreshing and bracing and finally a clear braised soup that was simple but really hit the spot. Huang Ting; The Peninsula Palace Beijing, 8 Goldfish Lane, Wangujing, Beijing Tel: +86-10-8516-6307 One of the best meals I had in Beijing was at Huang Ting (below). It is a recreation of the great tradition of old courtyard houses. Alas, these are being torn down throughout Beijing to make way for progress. Our sauteed prawns with Sichuan chilli sauce could not have been more perfect. The giant prawns were succulent, tender and moist in a well-balanced spicy sauce. Next we had wok-fried chicken with chilli and peanuts: a modern, less greasy version of Gung Bao chicken. We followed this with a full-flavoured, double-boiled black chicken soup with tea tree mushrooms. The braised crispy golden bean curd with shiitake was delicate with light fluffy bean curd stuffed inside a whole mushroom, battered and fried. It was a wonderful contrast of textures and tastes. A dish of sauteed minced pork with green beans and pickled acorns was a great finish to a really superb meal. Made in China, Grand Hyatt Beijing 1 East Chang An Avenue, Beijing Tel: +86-10-8518 1234 Ext. 3608 A modern looking restaurant that could be easily found in Singapore, Hong Kong or New York, it was decorated with stainless baskets of fresh vegetables and fruit and the dining areas were divided into small rooms. We began with an array of appetisers: spinach leaves tossed with sesame sauce and Chinese rice vinegar, followed by braised pork knuckle served with pickled cucumber, which was more like a cold tasty p?t?. Duck gizzards with spicy peanuts was Sichuan inspired. It was very spicy and surprisingly addictive. My favourite was shredded pig ear with jellyfish, white cabbage, yellow mustard and coriander oil. I loved the contrast in texture and taste. Sizzling king prawns came next and they were impeccably cooked and succulent. I could not leave Beijing without having Peking duck. The crispy skin came to the table with the rich moist duck meat and we wrapped it in thin pancakes doused with salty sweet bean sauce and shredded leek whites and cucumber. It was pure bliss!