Food with atmosphere Last two photos coutesy of cityweekend.com
Food with atmosphere
Last two photos coutesy of cityweekend.comALL YOU NEED IS HOUSE MUSIC. This is the first thing that comes to mind when I think of the new Beijing food adventure – ROOMbeijing. Having heard it described as everything from a “psychedelic trap for the Michelin-star obsessed” to “quite simply the most fascinating venue on Beijing’s dining scene”, I felt the controversy alone was enough to merit a visit. Though my first visit was more on the wining than the dining aspect, what sticks most in my mind from that first visit was the music – beautiful, uplifting, soaring house music. ROOM had opened with a bang (or rather, with 2006 World Cup Legend Bob Sinclar), but my first visit was to the Intimate Sessions: Supperclub Amsterdam event in early June. To my Beijing ears, stuffed with the sound of honking horns and spitting migrant workers, starved of real, pure, golden house music, Amsterdam’s Supperclub was like rain in the desert. (Or Sunshine In the Rain?) Not to mention, for the girls – the added pleasure of Saxy Mr. S!
ROOMBeijing is a true foodie’s adventure, not just for the tongue, but for eyes and ears as well. The soundest advice would be to simply step in with a sense of adventure – to expect the unexpected.
The Irish-born, Michelin-starred chef Brian McKenna is known for “having a thing for test tubes, beakers and other culinary experiments that seem to involve spare parts of a chemistry set.” Formerly of the Shangri-La’s Blue Lobster, McKenna’s fun and experimental approach to cooking is similarly evident at ROOM. The menu is absolutely enormous, but is an admirable attempt to try to cater to any possible kind of dining situation from light tapas, lunches and midnight snacks over to a several-course romantic meal. Apart from a few recommendations in categories like “pates and terrine”, as well as desserts, the mains are assorted by size: RMB 50 for S, RMB 80 for M and RMB 100 for L.
Though served in a rather inexplicable order (at least dessert came last!), we were able to sample a nice selection of ROOMbeijing’s offerings.
We started off with a rabbit, pistachio and bacon terrine, which was accompanied by pickles and sour silver onions. (pictured in background, left) Though it took a while for the accompanying bread to be served, this dish was delicious and reminded me a little of the traditional German leberwurst. The texture of the terrine was not overly smooth, and was nicely complemented by the unexpected tanginess of the pickles and sour onions.
The tuna tartar with ruminated avocado, crispy potato and Asian dressing was served soon after, and was nicely plated and tasty, though rather simple. The tuna tasted wonderfully fresh, though its lightness was masked by the avocado. The crispy potato, however, proved to be quite the challenge: it was so crispy that any touch with a fork caused the potato pieces to snap and fly – food fight-style – across the table. Not exactly a desired quality for fine dining!
Next up was the interesting and extremely well-presented pan-fried scallop with cauliflower puree and Moroccan-spiced sugar with fresh apple. (pictured) Bedded on a solid slab of stone, the scallops were perfectly fried, slightly golden on the outside and very fresh-tasting. The cauliflower was slightly bizarre, but the foam in which the scallops lay was sprinkled with delicious pieces of rich, spiced sugar and an almost imperceptible note of apple.
Our first “main course”, as far as these can be named as such in the tapas-style presentation of the food, was a baked rack of Australian lamb coated in dukkah (an Egyptian spice and nut blend), couscous and aubergine salad and saffron yoghurt. We had chosen to order medium or small servings of everything to be able to try the greatest possible variety, but the serving size of this was rather diminutive. Though the lamb was in fact baked and not braised, I found the lamb itself to be rather remarkable, not to mention that it was a little fatty. The dukkah marinade however, was delicious, and somehow evoked images of camels and spice-markets to my overly imaginative tongue, while the saffron yoghurt was a lovely neutralizer to the veritable attack of tastes. The couscous was a little dry, unfortunately.
This was followed by an Asian-spiced shrimp risotto with avocado ice cream, lemongrass and tempura. This was the most interesting dish by far. While shrimp risotto is rather common and unremarkable, it is an absolute stunner when paired with something as unique as avocado ice cream. The avocado ice cream, which tasted extremely odd on its own, especially to an avocado skeptic such as me, gave the perfect touch to the well-spiced shrimp risotto. Blended together with a refreshing and visually appealing note of lemongrass froth, these seemingly disparate ingredients were absolutely fabulous when eaten all together.
We ordered two desserts to finish off. The milk chocolate pop tart with flavours of raspberry and herbs, was tasty but a little sickly sweet – quite the achievement to somebody with a tooth as sweet as mine! It bore no resemblance whatsoever to an actual pop tart – instead of a sugary, calorie-laden microwave pastry with a sweet filling, it was a sugary, calorie-laden piece of cake. Sweet, chocolatey, filled with unhealthiness – and all the more delicious for it!
What was perhaps the most anticipated part of the meal for me came last. With as much excitement as apprehension, we had ordered the white chocolate and coconut spaghetti with red berries and raspberry sorbet. Whether it was the anticipation or the fact that white chocolate and spaghetti do not really belong in the same sentence, this promising-sounding dessert was an absolute disappointment. The “spaghetti” did not taste of white chocolate or of coconut – it felt like tasteless strings of some hard, unidentifiable substance. The berries – blueberries and raspberries – had clearly come straight from the freezer and were shapeless and cold, in part still with a frozen center. The only redeeming quality was the raspberry sorbet, which was refreshing and light.
Overall, an extremely interesting dining experience. With a sense of interest and open-mindedness, dining at ROOM can be an event to remember. The trippy decorations certainly do not strike everyone’s fancy, and even though I love pop art, it was still slightly unsettling to be eating opposite of sculptures of grinning dogs with red-tipped penises alongside ceilings lined with multi-coloured plastic balloons. Along the far walls sprawls a brightly coloured mural by Hugo Dalton , which is supposed to represent Beijing. When I asked the waiter who had enthusiastically been showing us around what exactly the meaning of the mural was, he was unable to answer. ROOM also features two private rooms, one HIS and one HERS room, with absolutely incredible interior design – fun, crazy and unique locations for private events. These are decked out with funky features like by fingerprint-only access.
Service was very good, and the maître d’ was extremely knowledgeable about the menu and willing to give recommendations. The biggest flaw of the restaurant-club, however, is that is is faced with the momentous task of transitioning – at a certain point in a night – from a restaurant into a club. This ends up with late diners slightly irritated by the music being turned up (though it is HEAVENLY to my ears) and early clubbers slightly irritated by the lights remaining bright.
In addition, ROOM is trying too hard to integrate too many features into a single space. All the individual ideas are great – art gallery, restaurant, club, lounge and event space for everything from live music to coming-up-sometime soon, believe or not, farmers market, but to place them into a single location may be a bite too big to swallow, even for seasoned eaters like the creators of ROOMbeijing. If it tries to spread itself that thin, its eyes may become bigger than its mouth.
I recommend ROOM therefore first and foremost as a night spot, where one can enjoy great cocktails such as my ROOMtini – vodka, passionfruit puree, lime and Sprite, and an extensive new world wine list in a young, hip and ambitiously artsy location. Judging not only by Bob Sinclar and Supperclub, Dimitri from Paris, the star DJ from Hugh Hefner’s Playboy Mansion, who made an extremely well received appearance there last Tuesday, accompanied by a fair selection of Playboy Bunnies, ROOM is bound to become a rising star on Beijing’s ever-improving nightlife scene.
Perfect for: : lovers of everything funky: funky food, funky people, funky design and funky music (interpret the word funky as negatively or positively as you desire…)
Order recommendations: terrines and pates, Asian-spiced shrimp risotto with avocado ice cream
Honourable mentions: Interesting design and extremely good House music
Not-so-honourable mentions: Awful “white chocolate spaghetti” dessert, and the same interesting design as mentioned above.