Syringa - Very good Szechuanese and non-traditional decor
On Saturday I met with my business school classmate and his wife. They’re both Chinese so I told them to choose a restaurant for us, assuming they would know better. I was happy to see that they chose Syringa, that I had seen reviewed in thebeijinger a few weeks ago.
Syringa is located around China Central Place (Shin Kong Mall). I had never been there and wasn’t able to read the address of the restaurant in Chinese so I had trouble finding it. This mall is really huge, but Syringa is actually outside the mall, on a side street. If you get the address in Chinese from Dianping, it should be easy.
My first impression was very good, as Syringa’s environment is very modern and well decorated. The room downstairs is a bit small, but it seems like they also have a room upstairs. The only downside was that the whole time we were speaking, I felt like we were being really loud for the other people eating there, although we were just talking, not screaming at all. Maybe it was just an impression, or the lack of separation makes sounds travel too much, although I couldn’t hear the other customers at all.
Syringa’s food was also spot-on. Their menu is extensive (as are most Chinese menus) and everything looked really good, so I just relied on my friend to choose. Syringa offers authentic Szechuanese food, and contrary to other places, their menu doesn’t venture out too much outside of this area. The food is spicy but not overwhelmingly spicy. To me what makes a big difference for a Szechuanese restaurant is the attention put in the food. I find that many Szechuanese restaurants do the traditional food well, but are very heavy on the oil and the spices, which usually leads me to enjoy my dish for 10 minutes and regret it quickly after. Syringa on the other hand balances the flavors really well so you enjoy your meal all along.
I can’t remember the name of the dishes as I did not order. The stand out was a soup with very tender beef (I think called Special Beef on the menu) which kept having me coming back, and a dish of fried meat mith sweet and spicy peppers. The crazy thing was that we couldn’t even recognize the meat (was it chicken, prawn?) but it was definitely one of the best dishes I’ve had in a Szechuanese restaurant recently.
Service was also great, the waitress was very patient while we were making our order and offered some suggestions (I find that sometimes waiters can’t recommend anything). The only downside was they closed the kitchen even before 10pm, so we weren’t able to order anything after that time.
I would definitely go back to Syringa, and I guess it could be a great spot for a lunch during a shopping spree in China Central Place, or even for a date or business dinner. On a Saturday night there were not many people there, and I hope they get more business as the attention put into doing really good food deserves it.
- L22, Bldg 17, China Central Place, 89 Jianguo Lu, Chaoyang District
- Daily 11am-2.30pm, 5-11pm
- 8588 8908
Yuxin Szechuan Restaurant - traditional Szechuan style
I wanted to talk about this restaurant today, because it is to me quite the opposite of Syringa, which I discussed earlier in the week. Not because Syringa was good and Yuxin is bad, not at all. Yuxin actually serves pretty good food too, and that’s why the restaurant was almost full when we went there for dinner. However, Yuxin serves the kind of Szechuanese food that I enjoy less, or at least enjoy not as long. From the little understanding of Szechuanese food that I acquired by being in Beijing, I think that Yuxin is more traditional, and Syringa more modern.
If we take a step back, Szechuanese food is known for being very spicy, as is Hunnan food (but they are spicy in a different way). Szechuanese food uses a lot of Szechuanese peppercorns, chili oil and spicy bean paste (doubanjiang), the cause for the spiciness. I often find myself craving spicy Szechuanese food, but more often than not, after a few bites, I feel overwhelmed by the oiliness and spicyness and I don’t enjoy it as much as I thought I would.
Syringa didn’t give me this experience at all, because the food didn’t bathe in oil, and the flavors were well balanced. On the other hand, Yuxin serves the traditional Szechuanese food, and I was overwhelmed after a few bites. The main cause for me is the oil. There is just too much, as you can see in the pictures.
We ordered a few dishes (reluctantly) recommended by our waitress (as usual, she started by saying everything is good). We got the Yuxin sauteed shrimps, the noodles Szechuan style, the beef in pepper oil, the cold noodles Chongqing style, the Yuxin handmade noodles, some spicy chicken and the pancake home style. The noodles are all served in a small bowl, but they all cost only a few kuai, allowing you to taste a few different kinds. The Yuxin sauteed shrimp and the chicken were good, but really oily. The shrimps could have been fresher in my opinion. Each kind of noodles was good and allowed us to try different ranges of spiciness. I can’t say much for the beef in pepper oil as it is a dish that I don’t appreciate, but I feel like it was prepared well. The pancake was good, but also very greasy, although I was hoping to soak the oil with it…
As a disclaimer, I have never been to Szechuan so I have to trust the restaurants in Beijing on the food. If you believe the reviews, Yu Xin actually offers pretty authentic Szechuan food, and the problem is just me not enjoying the oil too much! So if you want to experience traditional Szechuanese dishes in a pretty normal Chinese restaurant, Yuxin is a good place. Yes it will be oily, yes it will be spicy, but that’s all part of the experience!
I would recommend Yu Xin if you have visitors who want to discover Szechuanese food, or for a night out with your friends before heading to the bars in Sanlitun.
- 5A Xingfu Yicun Xili, Chaoyang District
- Daily 11am-10pm
- 6415 8168
Chuan Ban - cheap Szechuan food worth a try
Beijing being the capital of China, each Chinese province has a representative office in the city, and each representative office comes with a restaurant, that is supposed to serve very authentic food from this province. Chuan Ban is the restaurant of the Szechuanese provincial office. Located in a small alleyway towards Jianguomen Bridge, it will force you to wait around 30 minutes on a weekday night. We thought that must be a good sign!
The restaurant itself is big, but full of small spaces, which doesn’t make you feel like you’re dining in the middle of a crowd. The menu is expat friendly with pictures and english translations. The prices are also wallet-friendly: we ordered a ton of food for us two, so much that we had to pack it up to go and were able to eat another dinner out of it the next day, and the total only came up to 150 kuai, including one beer and one bottle of water. It’s good to see a place where you can have a feast for 4 at 150 kuai.
We decided to ask our waiter for recommendations. As usual with Szechuanese food, we ended up getting a lot of food in spicy sauce. We ordered the mapo tofu, the fried chicken in garlic sauce, the dan dan mian, the eggplant in spicy sauce, two other kind of noodles and a dish of fish in spicy sauce (tell me about overordering).
Mapo tofu is one of my favorite dishes ever, and this one although good was not the best I’ve had. The sauce could have been better and the tofu could have been smoother. Surprinsingly I found it better the day after. The noodles were all pretty well executed, be them cold or hot, and the serving was a good portion for the (cheap) price. The eggplant, a classical dish, was also pleasing, managing to keep the eggplant fresh and not too mushy. I thought the fried chicken would taste more of garlic, but the sauce ended up being quite sweet. It was unexpected, but still very tasteful. I however found that the sauce overwhelmed the chicken quite a bit. Finally, the fish we got couldn’t compare with other fishes I’ve tried in Szechuanese places, but unfortunately they ran out of their most popular fish dishes that night and one could get that those ones use better quality fish.
The real highlight of our meal was the service. Maybe it was that one particular guy, but our waiter was really helpful, taking his time to recommend us some dishes (instead of just pointing at everything on the first page like people usually do), ask us what we could and couldn’t eat and being very efficient in bringing our food. I really appreciated it in the context of Beijing’s usually poor service.
Overall, I found the food at Chuan Ban to be satisfying, but I wouldn’t crown it best Szechuanese in Beijing, particularly considering the wait. I like that both the food and the atmosphere are quite casual and make it feel more home-style than places like Syringa. All dishes were well-executed, but it always lacked something to be really good. I consider it a good place to bring foreign visitors to have them discover Szechuanese food. No dish will be a miss, and the atmosphere is pretty typical.
- 5 Gongyuan Toutiao, Jianguomennei Dajie, Dongcheng District
- Mon-Fri 7-9am, 10.50am-2pm, 4.50-9.30pm; Sat-Sun 7am-10pm
- 6512 2277 ext 6101