First published on 29 Jun 2012. Updated on 6 Feb 2014.
Professionally run national chain with hearty North-Eastern cuisine in Jinqiao
Polished rustic. Professional countryside. These are the themes of this chain serving up scrumptious, mighty portions of Xibei cuisine, and already whipping up crowds at their latest branch in Jinqiao's sprawling new Life Hub Mall. The dining room showcases modernised versions of indigenous crafts like giant paper cuts and shadow puppets in light boxes. Waitresses wear pigtails and cute red Chinese smocks, taking orders on wireless PDAs.
Xibei, the lesser known neighbour cuisine of Dongbei, is an amalgam of Inner Mongolian, Hebei and Shanxi dishes. For spice, there's generous cumin, garlic, vinegar and sesame, the meat is overwhelmingly lamb, and popular starches are oat flour noodles and millet.
The 'self-made fresh tofu' (26RMB) served still wrapped in damp cheesecloth is the freshest you may ever have, and you can taste a bright purity in the mild, delicate texture. It's deliciously complemented by an intense dipping sauce of black vinegar, garlic, chilli and scallions.
Wheat gluten in vinaigrette (19RMB) is a crisp mix of cucumber, red cabbage, sprouts, celery, and carrots in a vinaigrette with sesame, cilantro and chillies. The top quality Mongolian boiled lamb (58RMB) offers big meaty bones served au naturale.‘Stewed beef over a slow fire’ (42RMB) is a delicious melange of unctuous braised beef and carrot slices.
‘Fish-shaped oat strips en casserole’ (29RMB), a signature dish, are little hand rolled noodles with a bouncy texture in a glowing red soup with juicy bits of lamb and soft potato. This broth becomes something great with the addition of a splash of vinegar and a sprinkling of salt.
For dessert, the ‘steamed yellow rice cake’ (20RMB) is a unique version of babaofan with sticky rice layered with bean paste, then made wonderfully floral with a coating of osmanthus syrup from the candy-sweet yellow flowers. Pair it with a jug of thick and tart housemade yoghurt (9RMB).
You can’t go wrong with a single hearty dish on this book-thick menu, illustrating why this national chain with 23 branches links Hohhot all the way down to Shenzhen.