The International Club Hotel is Beijing's only
'six-star' accommodation, and it proudly carries on the luxury
hotel tradition of ensuring an atmosphere sterile enough to avoid
offending even the most fastidious of guests. But it is well
worth enduring a bit of six-star sterility for the Cantonese
culinary delights on offer at Fat Sin Wank Garden, uh, I mean
Celestial Court, the hotel's mezzanine-level Chinese restaurant.
Getting to the restaurant involves a pleasant amble up a marble
staircase leading from a cavernous lobby that contains live palm
trees and a tenor who sings pieces from the opera Giovanni. A crackled-crystal
door screen protects the interior of Celestial Court from evil spirits,
opera singers and the sound of hotel guests rattling their jewelry
downstairs, and once ensconced in the restaurant's comfortable
chairs, the only sound interrupting your perusal of the menu is piped-in traditional
Chinese music and the silken rustling of cheong-sam-clad waitresses.
We start with refreshing cups of chrysanthemum tea, and are soon tucking
into an appetizer of barbecued suckling pig, a cold dish consisting
of a selection of different cuts including strips of crispy skin.
We set off the fatty pork with the clean, fresh taste of lobster
sashimi. This dish arrives at the table in a two foot-long wooden
boat, adorned with the head and tail of the lobster whose raw flesh
we are consuming with small shivers of gastronomic excitement.
Sustaining the seafood theme, we tuck into a soup of fresh crab meat and
bamboo fungus, an aromatic combination of chewy, woody fungal
flavors and plain, soft-pink crab flesh. We then try 'sauteed
shredded beef fillet with vegetables - Celestial Court's rather fancy
version of beef chop suey. The dish captures the addictive
signature wok-fried taste of Cantonese take-away, without the
excess oil. The humble dish is beautifully presented in a bowl made from
a lattice of quick-potato shavings.
But it's back to seafood - the speciality of Celestial Court's Hong Kong
chef Sam Yuen褀ith a dish that delights sadists and connoisseurs
alike and suggests a fun way of euthanasia for world-weary
alcoholics: flamed drunken shrimp. The shrimp are brought to the table
live, and dropped into a glass bowl full of bright yellow liquor
made from fermented sorghum and rose petals. Once the shrimp are
good and drunk, a sous-chef sets fire to the alcohol, creating a foot-high
flame that roasts the grey-blue sea creatures to a tender-pink
Visually, drunken shrimp are the high point of the meal but strong
simple seafood tastes continue with a dish of sauteed and lightly
salted lobster, made from the remains of the crustacean that provided
our first course of sashimi.
'Steamed soft tofu stuffed with shrimp mousse in black bean sauce' is a
fine, light accompaniment to the heavier taste of 'deep-fried
boneless duck with mashed taro' that concludes our main course.
Although desserts are not a Chinese tradition, good Cantonese chefs have
a light touch with sweet ingredients that makes for excellent
puddings. Celestial Court does a superb chilled mango mousse that
would sit proudly on the table of any European gourmet restaurant.
Deep-fried mini steamed buns (dipped in condensed milk) and
'pancakes with red bean paste' are more traditionally Chinese, but
both dishes are just a little too heavy after an eight-course meal.
The perfect finale is also the simplest dish: a salad of fresh fruit
pieces, presented in a bowl made of ice. We emerge from the
restaurant completely sated, but not too bloated to walk gracefully down
the marble staircase into the lobby, where we notice that everybody
is dressed much better than we are.
No matter: the Celestial Court is one of Beijing's most expensive
restaurants but this doesn't mean that they look down on the
shabbily dressed. Nor do the shabbily dressed need to fear a penury-inducing
bill: expensive for Beijing doesn't mean much more than US$50 per
Although experience-junkies will find the place a bore, Celestial Court
is hard to beat for superb Cantonese food in a quiet, clean
environment that your grandmother would approve of.
International Club Hotel, 21 Jianguomenwai, Chaoyang District
Hours: 11:30 am-2:30 pm, 6-10 pm
Hours: 5:30 pm - 11 pm
Food: **** Ambience: ** Service: **** Cost: **