Sunday, August 30, 2009

Beijing 2009 - Adios Beijing !

It's been a long 2 months posting about my trip to Beijing, and I was only there for 7 days ! There is so much to see there, and to make the most of it you really have to plan ahead. The Web is such an indispensable tool for travel nowadays. 

My friend Pegs had compiled our hectic Itinerary on her Site. Check it out here:  Cloth with Pegs - Beijing

Day 1
arrived in Beijing Terminal 2
dimsum breakfast
Tiananmen Square
Beijing Centre for the Performing Arts
Forbidden City
Tea Shop
check-in to Taly Plaza Hotel

Day 2
Beijing Institute of Architectural Design
Planning Exhibition Hall
Peking Duck lunch at Quanjude Peking Duck Restaurant
Opposite House (hotel) by Kengo Kuma
The Village at Sanlitun (shopping centre)

Day 3
Temple of Heaven
SOHO Jianwai
SOHO Shangdu
Linked Hybrid (Grand MOMA Beijing)
798 Art Zone
Tenggili Tala dinner

Day 4
Summer Palace
Hotel 61 Cote Cour
Hotel Kapok
WangFuJing Shopping and Food Street
Szechuan dinner
JiuBaJie (Bar Street)

Day 5
Great Wall at Badaling
The Commune by the Great Wall
lunch near Olympic park
Jade Shop
Dinner at Maison Boulud

Day 6
rickshaw ride in Hutong
Water Cube (Olympic Aquatic Centre)
Bird's Nest (Olympic Stadium)
acrobatic performance
nite scene of Water Cube & Bird's Nest
(supper near hotel)

Day 7
Sneak peek at Beijing Terminal 3

Home to Malaysia

Before we left Beijing, we went for a short visit to Terminal 3, the spanking new airport built for the Olympics. It was designed by famous UK architect Sir Norman Foster. Having visited the Chep Lap Kok Airport in Hong Kong by the same architect, I kind of knew what to expect. To me his airport designs always feel a bit cold and impersonal. Kind of like a factory. Beijing Terminal 3 felt the same.

Malaysia Airlines didn't get the privilege of using the new airport, so we left via Terminal 2 which was a much older airport. We were very reluctant to leave, as there was still so much more to see in Beijing. Beijing is not really a place for a holiday, but a place for adventure. Till next time !

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Beijing 2009 - Beijing Faces

One of the things I noticed about Beijingers while wondering around the city is that they are very unselfconscious. They are not shy at all about having their pictures taken, and generally go about their own business without worrying too much about the spectators. I got some really nice shots during the trip.

These Beijingers were having a break near Tiananmen Square.

The street performers were everywhere, and they were just doing it for their own enjoyment, and of course the spectators.

A group of hair stylists in the Hutong.

This mother and daughter team run a small grocery shop in the Hutong. 

An old man proudly showing off his prized bird.

Beijing 2009 - The Commune by The Great Wall

The Commune by The Great Wall is one of the most unique projects in Beijing which we visited. It is actually a luxury hotel located at the foot of the Great Wall at Badaling. Developed by the SOHO Group, the hotel is a collection of private villas designed by 12 Asian architects from around the region. The villas are full-sized mansions complete with living areas, kitchen, dining and several bedrooms. They are essentially designed as private homes. 

What is amazing about this project is that the developer had the vision and resources to bring together such an eminent group of architects to work on the project, and to actually pull it off to such a high level of quality, at the same time preserving the natural beauty and environmental quality of the site. It must have been a mammoth task getting the project realised. This is one of the places you shouldn't miss when visiting Beijing.

The main Reception Building - designed by South Korean architect Seung H-Sang. It is a masterful composition of light, space and materials.

The understated entrance porch.

The lobby which is faced on both sides by 2-storey high glass walls.

The terrace dining area with great views of the Great Wall.

 A view from the landscaped terrace.

The "Furniture House" by Japanese architect Shigeru Ban.

The "Airport House" by Taiwanese architect Chien Hsueh-Yi.

The "See and Seen House" by Chinese architect Cui Kai.

The "Distorted Courtyard House" by Hong Kong architect Rocco Yim.

The famous "Bamboo House" by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma. It has spawned many copies around the world. 

The "Shared House" by Thai architect Kanika R'kul.

The "Twins House" by Singapore architect Tan Kay Ngee.

The "Cantilever House" by Antonio Ochoa. 

The "Forest House" by Japanese architect Nobuaki Furuya.

This is one of those projects which seem to exist only in an architectural dream world. Go and see it !

Friday, August 28, 2009

Beijing 2009 - McDonald's

From a 4 star high end restaurant we move on to the other end of the food spectrum - McDonald's. My main reason for visiting a McDonald's in Beijing was to try out the pork burger. Sadly they only had one flavour on offer - Mala Crispy Pork Burger. I ordered that, and seeing another interesting offer - a Grilled Chicken Sandwich, I ordered one as well.

First on the Pork Burger. The pork pattie was breaded and deepfried, and sandwiched in the bun with some lettuce, carrot and a Mala sauce. I couldn't really taste the pork, it was drowned in too much seasoning, and the Mala sauce was also not too great. Overall a disappointment.

The Grilled Chicken Sandwich - on the other hand, was really good. It was a real solid piece of chicken meat, marinated with some teriyaki sauce. Very tasty, and healthy too !

While the high end Maison Boulud lets diners take all the pictures they want, McDonald's had a no-picture policy. Go figure ! I was only able to sneak one photo.

Strangely, KFC in Beijing also had the same no-photo policy. They look the same all over the world anyway.

Beijing 2009 - Dinner at Maison Boulud

When I heard that Daniel Boulud, the famous New York Chef had opened his first overseas outpost in Beijing, I told myself I had to give it a try. I had seen Chef Daniel on TV many times, and always liked his genial and easygoing approach. He always comes across as friendly and generous, unlike some other big name chef from across the Atlantic which is more famous for his expletives. 

Expecting a table to be difficult to come by, I immediately tried to make a booking after landing in Beijing. I booked for a party of 15 persons on a Saturday night, and to my surprise it was confirmed immediately. I was even told that they will give us the conservatory – a special room reserved for bigger groups.

As the day neared I was full of anticipation. This would be my first real experience in a 4 star restaurant. Maison Boulud is located in the Legation Quarters near Tiananmen Square. It was the American Legation (sort of like and embassy) during the Qing Dynasty. The venue is a collection of Classical buildings which had been beautifully restored, with a large open square in the middle. There are several restaurants and bars within the complex, and Maison Boulud is no doubt the jewel in the crown, occupying the most prominent building.

The entrance to the complex.

The Maison Boulud building at the centre of the square.

Upon arrival we were shown to the conservatory which is a glass-walled attachment to the existing building. It was a beautiful space, as was the rest of the restaurant which was very elegant, classy yet understated. The wait staff were all elegantly dressed in black, and service was efficient and discreet. We were shown our 4 course Prix Fixed Menu, and made our choices for the entree, soup, main course and dessert. 

The Prix Fixed Menu.

Dinner started with some bread and amuse-bouche. All were excellent - I could eat tons of the bread !

There were 2 choices for each course. I chose the 12 Vegetable Ministrone Soup - which had a quail egg, orreciette pasta and basil pesto inside. It was served with a proscuitto wrapped grissini. The vegetables were Spring-fresh, but I felt the overall taste was a bit too subtle, perhaps not enough seasoning. It didn't have the explosion of flavours that I was expecting. This was not a very good start.

Some of my friends had the Pea Soup, and they liked it. 

For entree I had the Pigeon Terrine with Foie Gras, served with Pickled Cherries and Celery Salad. The Terrine was great - gamey, rich and flavourful. I wished there was more.

Some had the Katafi Crusted Salmon which they all loved. 

For the main course, I had the Speck Ham Crusted Black Cod, served with Ragout of Spring Harbingers. The black cod was perfectly cooked - the flavour was infused throughout the whole piece of fish, and every mouthful was pure delight. It was the most delicious dish of the night. 

For dessert, I had to have the Mocha Chocolate Tarte, served with Whiskey Ice Cream. Just great !

After the dessert, Petit Fours were served. Followed by the famous cotton candy which came in a huge glass jar and was cut and served at the side of the the table. No need to say, all were delicious !

The service at Maison Boulud was impeccable, and the food was really good. However, it wasn't the sublime experience which I had expected of a 4 star restaurant. Perhaps Chef Daniel need to visit more often to perk up the menu. The Prix Fix dinner cost about RMB 430, and wine pairing is an additional RMB 250.00. Not expensive by international standards.