The Sanlitun burger battle: The Rickshaw fights back

The Rickshaw has joined the Sanlitun burger battle in what is a shining example of how quickly the scene has changed this year. In the past three months, we have witnessed new places such as Blue Frog (RMB75), Union Bar & Grill (RMB86), and Let’s Burger (RMB68) push up burger and fries prices, other newcomers such as Luga’s Villa (RMB35) take the budget route, and longer-term spots such as The Den and The Rickshaw dig in as things suddenly became very competitive.

The Rickshaw, which annoyed some regulars during the Olympics with a 15-percent surcharge that has since been rescinded, is upping its game. It has introduced three burgers and a sandwich, all priced at RMB55 and including thick-cut fries. Nick Ma gave me a taste test of the quartet on Sunday.

The two beef burgers include The Americano, which Ma says is made with local organic meat and served on a poppy seed bun, and the Oz, a “classic Australian burger.” The latter includes a flame-broiled bun, cheddar cheese, and sliced canned beetroot topped with a hamburger patty topped with a pineapple ring cooked together with egg topped with bacon, lettuce and tomato. As the toppings indicate, the portion is substantial.

The Steak Rambo Sambo is a steak sandwich served with rocket lettuce on sour dough bread, while The China Special is chicken breast marinated in spices, and topped with sautéed onions, green peppers, and gong bao chicken sauce. Ma says crushed peanuts are embedded in the chicken before flame-broiling.

So, how do they taste? Here are my rankings:

  1. Oz burger: Besides including the “bacon factor”, the pineapple, egg, tomato et al make for an interesting blend of flavors and textures, though I found the bun too sweet (I suggest keeping the poppy seeds and reducing the sugar).
  2. China Special: The chicken is tender and juicy, and the spices leave a nice tingly aftertaste.
  3. Steak sandwich: Sour dough bread, mmm, though a bit higher meat-to-bun ration would be nice.
  4. Americano burger: For a stripped-down burger such as this, the bun is simply too sweet.

By the way, The Rickshaw has added new wing flavors, though the medium Buffalo style and others will remain. They include apple vinegar, cream cheese and tomato, maple syrup and chili, and Brandy Dijon.

Finally, here are a few pictures courtesy of my K-Touch, which is most excellent as a phone and most frustrating as a camera. Just imagine these burgers look about twice as good as the photos.

The Rickshaw Americano Burger
The Americano Burger
The Oz Burger
The Rickshaw Oz Burger

Drop the needle: Acupuncture marks first anniversary tonight

Here’s a shout out for the first anniversary party of Acupuncture Records tonight at Star Live, even though promoter / Acupuncturess Miao Wong refused to allow my friend DJ Diaper to perform.*

Tickets are RMB70 ahead of time and RMB100 at the door (see details here). Given that 230 people have confirmed attendance on Facebook alone, this looks to be a major bash. Expect about a DJ per hour, from 9 PM to 5 PM, with the following lineup:

09 PM – DJ Xiao Feng
10 PM – DJ Pancake Lee
11 PM – DJ Elvis T. and Terry Tu
12 AM – DJ Huang Weiwei
01 AM – DJ Weng Weng
03 AM – DJ XLF
04 AM – DJ Gao Hu
05 AM – DJ Diaper

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* He rose to fame during the “Damp and Nasty” tour with his 24-hour sets sans toilet breaks. True story. Or it might have been a weird dream after one too many Absinthe martinis. It’s your call, but even without DJ Diaper, tonight’s party should be a good one.

(Image: Acupuncture Records)

Belgian brew: Fredrik Janson on Stella, Chimay, and more

Morel’s, The Tree, Beer Mania, Paddy O’Shea’s, The Den, The Rickshaw, Saddle, Tun – there is no shortage of Belgian beer in this burg, especially when you count places that pour Stella and Hoegaarden. I drafted a few questions for the man who helps distribute this beer – Fredrik Janson, brand manager for Vandergeeten Beijing.

I can find a bigger selection of Belgian beers in Beijing than beers from any other country. Why is that?

Belgium is a country with a strong beer culture. Not many countries in the world can offer such a variety of beer. At the moment, over 450 different beers are being brewed in Belgium, and I think that is why people love them – there is a brand for everybody. In Beijing we are offering around 30 different kinds of Belgian beers which can be tried at various venues across town. Our most popular Belgian beers are Stella Artois, Hoegaarden, Leffe, Chimay, and Lindemans.

That ice-covered beer tap at The Saddle Cantina makes a big difference with the draft. What’s the history behind that tap and how many are there in Beijing?

At the moment there is only one ice-tap in Beijing serving Stella Artois and Hoegaarden. We are working on setting up some more installations which you will be able to find in bars around town soon.

Stella seems to be increasingly popular in Beijing. How have sales developed?

You are correct, the number of bars and restaurants serving Stella Artois have increased during this year. I think that one of the reasons why Stella Artois is doing well is that the customers always know what to expect as we import all Stella Artois sold here from the brewery in Leuven, Belgium.

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Your company has sponsored a lot of events over the past year. What have been some of the highlights?

We have had great cooperation with The Beijinger and their Restaurant Awards and Bars & Clubs Awards parties. We also had the opportunity to sponsor some charity events after the Sichuan earthquake. You and all other beer drinkers will see more and more of Stella Artois in Beijing.

Stella Artois is doing a lot of work on quality assurance, from brewing to pouring. For example, this year China will for the first time enter the World Draught Master, a competition held in the hometown of Stella Artois – Leuven, Belgium. At the pre-competition, held in Shanghai on September 24, the best bartenders from Beijing and Shanghai competed to represent China. In Belgium, competitors from all over the world compete by pouring and serving Stella Artois and Hoegaarden from the tap and Leffe from the bottle.

When you want to relax, what beers do you drink, and when you want to have wine or cocktails instead of beer, where do you go?

I have had the pleasure to try quite a few Belgian beers and I prefer to drink a beer with more flavor when I relax after work, for example, a Leffe Brown. Apart from beers, I also enjoy red wine. Since I spend much of my time in bars and restaurants working, I prefer enjoying to be at home with my wife. If I am up for a well-made cocktail, I like to go to Q Bar.

1/5, Mesh, Tun: Over-service, two-for-one, Hendrix

After checking out the China Open on Thursday, p3wong and I headed to Sanlitun for some post-match libations. A quick summary:

1/5 bar (1949: The Hidden City)

If spots like 1949 and Union Bar & Grill are determined to provide overly keen and aggressive service, then patrons should receive, free of charge, the same drugs taken by the seemingly hopped-up employees. Seriously, there is a fine line between being helpful and annoying, and a growing number of places in this town are leaping across it and into the latter territory.

Take 1/5: As we looked for a seat, the waitress practically ploughed into us while energetically making hand gestures at this or that spot to indicate the obvious – they were empty.* Several requests for her to relax brought temporary relief – until we sat down, at which point she returned and stood about a foot behind us as we perused the menu. Several additional requests for space and to “please give us a few minutes” finally encouraged her to stand about two meters away.

I don’t doubt the staff friendliness, but who is doing training here: Richard Simmons? Are employees timed on how fast they take orders, with severe penalties for those who can’t secure one in under 10 seconds?

This is not to say 1/5 lacks positives. The design, décor, and “check him/her out” vibe (at least on this night) make it a decent place to entertain business clients and/or for the expense account crowd to relax after eating at the associated Duck de Chine or 1/5 Taverna. Actually, the place reminds me of a smaller classier Browns.

The bar includes a small but sedate patio (though it faces that huge KTV across the street). If you like eighties music – The Bangles, Yes, Human League – this was your night. And we received plenty of free popcorn. p3wong also liked the coasters, which include space for name, phone number, and message, and presumably can be sent between tables.

The downsides include the limited menu. The beer choices are Sol, Chill, Carlsberg, and Guinness, while only five wines are listed (the one I requested was unavailable). I imagine persistence might get access to the superior wine menu at Duck de Chine.

As for the cocktails, they didn’t live up to their prices. My Martini (RMB49) tasted like vodka cut with chilled water, while P3wong said her Bloody Mary (RMB59) lacked celery salt and needed more Worchester sauce, Tabasco, vodka, and… tomato juice. The drink simply had too much ice and, ultimately, water.

* Something similar happened when I recently entered Union and the host, finding himself behind me and unable to point out a hundred places I might sit, nearly tripped me as he pushed by to get in front.

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Mesh (The Opposite House)

We started the night at Mesh, where Thursday features a buy one get one free deal on a limited range of cocktails and beers from 7 to 11 PM. Drinks start from RMB60 plus RMB15 percent service charge, which converts to RMB69 and up. The chic decor continues to impress; the dim lighting continues to mean flashlights are needed to see the menu.

I found the cocktails weaker than on previous visits. p3wong called her Cosmopolitan (RMB69) “average” and said she preferred the Mojito (RMB69). I found the Aperol & Mandarin Sour (RMB80.5) and Passion Fruit & Lychee Martini (RMB80.5) OK, though light.

While some confusion occurred as to whether single malts are covered by the special (they aren’t), the staff was friendly, especially the bartender who explained some of the more unusual cocktails on the menu.

Tun (Sanlitun South)

We ended the night at Tun, as I wanted to check out the band and to see if the snappy Italian joint next door was ready to open. As mentioned earlier, I love the layout of this place, though the men’s bathroom is a bit dodgy and the food could use work. Anyway, it’s a nice spot to see a band and have a couple of Tiger beers (RMB15), especially when the guitarist’s hands are so quick and deft that they almost look like they are smoking as he plays Let Me Stand Next to Your Fire.

Top five watering holes: Badr Benjelloun

Part six of a series on where Beijing residents enjoy a beverage (or two). This round is with entrepreneur, IT specialist, and former full-time bartender Badr Benjelloun.

“Beijing has changed a lot over the past few months and the Olympics have left a scar on the face of the city’s drinking establishments. However, some bars / restaurants have managed to consistently get my patronage.

1. Salud: I’ve been going there over the past few months quite consistently. I love the atmosphere, the homemade rum, and the mix of locals and expats. It’s a bit of a pain to get there from my area but completely worth it. Add the great environment in Nanluoguxiang, with the hutongs and the locals, and you get a great experience!

2. The Rickshaw: Yes, they have a few service problems but overall that’s been the place that got most of my drinking moolah the past few years. I know almost everyone in there and it makes it comfortable. It’s my local basically! The grub is nice and they still make great quesadillas and serve one hell of a stiff drink. The owner, Kris, has been around for a while in the Beijing scene and deserves a lot of credit. The current manager, Andy, bends backwards to make sure everyone is happy.

3. Peter’s Tex Mex: A bit weird to include this one in my list of watering holes, but when I want good value, this is where I go. Best Tex-Mex in Beijing bar none and they have a great selection of wines at prices slightly above supermarket rates. The staff is friendly, the place is clean, and it’s a nice quiet hideaway.

4. Wain Wain: One of the city’s best-kept secrets. Hard to beat for a little mid-week beverage overlooking the city lights in a cosy environment. They have practically doubled their prices for the Olympics but still run some pretty good specials.

5. Kokomo and Q Bar: These two are tied because they are the only two places to make a decent Mai Tai which is one of my two favorite drinks. Kokomo even offers two varieties, an authentic one and a Hawaii Mai Tai. Q makes a hybrid Mai Tai that just rocks and had they managed to keep their patio opened longer, they would be in sole possession.

Posthumous mention: Maggie’s. Spare me the jokes here! Despite the shady nature of the establishment, they offered a great mix of atmosphere and DJing night in and night out! The cocktails were solid and affordable when compared to some of these new places opening left and right.

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Previously:
Elisabeth Tchoudjinoff & Katrina Arndt, designers
Paul Adkins, entrepreneur
Chandler Jurinka, Local Noodles
Kevin Shen
, T3 Terminal
Steven Schwankert, SinoScuba