Must tries: Jade Gray of Gung Ho Pizza

This is part fourteen in the Must Tries Series that asks people in the Beijing bar, restaurant, and wine business to give us their recommendations. This time up: Jade Gray of Gung Ho! Gourmet Pizza Factory.

Jady Gray (right) and partner John O'Loghlen

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What is the “must try” pizza at Gung Ho?

To me the pizza that best represents what Gung Ho Pizza is all about would be the Chicken/Camembert on Whole Wheat crust. Premium ingredients, innovative toppings, stellar taste. The kicker to this killer combination is the macerated black currents that we throw on top, giving it a savory/sour punch that totally works. Most people read it on the menu and are a little skeptical, but once I twist their arm to try it, they are sold for good and don’t want to try anything but. Definitely works best on the whole wheat crust, as do most of our flavors. We use an organic wholewheat flour sourced from Heilongjiang that brings something special to the palate. It’s no wonder our wholewheat outsells our white crust. (RMB65 for medium, RMB95 for large)

What is the “most try” non-pizza item at Gung Ho?

Difficult to say as we have a new menu coming out after Chinese New Year with a heap of fresh goodness. On the current menu I would have to say our Greek Salad. Obviously it’s a staple on any menu, but ask anyone who has tried it and they’ll swear it’s one of the best in Beijing. We don’t cut corners on any of our salad ingredients as illustrated by the liberal servings of imported kalamata olives and feta cheese that we source from Greece. The flat parsley that we use adds a whole new angle to this Mediterranean classic, and even though we are known for our gourmet pizza it’s the noise that we are making with our salads that has taken us by surprise. (RMB30 medium, RMB50 large)

What are three “must try” items at other venues in Beijing?

1. Switch! (798) Sichaun Cosmo… just be sure to ask the bartender to keep the spice down!

2. Any entrée at Sureno.

3. Lush’s Deluxe Burger: Totally hits the spot after a night on the town… but I guess owning the place makes me a little bias!

Flipping out: Time Out ranks 20 Beijing pizzas

Time Out magazine takes on a topic this month about which most people I know have strong opinions: What is the best pizza in Beijing? I’ve seen people flip out every time The Tree wins for “best pizza” at The Beijinger awards; heated debate about whether the pies at La Pizza (or Kro’s Nest or Hutong Pizza or wherever) are good or not, and inspired discussions about crusts, sauces, and toppings. Here is how Time Out ranked twenty pizzas:

  1. La Pizza
  2. Hutong Pizza
  3. Sureno
  4. The Tree
  5. Mao Mao Chong
  6. Gung Ho!
  7. Meeting Point
  8. Vineyard Café
  9. Kro’s Nest
  10. Tavola
  11. Annie’s
  12. O Sole Mio
  13. The Den
  14. Abella
  15. Pyro Pizza
  16. Danger Doyle’s
  17. Bang! Bang! Pizza
  18. Tube Station Pizza
  19. All-Star Sports Bar
  20. Pizza Buona

By and large, I can see the rationale behind these rankings, particularly those in the top ten. But they do inspire a few thoughts…

  • Time Out should have included Origus in its survey. Just so they could rank it number 50 out of 20.
  • The magazine is going to get complaints from fans of other pizza places, from Passby Bar to Nasca to L’Isola: one acquaintance swears by the pizza at the latter.
  • They missed half the point about The Den. Yes, it provides late night pizza but it also has a daily half-price pizza deal. Where else can you get a decent four cheese pizza for RMB30.
  • The thing about Pizza Buona is that I know chefs who love it. In fact, the chef at the former Louisiana restaurant in the Hilton first introduced it to me and I know other chefs who order it. I’m not saying that alone means it is the best, but last place? Though to be honest, I only like the pepperoni pizza from this place.
  • If you get the lunch special at Sureno, you can include the pizza. That turns a pricey pie into a good deal.
  • Does Nearby the Tree have a pizza oven? I did not know that…

Sips & bites: Refresh’s happy hour, Flamme’s new bar, Fubar’s higher prices, plus George’s, Union, 1F

Notes from visits around Sanlitun and Workers Stadium. I’ll have a separate post on a pair of trips to Shuangjing…

Refresh: My 10 percent discount card is seeing lots of action given I like the coffee / rocket fuel at this place. Refresh also has a “happy hour” from 8 PM to 9 PM, Sunday through Thursday, and from 9 PM to 10 PM, Friday and Saturday. The deal: all remaining eats on display, including salads, wraps, and sandwiches, are sold at half price.

Flamme: The new bar is open although it took a Keystone Contractors double feature on Friday to get the glass washer installed. This unit comes with a sturdy foot rest, coat hooks beneath the lip, and more space in back for Paul Mathew and team to make cocktails. (Speaking of which, get a free one by bringing the coupon on page 33—top right corner—of this month’s The Beijinger.) On the burger front, I’ve tried a handful of the options on the relatively new Jeff Powell menu and my favorites are the Buena Vista and the Firehouse, the latter good for those who prefer a moderate amount of spiciness.

Fubar: Popped in three times last week. This place was as busy—and smoky—as ever, as the pool of people who get giddy showing their friends the sliding door seems endless. Compared to a year ago, Fubar is much nicer, with the elimination of that huge wall light and the addition of the L-shaped balcony above the bar. It is also increasingly expensive: this week soft drinks went up by RMB10 and mixed drinks by RMB5 although that Hendrick’s GT and the cocktails still offer decent value. There is word of a two-for-one happy hour on the horizon. (There is also word of a show by blues act Black Cat Bone. Sounds like a perfect fit for this place.)

George’s: A young lass accosted me on Friday night to emphatically declare George’s the best bar in Beijing. The key factor, said she, was the bar staff: “These are the hottest guys in town. Just look at them.” Alack and alas, I was too busy perusing the beverage list. The new additions include a smooth Butterscotch Martini. Owner George Zhou, who gives the bar staff Mondays off and makes all drinks himself, says the Lemon Ginger Martini is particularly popular while many of my acquaintances like the Mango Mash. As always, I’ll throw a nod at the Alfonso Special.

Union: I dropped by at 10 PM on Friday and found the place heaving, with four parties under way. Actually, Union seems to be busy every night. Note: the Reuben Tuesday deal—sandwich with fries and slaw for RMB50—is done like last year. You’ll have to buck up and pay RMB72. Note II: I use to regularly write about the poor service at Union: not getting utensils half the time, screw ups with the orders and bills, Toaster-gate and Coffee-gate, and so on. No longer: For the better part of a year, such problems have been few and far between, and the service ranks among the most improved in the city.

1F: Led by friendly and efficient manager Jack Zhou, a diverse clientele, and a good selection of beers and spirits, this place ranks among the city’s success stories of the past year. Yes, it is tough to get around when the place is crowded and the toilets could use an upgrade, but you know you are doing something right when people who work in other bars consistently frequent your place. 1F will be open on Chinese New Year’s Eve, with DJ Phil at the turntables…

Pub patrol:

Flamme: The new bar opened Friday though it involved a Keystone Contractors double feature as the glass washer was installed. This unit is longer and straighter, with a sturdy foot rest and coat hooks beneath the lip, It also provides the staff more space for making cocktails: get a free one by bringing in the coupon on page 33—top right corner—of this month’s or last month’s The Beijinger. On the burger front, thumbs up for the Buena Vista and the Firehouse, the latter ideal for those who want a moderate amount of spiciness.

Union: I dropped in at 10 PM on Friday and found the place heaving, with four under way. Actually, this place is pretty much packed every night. Note: the Reuben Tuesday deal—sandwich with fries and slaw for RMB50—is done like last year. You’ll have to buck up and pay RMB72. Note II: I use to regularly write about the dodgy service at Union: not getting utensils half the time, screw ups with the orders and bills, Coffee Gate and Toaster Gate, and so on. No longer: For the better part of a year, the service has improved by magnitudes.

1F: Led by friendly and efficient manager Jack Zhou, a diverse clientele, and a good selection of beers and spirits, this place ranks among the city’s success stories of the past year. Yes, the layout makes it awkward to get around when the place is crowded and the toilets are a bit dodgy, but when you know a place is doing something right when you consistently see people who work in other bars frequenting the place. Note: This place will be open on Chinese New Year’s Eve, with DJ Phil at the turntables.

Refresh: Continues to serve up good coffee / rocket fuel

Jingkelong: Hyper aggressive drug dealers. I’ve written about these guys before. The basic strategy: As you pass, a guy will say, “Hey, man, what’s up?” If you respond, he’ll try to engage you in a conversation and sell you drugs. If you don’t, he’ll act like you’re rude or a racist or something, and shout, “Hey, man, I said, what’s up1?” I had one guy get right in my face, and I almost though he was going to push me, a few days ago. I don’t understand why the Beijing authorities allow this to continue… Plus the lady bar touts outside Refresh!… and the dealers outside the Bookworm…I actually stopped going to Bookworm at night because I got tired of dealing with these guys…

Nearby the Tree: Another packed venue. Not a seat at the bar or at any of the tables, save for a single on in the far back corner.

The Den: This place deserves a place in Beijing pub grub history for consistency and value. The pizzas (try the four cheese) and fries… I don’t care what the naysayers say, or is that naysay? This place serves up some of the city’s best pub grub. Given a price tag of RMB35, the burger is a good value, with the fries being the highlight. I had the nasi goreng, which is a decent plate…

Fubar: Popped in three times last week. This place is as busy—and smoky—as ever, as the pool of people who get giddy showing their friends the sliding door and the Buddha-shaped glasses seems endless, Fubar is also now more expensive: Soft drinks are up RMB10 and mixed drinks by RMB5 although there is word of a two-for-one happy hour on the horizon. There are also rumblings of a show by blues group Black Cat Bone.

George’s: A young wisp of a lassie accosted me on Friday to emphatically declare this the best bar in Beijing. A key factor, said she: “the hot bartenders”. She added, “These are the hottest guys in town. Just look at them.” Alack and alas, I was too busy looking at the beverage list. The new additions include a butterscotch martini that is smooth and round. Owner George Zhou says the Lemon Ginger Martini is particularly popular here, while many of my acquaintances like the Mango Mash and the Passion fruit Mojito. As always, I’ll throw my two RMB in for the Alfonso Special.

The Loop: I have been to The Loop a half-dozen times but also in the afternoon when the place had a handful of patrons at best. Finally, last night, I caught it full. Manager and DJ BB Deng… I like this as a wireless stop, too, mainly because of the comfy seats and the excellent music, though I think the food needs some work.

The Brick: Two Russian guys were doing vapors and… I don’t get it. King cans of PBR remain RMB10 during happy hour (5 PM to 8 PM) and RMB20 thereafter. With mixed drinks at RMB… Of all the bars in Shuangjing, The Brick is my favorite… The clever two-level design, the brick walls…

Grinders: Just as I don’t… Basically, watching MMA… no one on staff seemed to notice the music was off… This place is more of an afternoon spot: get a sandwich and soup combo, and settle down with the bottomless coffee… it’s kind of like a big version of Lily’s American Dinner a few doors down…. If The Brick has the best

Must tries: Olav Bauer, Zach Lewison, Marty Handley of Kro’s Nest

This is part thirteen in the Must Tries Series that asks people in the Beijing bar, restaurant, and wine business to give us their recommendations. This time up: Kro’s Nest owner Olav Kristoffer Bauer a.k.a. “Kro” and the F&B team Zach Lewison and Marty Handley.

Zach Lewison, Olaf Kristoffer Bauer, Marty Handley

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What is the “must try” food at Kro’s Nest?

Handley: Pardon the Pesto pizza (medium RMB120, large RMB155).  Pesto sauce, smoked duck, mushrooms, and spinach. Great way to have duck on a pizza without making it. Has a Beijing focus like everyone else is doing these days.

Bauer: Rocky Road Rice Krispy Pie (RMB45). Desserts are a new thing for us and this one is awesome. Sometimes one or two go missing. Trust me, I know where they went.

Lewison: Fried artichokes (RMB38). There is something about fried food that is salty, sour, and crispy. Best app we have.

What is the “must try” drink at Kro’s Nest?

Handley: Beach Baby Bushwhacker (RMB50).  Rum, Kahlua, and chocolate sauce. Since Zach and I are both from coastal cities in Florida, this is a homage to our state.

Bauer: The Flaming Kro (RMB50).  Beer, Amaretto, and 151 rum. This is our house drink. It’s a spin off of The Flaming Moe from The Simpsons, except ours is better and won’t burn our bar down… I hope.

Lewison: Root beer float (RMB25). A&W root beer with ice cream: takes me back to when I was little Zach, spending summers playing baseball and not having to worry about running kitchens in Beijing.

What are your “must try” foods and drinks at other venues?

Drinks…

Handley: Big bottles of Yanjing! Nothing connects you better to Beijing than drinking these on the busy streets and watching the city pass you by.

Bauer: Tap water, my house.  I work every day all day, so having a glass of water at my house is always going to be my go to drink.

Lewison: Gin and tonic at Fubar. I use to hate gin and tonic, Chad [Lager] changed me on this. I will never drink one outside of Fubar unless Chad is there by chance and makes it. That’s how devoted I am to it.

Foods…

Handley: New York strip with mushroom sauce at Chef Too. Billy [Bolton] knows his steak, and this is a simple dish made perfect. Can’t beat it.

Bauer: The falafel from Dareen coffeeKarim [Aljaddi] has the best in town: he sells me coffee, so with every order I try to work in a falafel.

Lewison: Hot dog at No More Bunz. I moved from Dongzhimen to Lido last year and the only thing I regret is not being able to walk to work and stop by for the American hot dog.

Must tries: Tobias Demker of Purple Haze

This is part twelve in the Must Tries Series that asks people in the Beijing bar, restaurant, and wine business to give us their recommendations. This time up: Tobias “Tobi” Demker, owner of Purple Haze and Purple Haze Bistro, and bassist for local acts Bad Mamasan and Black Cat Bone.

A little bit curry, a little bit rock and roll.

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What is the “must try” food at Purple Haze?

The pan-fried crab cakes with mango salsa. It’s only served at Purple Haze Courtyard, but it’s a really good appetizer.

What is the “must try” drink at Purple Haze?

Vanilla Summer, a simple drink using vanilla vodka, apple juice and ginger Ale. Simple but good.

What are three “must tries” from other places in Beijing?

For Chinese food, 小炒牛肉 (quickly fried beef) at 相西土菜 (called Hot & Spicy Bar in English). This is a Hunan restaurant in the compound where I live. It serves this really spicy beef dish. In fact, it’s so spicy I can’t have it too often.

For Western food: I don’t know if they serve it at their new location but the suckling pig with cumin cream foam at Agua was to die for. Really tender with amazing flavors.

For drinks, I usually have wine or beer, but I had a really good martini at one of the Japanese joints. Might have been Ichikura. A martini mixed with pepper vodka, Tabasco and olives. Really good with some extra olives on the side. Obviously a lot of spice to this drink, so you might not want to have too many on one night.