The Loop (map) is one of those places with the potential to be everything from the hottest hidden spot in town to just another player in the background. I am hoping for the latter and am happy at how the stars are aligning. I like the design: the orange bricks, cement floors and wood trim that to me say Beijing, the tight arrangement of bar, booths, table seating and open space, and the mix of videos beamed on the wall and the music of BB Deng. It has great potential as an event space. But The Loop has thus far faced some issues in terms of food and drink. This is where good things are happening.
The eats: Previously inconsistent and at times poor, the food has seen a major upgrade since Weiley Lu joined the team. Known best for his work at Lugar and e.a.t., Lu has put together a small but good menu he says will gradually expand. I tried the steak yesterday: a perfectly cooked 200-gram cut with vegetables and herb rice for RMB58. That’s hard to beat and Lu says he aims to offer Sanlitun quality at a price that allows people to take a taxi from there to The Loop and back – and still come out ahead. (By the way, you can switch the rice for mashed potatoes or mashed sweet potatoes.) I also tried the tasty fried pork cube with balsamic and fresh mint (RMB36 for six pieces) that Lu says is a riff on Nobu. The rest of the menu includes pastas from RMB28, snacks such as fried potato wedges, fried jalapenos, and chicken wings from RMB24, and mains such as salmon steak at RMB58. It looks like the food issue is solved.
The drinks: Those Lafite- and Latour-looking wines were an issue because at least for me they raised concerns about the legitimacy of the booze. Lu is now putting together a wine list that — given the candidates I have seen — should offer both quality and value. Even better, as he did at Lugar, Lu is getting creative with the drinks. There are fifteen house cocktails, each named after a movie, including Roman Holiday, Norwegian Wood and Desperado. The intriguing If You Are the One combines Maotai, Triple Sec, and citrus, and rivals The Jing Fling at Mao Mao Chong as the best cocktail made with Chinese spirits. Mixed drinks are RMB30 and include a ~50ml pour while the beer list covers six bottle options, including Tsingtao (RMB15), Hoegaarden (RMB30), and Dead Guy Ale (RMB45). Look for Lu to also put together a strong collection of rums and Bourbons.
The Loop is not the easiest place to find, and it does feel a bit cold and could benefit from an outgoing staff member of two, but the food and drink upgrade, the good service I experienced yesterday, and the relaxed vibe and excellent music bode well, and I could see this spot becoming one of my favorites.