Saturday, June 2, 2007

‘Remembrance of Two Favourite Restaurants – ‘Chartier’ (Paris) and ‘Family Li’s Chinese Court Dishes’ (Beijing)

These are two treasured souvenirs of long-loved eating establishments: one in Paris, where I lived in as a teenager, and the other in Beijing, where I worked a year at Beida University.

The menu of ‘Chartier’, 7 Faurbourg, Montmartre:

This restaurant was an old converted C19 library, with its card catalogues still in place in their long wooden drawers attached to the walls. And the floors covered in sawdust, to be swept up at the end of each meal sitting to clean the wooden boards.

It was the first place I had (cliché of cliché) ‘escargots’ (snails), laced with overpoweringly aromatic garlic sauce at 3.50 francs a half dozen. When the rate was four to the dollar. I was addicted to ‘cervelle de veau meuniere’ (veal brains) as the entrée. And ‘gigot d’agneau’ (lamb liver) for the main course. Accompanied by seriously rough ‘rouge de table 11°’, at 1.20 francs for a half carafe. Followed by my fav ‘fraise a la crème Chantilly’ (strawberries in cream) for desert - at a mere 2.80.

The business card of ‘Family Li’s Chinese Court Dishes’, 11 Yang Fang Hutong, De Nei Da Jie, Xi Cheng, Beijing:

The proprietor of the Li Family’s restaurant was the grand-daughter of the cook of the last Manchu Dowager Empress of China, Tz'u-hsi.

The Dowager Empress, Tz'u-hsi

Miss Li Li, grand-daughter of the cook of the last Dowager Empress of China, Tz'u-hsi

You needed to book Miss Li Li's entire establishment of around 20 places months in advance. And we all sat at one huge table. Each of the 12 courses of Chinese Court cuisine was described in terms of content and preparation prior to being laid on the table. The taste was milder and subtler than anything I'd experienced in the country.

The famous person appeared with great ceremony at the end of the meal for the photo opportunity shown above. This however was preceded by a talk from a relative who, among other things, drew our attention to some calligraphy on the wall by Pu Jei, brother of the last emperor, Pu Yi.

Pu Jei, brother of the last Emperor of China’s brother, Pu Yi

Years later, Miss Li Li made it super big time with a much grander but similar venture in the States, where she could also capitalise on her peerless connections with Qing dynastic history.

No comments:

Post a Comment