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  Beijing Scene

Beijing Scene, Volume 6, Issue 7, November 26 - December 2

French Cuisine en Chine

Bistro Le Gavroche is the next best thing to
going to Paris for the weekend
for Fifi's wedding

Enfin les mecs! Un petit restaurant Parisien has appeared on Beijing's multinational restaurant circuit. Situated just behind the not-so-French sounding Disco Agogo on the East Third Ring Road Nightclub Strip, Bistro Le Gavroche is nestled between the lively Magic Carpet Restaurant and the more sedate Wenlian Hotel. Although it is not quite the Rive Gauche, the four French owners have managed to create an authentic Gallic hideaway far from the neon lights of downtown Beijing.

This little coin de Paris has been created to resemble the genuine article, complete with black-and-white Doisneau-esque photographs, and the ubiquitous Perrier adverts which adorn the walls. Upon entering we are greeted with an enthusiastic 'Bonsoir' from our waiter and, to our surprise, offered the choice of fumer ou non fumer--as much a rarity in China as in France. Eager to practice our much neglected francais, we tried to embark on a discussion with the local waiter on the finer details of Descartian theory. Sadly however, his vocabulary didn't extend past showing us to our tables and taking our order, but he had extremely helpful demeanor and an ever-present grin. Like all the bistro waitstaff, he sported a pair of beige breeches held up by suspenders and a matching peaked cap. We were later informed that the uniforms were meant to resemble the street urchin Gavroche, from Victor Hugo's Les Miserables; and not, as we had entertained, a cockney chimney sweep in a Chinese revolutionary opera.

Le Gavroche offers a broad selection of French food and the menu is ideal for those who are eager for an evening's dining minus the chore of deciphering Chinese characters. Indeed, the menu is only available in English and French which is good news for all Gallophiles, but not so good for those unfamiliar with the Western alphabet.

We begin the meal by ordering an aperitif. I opt for a simple Kier while my companions choose the two house 'specialty' drinks, a 'Monaco' and a 'Cervoise.' The 'Monaco'--a mixture of beer, grenadine and soda--arrives bright pink and bubbling and very sweet to the taste. The 'Cervoise' in comparison--a combination of beer, white wine and lemon--is lighter in color with a dry, almost piquant flavor.

Within minutes, our appetizers follow. The 'Gravalax Salmon' (L'assiette de Saumon Marine) is fresh and flavorsome and disappointing only in that the salad that comes with it is somewhat lackluster. Similarly, the sizeable and richly flavored portion of brie that makes up the 'Warm French Brie Resting on Salad' (La Salade de Brie Chaud) is let down, only slightly, by the lack of convincingly fresh lettuce. Our third dish,'Mussels Soup with Saffron' (La Soupière de Moules au Safron), is simply delicious; creamy without being too rich and scattered with fresh mussels.

Having previously enjoyed many a fine French meal, I enter Le Gavroche with some trepidation, not knowing quite how la cuisine francaise will be prepared in Beijing. However, the head chef at Le Gavroche is a Frenchman with a track record of charming Shanghai diners before moving to the northern capital, so we wait with interest and appetite for the main course dishes. The first indication of authenticity comes with the side portion of vegetables, which, in true Gallic fashion, are cooked to perfection. The 'Veal Escalope with Ham and Cheese' (L'Escalope de Veau Cordon Bleu) arrives with a rich mushroom sauce and the beef is tender and oozing with flavor. The ample portion of the 'Grilled Thick Slice Salmon' (Le Pav?de Saumon Grill? is tender and succulent, covered in a crispy skin and complemented by a light mayonnaise sauce. The only disappointment with the meal is the 'Undercut with Shallot Sauce' (L'Onglet Sauce au Choix) which is our third dish. Although the beef is very tender, the sauce has too light a flavor and there is little doubt that if we opted for the blue cheese sauce instead, it would have been a more interesting dish.

Nevertheless, our plates are wiped clean, much to the satisfaction of our grinning waiter.

A brief respite before ordering desert allows us time for another drink. The drinks menu is large and varied with a selection of aperitifs, liqueurs, fruit juices and a substantial choice of wine ranging from a Cabarnet Sauvignon '96 at rmb120, to a bottle of Haut Médoc AOC '94 at rmb350. Having decided to indulge ourselves, but not completely, we agree to another round of draught beer, which is reasonably priced at rmb20.

A rest and a drink later we feel ready to tackle the dessert menu. A beautifully presented 'Fondant of White Chocolate and Toffee sauce' (Le Fondant Ivoire & Sauce Toffée) is first to the table. A serving of white chocolate mousse surrounded by thin chocolate crisps and covered lightly in a caramel sauce, this dish is nothing short of excellence. Light, textured and rich, but without being too sweet. The 'Apple Pie with Ice Cream' (La Tarte Tatin) is a truly authentic tarte tatin, reminiscent of ones enjoyed in similar establishments in Europe. The 'Floating Island in Light Custard' (L'Ile Flottante) is the third dessert we sample and is perfect for those in need of a sugar fix. Yet unless you are a sickly sweet meringue fan, I would suggest trying one of the other deserts offered. The meal ends with the perfect espresso.

Bistro Le Gavroche is certainly worth a trip, especially if you are in need of good French cuisine. The environment is inviting and comfortable although the lighting is a bit too bright and there are times when you feel you may be sitting in a railway station waiting room. Nevertheless, you never feel as if you are being hurried and we indulged in a good couple of hours of all things French before we were ready to leave. The service is quick, efficient and friendly and the food exemplary. Eh oui, bon appetit!

Bistro Le Gavroche
Wenlian Hotel, No. 10 Nanli, Nongzhanguan Nan Road, Chaoyang District Bistro Le Gavroche is situated just behind Disco Agogo on the East Third Ring Road.
Tel: 6595-8380
Hours: 10 am-12 midnight
Food: **** Ambience: ** Service: **** Cost: $$$


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