Squeezed among the shops that line
Workers Stadium North Road, Book's Cafe opened not long
after Starbucks began colonizing Beijing. At first sight
it looks like it might be a cheesy imitation of the
predatory Seattle-based franchise. But this small and
unassuming cafe is no Starbooks; instead Book's Cafe
offers the weary urbanite a rare commodity in Beijing
As the name suggests, the cozy hideaway is ruled by
books, and the librarian's order of peace and quiet
prevails. The sun shines through its lace-curtained
windows and little seems to move or make a sound, except
the occasional cranking of the espresso machine, clicking
of Chinese chess pieces, and the leisurely whisper of
Book's Cafe serves an enticing selection of Chinese
and Western food and is attached to a small bookstore.
Nobody is going to force you to read a book while inside
the cafe, but colorful sketches of paperbacks and slogans
such as "for the love of books" decking the walls might
plant a subliminal message. Don't be surprised if you
feel magnetically pulled to one of the wooden tables
tucked away in a sunlit corner, and find yourself resting
a hardback novel on it.
The ambience is more in the tradition of the English
tearoom which, lacking the hustle and bustle of its
American relation, endeavors to create an understated,
homey environment. Perhaps most importantly, Books'
serves good coffee in large cups at reasonable prices.
The menu invites you to choose from
a pleasant selection of light nouvelle cuisine and creative
Chinese dishes. Salads include Caesar and Hawaii Chicken,
and the chef's specials include a range of pastas, baked
eggplant and fajitas. For starters, I try the Cream
of Mushroom Soup (RMB15) and then the Caesar Salad (RMB50),
both of which pass my authenticity test. The salad is
particularly impressive for its fresh lettuce, a nice
contrast to the usual wilting Beijing leaf. The pasta
in the Spaghetti Alla Pomodoro (RMB25) is palate-pleasingly
al dente. The sauce is made with a generous selection
of herbs including fresh oregano and rosemary and topped
with a generous sprinkling of real parmesan cheese.
From the selection of xiaochi (snacks) I sample a Sichuan-style
dessert of fried bananas (RMB15) which although deep
fried, is not saturated in grease and arrives in nine
easy-to-dip pieces with an orange compote sauce.
The bookstore doesn't offer much in terms of English-language
reading, but it is stocked with a range of Chinese books,
from teenage romances to Bill Gates' autobiography.
Those looking to study Chinese can read bilingual editions
of Western classics including A Christmas Carol by Charles
Dickens, and Jack London's Call of the Wild. The pages
contain both English and Chinese and with the help of
the bookstore's English/Chinese dictionary, you won't
even need a language partner to get started. For those
with higher ambitions in Chinese studies, the store
has everything from Wang Shuo's latest novel to cookBook'sand
primers for modern housewives.
If you don't want to read, there are plenty of picture
Book'slike Pulitzer Prize and World Press Photo Collection,
and the more scandalous pin-up photos of Naxi minority
dancer Namu in her tell-all autobiography. If you are
completely illiterate or simply have no desire to read,
the store also stocks cute Japanese kitsch in the form
of Hello Kitty pencil cases, erasers and coloring books.
To find the cafe, head west along Worker's Stadium North
Road (heading away from Sanlitun), past the Workers
Stadium. Book's Cafe lies two blocks east of Poly Plaza
on the north side of the street.
No. 1, Door #2, Xinzhong Avenue, Dongcheng district
(50 meters east of the Asian Hotel)
Hours: 10:30 am-2 am
Food:*** Ambience:**** Service:**
Cost: 80 RMB