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  Beijing Scene




Flavors of Africa

Heading to a Beijing restaurant and expecting decent African-French food is like going to some chop suey joint in an American stripmall and expecting great Peking duck.

So many restaurants in Beijing claim to serve international cuisine, ranging from Mexican to Middle Eastern to Russian. But on the whole, no matter what foreign-sounding dish you pick you often end up with something that looks and tastes like stir-fried rice.

I was therefore skeptical when I was told that the Friends Live Club had a great Moroccan couscous and even more prepared for letdown once I walked in. Surrounded by bright pink walls and orange tartan-covered tables, the place, located on the ground floor of the Huadu Hotel, resembles a karaoke lounge. The decor consists of plastic palm trees framing the entrance and an eclectic mix of traditional and modern Chinese kitsch. Little did I know I was about to experience one of the best meals I have had in Beijing since I moved here a year ago. The menu offers a wide selection of typical Western fare and African dishes.

We quickly skim over the pages of Club Sandwiches and Cheeseburgers and move onto the Afro-French section. The chef, a Tunisian native, creates everything with ingredients imported from across Africa. We start with appetizers, including Chobra Frik, a tangy tomato soup with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. Next comes Brik, a fusion of an Indian samosa and Mexican quesadilla minus the grease and covered in a spicy tomato-based sauce. A Plain Ojja and an Ojja Bnadek arrive next and are quickly devoured. The Ojja, spicy, hot and light, is similar to an omelette or Tex-Mex huevos rancheros.

The Friends Live Club is owned by Chinese rock star Zang Tiansuo (Cui Jian's former keyboard player), famous for his 1980s hit song Friends(hence the restaurant name). The restaurant includes DJ booths and a well-equipped stage complete with fog machine. Live performances are held throughout the week. Not long after the empty appetizer plates have been cleared away a jazz band takes center stage.

A brief respite between courses allows us time to sample the home-brewed beer which comes in either Yellow or Black. Unfortunately the Black wasn't ready so we had the Yellow, which was light and refreshing with a fruity twist to it. Other drinks include non-alcoholic and funky alcoholic drinks such as an Atomic Green and Electric Ice Tea. For the main course we first sample some Mosli roast lamb on a bed of spicy potatoes. Although the meat is a bit fatty, as lamb often is, it melts in the mouth and oozes with flavor. The Baked Spicy Fish is a huge hit, tender fillets of salmon smothered in spices and baby corn. While the Asopao Venezuelan is not a traditional African dish, it is well worth a try. It is similar to Spanish paella, but far more piquant.

The last dishes to arrive are soon voted the evening's best, particularly the Green Rice Djerbera combo of beef, chickpeas, basil and a hint of mint. Both the Chicken Couscous and Mutton Couscous are true to form. The meats are cooked to perfection and the portions generous. My favorite offering is Garlic Chicken. Cooked in a light garlic sauce, it is amazingly tender. If you have an olive fetish like me, this dish, chock-full of fresh green and black olives, is for you.
Several pints of Yellow beer later we slip into a more mellow vibe and order coffee all around, letting the rich aroma of roasted African beans and jazzy tunes lull us into another world.

Restaurant Guide


Beijing's Best Brunches

Arisu Korean Restaurant

Sipping and Swinging
Taiwanese Tea-Shake

Book's Cafe

French Cuisine en Chine

Green Tianshi Vegetarian Restaurant

Smoothly Sweet
T-Bone at St. Mark's Steakhouse

Imperial City Old Mom Chafing Dish

Celestial Court

Red Capital Club

The Blue Lotus

Club Vogue

Le Beccassine

Triumphal Arch

Hotline 1950

Timbuktu

Coffee and Books at Sculpting in Time

Rotary Sushi

Jintaiyuan Restaurant

The Mother of All Theme Restaurants

Waterside Cafe

Sushiya

Tian Gen Yuan Authentic
Beijing Restaurant

La Place

Havana Cafe

Alamuhan Authentic Xinjiang Cuisine

Scandanavian Food

Real Spring Rolls
Real Beijing Food