Thursday, 6 September 2012

Gourmet Gem

Crouching statues greet you at TRB in the courtyard
When I lived in Beijing, I would treat myself to a gourmet meal at Maison Boulud in Qianmen.

That was high-end French dining at its best -- in China.

And the personable manager at the time was Belgian Ignace Lecleir and he seemed interested in getting to know all the guests in the room in the hopes they'd come back.

The contemporary interior is a contrast to the traditional temple
Or come to his restaurant.

Not long after my second visit to the restaurant, he'd left and didn't know where we went.

It wasn't until after I left Beijing did he open his own restaurant called TRB or Temple Restaurant Beijing nine months ago.

He said it took him a while to find the space, and when he did, he didn't know what to do with it. He created his office in here and for a few months tried to figure out what to do with it, though he did know he wanted to do contemporary European cuisine.

Sardines done two ways with avocado salad
It is an exciting and scary venture for him as he poured his money into this restaurant and has some silent partners, many of whom are regular customers.

TRB is a bit hard to find, but once you do, it's all worth the effort and more.

Following the directions on the website, it's west of the National Art Museum of Meishuguan. Keep walking west until you see an ICBC bank. When you see it, turn right onto the street and keep walking down the small street filled with hutongs and small shops until you reach a gray building that has the TRB signage on your left.

And once you walk through the threshold you discover a place with dynamic contrasts of old and new. The shell of the 600-year-old temple remains in tact while contemporary Chinese sculptures greet you in the courtyard.

King crab and fine herb raviolis with celeriac puree
To get inside the restaurant, you pass through a glass door area where the long bar is and down a corridor on the left that leads to the main dining area filled with banquettes and table seating. The floor-to-ceiling windows allow natural sunlight in and modern art graces the white-washed walls.

And that's only the interior.

I managed to sample a number of dishes on my visit here on a Monday afternoon and the three-hour lunch paired with wines was memorable.

For starters the curried cauliflower soup with whipping cream had bits of apple hidden underneath for a bit of a crunch. It was light and smooth, not too rich.

Next came a refreshing dish of sardines done two ways -- one very lightly pan-fried, the other marinated and topped with pine nuts and raisins accompanied with an avocado salad. Although a tad salty, this was pretty much a winner.

Roasted seabass with black truffles was divine
The king crab and fine herb raviolis, celeriac puree and brown butter looked pretty on the plate, but was dry despite the cream sauce, which was a pity. Also the skins were on the tough side and could have been made much thinner.

Nevertheless we were thoroughly impressed with the roasted Australian black cod topped with slices of black truffle. The fish was perfectly cooked, resulting in a tender sweet taste in each bite.

The final main course was confit of suckling pig, with courgette, aubergine, pine nuts and raisins. We loved the presentation of the pork, a generous square slice with the russet-coloured skin that made it very enticing to bite into, the meat very moist. It was a hearty dish that summed up the ingredients for autumn.

While the restaurant has a selection of over 700 wines including local and overseas, it has also sourced locally-made cheeses and imports them too.

Roasted suckling pig with pine nuts and raisins
For dessert we had a dacquoise, or layered dessert cake, shaped more like a bar with Caraibe chocolate and hazelnut caramel that went well with Tawny Port.

After our meal we were shocked to discover through Lecleir that the chef is not an expat, but Chinese national. He'd worked with Lecleir at Maison Boulud and previous to that? Morel's, a Belgian restaurant serving mostly steaks with frites, stews and mussels.

Pretty impressive.

Lecleir believes his chef has talent and the passion to cook and so he is keen to take his chef to New York to get more exposure to what's happening in the food scene there and at the same time sourcing high quality local products. Ideally Lecleir would love to have his own farm to grow his own produce, but that will be a long-term project.

Dacquoise of chocolate and hazelnut caramel for dessert
He has also put enormous faith into his staff, as he doesn't speak Mandarin (though his young children do). And so he relies on trusting them to help him with his business and so far so good.

TRB
23 Shatan Beije, off Wusi Dajie
Dongcheng district
(86 10) 8400 2232
www.temple-restaurant.com








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