Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Memories of Maison Boulud

Daniel Boulud opened Maison Boulud at the SE corner of Tiananmen Square
When I first arrived in Beijing there was a lot of buzz about celebrity chef Daniel Boulud opening a restaurant on the south east corner of Tiananmen Square in time for the Olympics in 2008.

First walking into the Chi'en Men 23 compound was an interesting discovery, seeing these European-style mini mansions facing a square pond in the middle, with Maison Boulud being the most majestic one of course.

It was previously the American consulate and the chef/restaurateur did a fantastic job with the place, the large foyer with a chandelier and two white columns leading up to a white staircase, while there was wood panelling on the walls, a bookcase and by the door a side table with pictures of Boulud with American President Barack Obama and his family.

The restaurant was located in the Legation Quarter
On the right was the dining area, a large, high-ceiling area that must have held many cocktail and dinner parties. The place was transformed into a very sophisticated dining room that would have been at home in New York, with a large black and white print on the wall, as well as large mirrors on other walls, and one side looking out into a small garden space. There was banquette seating all around the room, very orderly and clean lines.

I fondly remember brunches here because they were very good value. The strategy was to order two courses, an appetizer and a main, because throughout the meal there were baked goods presented in a basket that was replenished constantly, followed by freshly baked Madeleines and then petit fours.

It was so decadent to eat gourmet in a beautiful setting and have impeccable service -- in Beijing. The first manager was Ignace Lecleir, a well-built suave Belgian who spoke to all the guests and you felt so special you already looked forward to your next visit.

The decor was sleek, chic and sophisticated -- new for Beijing
Whenever visitors came to the Chinese capital I made a point of taking them to Maison Boulud and after I left Beijing I always recommended it to people to try.

I splurged on two dinners there, one for Christmas, another for my then boyfriend's birthday. He was so thrilled to be there that he wanted us to eat the degustation menu. Needless to say I had to be rolled out of there afterwards I was so full. But it was lots of fun.

My last time there was last September when I took a local friend there for brunch. She had hardly eaten gourmet western food before so everything was new to her but she was game and tried everything put in front of her. It was neat watching her sample foods she'd never had before.

Then this past September I had the privilege of meeting Monsieur Boulud himself in Hong Kong where he presented a special dinner at Amber in the Landmark Mandarin Oriental.

The beef tartare dish at Maison Boulud
I told the affable Frenchman that I had tried Daniel in New York, the short-lived DB Bistro in Vancouver, and that I had lived in Beijing and Maison Boulud was one of my favourite restaurants there. I gushed about the decor, the food, the service... and he seemed happy to hear that.

But now I hear that Maison Boulud in Beijing will close on December 8 because of a hike in the rent, according to the executive chef, Brian Reimer.

This is the statement from the restaurant:

To The Patrons of Maison Boulud  

Allow us to thank you for the past five years and allowing us to share with you all our joy of cooking and hospitality.
Only  through you all have we have been able to experience Beijing and bring the style of Daniel Boulud to the nation's capital.

With our partner we had a very difficult decision to make about Maison Boulud and did so with much restraint. It has been and shall continue to be exciting to watch the changes of Beijing along with China as a whole. The coming months will bring many exciting new projects to our company and we look forward to sharing them with you all very soon.....

Maison Boulud a Pekin

Meeting the man himself at Amber in Hong Kong
Reimer said the decision to close was not made suddenly, as it had been under discussion for the past six months. However he says the restaurant will reappear in another incarnation somewhere in Beijing, probably something more casual.

In the meantime we will savour our memories of Maison Boulud through the incredible combination of food, service and atmosphere that made dining there unforgettable.

Au revoir, Maison Boulud.

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