Dong Lai Shun is one of Beijing's oldest Hui (Chinese Muslim) restaurants. which is Beijing¡¯s oldest and most famous Hot Pot chain but has been less than inspiring in the past due to its stuffy state-enterprise ethos. This new branch has a new look, however, and hints at an attempt to shake off such associations ¨C even if the effort to be hip can be equated with a farmer from the countryside trying on an ill-fitting Gucci suit.
Still, not to be too unkind, aside from the addition of the ever-lucrative Peking duck (98RMB), the menu remains faithful to lamb and beef as the core ingredients for the hotpot. The Diamond Lamb Cut (58RMB/250g) is excellent ¨C thinly sliced and tender enough to cook in a flash. Some of the best money can buy, the meat comes from South African lamb that has not been crossbred for 50 years. Fatter than cellophane noodles and therefore meatier and more satisfying, the fentiao (8RMB) has to be the most memorable bowl of starch-noodles in the city and the shaobing (1RMB/each) ¨Cserved warm with a beautiful hint of Sichuan peppercorn and the rich aroma of sesame seeds ¨C is another delight. The vegetables, between 6 and 12RMB, and including enoki mushroom, baby bok choy, cilantro and chrysanthemum, are well-drained and cut in manageable sizes perfect for hot pot.
In addition to the traditional broth (fengwei, 35RMB), medicinal (zibu); sea cucumber (haishen) and spicy (mala) are also available (80/208/55RMB) and the pot itself is a traditional brass, cloissone-decorated one heated with charcoal which adds a hint of ceremony to the ocassion. It¡¯s worth mentioning that, like Ding Ding Xiang individual pots are also available.
What¡¯s more, while Dong Lai Shun has long been known for the apathetic service so characteristic of state-owned enterprises, the waiters at this new branch are much more attentive and almost charismatic, possibly signalling that the change is not just limited to the design. One would hope that this laozihao, or old brand name restaurant, will be able to revive the fame it enjoyed in 1914, when it first opened to sell this old Beijing favourite.