Our favourite Chinese restaurant of the moment is Le Bistro de Pekin. We have been eating there at least 2- 3 times a month, husband goes even more often because he likes to bring homesick work colleagues for a proper Chinese meal. Its location very near the Avenue Champs des Elysees and its 7/7 opening hours are nice factors too.
Despite its name, its specialty is Szechuan (or Sichuan) food because the chef hails from that region. The menu is wide, there is a fantastic selection of "small dishes" that changes often to reflect the traditional 23 flavours that typifies this cuisine. They also offer the usual set menus, including "nems" which I wouldn't advise because I doubt they eat nems in Sichuan.
I always order their hot and sour soup. It is neither starchy nor too one-dimensional. The peppery bite is just right, the sourness from good quality vinegar opens up the appetite and the ingredients are well balanced with finely sliced bamboo shoots and delicate egg "clouds" for contrast and texture. Husband loves their "liang-fen", the vinegary, garlicky sesame dressing is light and refreshing, also their "pidan tofu" which is presented correctly, i.e. with some knifework on the very fragile tofu to show the chef's expertise, with gratifyingly fresh and generously portioned century egg topping instead of the more common slick of chilli oil elsewhere.
From the main dishes of the menu, we love the "water-cooked beef" more than the fish version (the river fish still too fishy for my tastes), lots of beefy slices in that characteristic hot oil broth that is spicy and numbing yet so addictive. The menu includes atypical vegetable dishes such as stir-fried bittergourd as well as the standard tomato omelette and "fish-fragrant" aubergines. Last Sunday we tried their crispy beef, marinated beef covered in rice crackers and deepfried. It tasted more subtle than it appeared, the interest is in the rice-crispy texture, it is a dish to please children, for adults it works more as a respite from their other more assertively flavoured dishes.
The cooking in general is refined. Some dishes work better than most- the "zhajiangmian" was beyond awful, at least to me, it seemed to be mostly bean paste sauce- but in general they are restrained in their usage of cooking oil, and the seasonings are well-judged so there isn't any muddying of flavours no matter how many dishes we order, and we usually order way too much.
One standout dish was "pen pen xia" or shrimp hotpot as it is described more prosaically in the menu. Prawns in their shells are cooked in a stunning sauce-broth of sichuan peppercorns, chillies, bean paste and garlic (wild guesses here). Sweetness, then gentle spiciness, followed by undulating savoury waves from fermented beans and aromatics, and as we continued eating, it gradually peaked with more and more spicy heat and that characteristic lip and palate-numbing high from sichuan peppercorns. Wow. Poking around the pot we discovered tranches of sweet potatoes, their sweetness assuaging the spicy assault. At the end of the meal, we could still taste some lingering notes of something medicinal not unlike Chinese herbal medicines, tingling gently in our mouths.
This dish is listed as #3 on their list of specialty dishes, I say forget #1 and #2 (the "water cooked" fish and beef respectively), go straight to #3. I wonder what #4 is though?
Le Bistro de Pekin
38 rue de Ponthieu, 8th arr
T: 01 42 56 50 86
M: St Phillipe du Roule (line 9), Franklin Roosevelt (line 1).
Also, we will be away next week, so no blog posts for a while. Bonne vacances à tous!