Last year, around Spring Festival, one of my friends welcomed us back from our winter trip with news that a new French restaurant had opened in Changping. It did not sound possible. French restaurant? Changping?
This wouldn’t necessarily be an unexpected announcement in other parts of Beijing, but in Changping, outside the Sixth Ring, it was completely unprecedented. We had scores of great Chinese food choices, but very limited options for Western dining (apart from fast food chains).
I was anxious to see if this French restaurant really existed. We followed typical Changping directions (a relative location from a
McDonald’s) and looked for a French name. We found a restaurant under a sign that read “6ème.”
The menu was something to behold. In French, Chinese, and English, a combination maybe never before seen in Changping, it listed dishes that made our mouths water, like bœuf stroganoff, imported French cheese, several types of Flammenkuchen, and crêpes. European wines were offered and were properly decanted. Steaming bowls of latte were piled high with thick, frothy cream. There was so much about this experience that was out of place in humble Changping. The four of us sat for hours, savoring every course.
This new restaurant was a partnership among four recent Chinese graduates of Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. None of them were actually from Changping, but chose our low-rent area to gain experience before they launched more ambitious projects in better Beijing neighborhoods. They had only planned to remain in our area for a few months to work out any teething troubles. Their transience was obvious in their lack of attention to the décor, best described as “no-nonsense, but at least matching.” They were most concerned about the food, but ready to move on when the time came.
6ème was only going to be around for a short time, so our family used that excuse to indulge in French food as often as we could. Meals were a little pricier than our usual Changping dining options, but since it was Changping, it wasn’t that much of a financial indulgence. We enjoyed our fill of bœuf and crêpes. 6ème became our usual Friday night destination and occasional midweek lunch option. Soon it was also a reward for good behavior for both me and the kids after waiting for hours at the bank. We would use the excuse to eat at 6ème, even if it were just for ice cream and café glacé on a hot, dusty afternoon.
Just as we became regulars at 6ème, the four chefs announced their impending departure from Changping. They would leave by mid-summer to work on their own independent careers in parts of Beijing more accustomed to French cuisine. We had known this day was coming, since the first time we ate there. It was a nice diversion in Changping while it lasted.
illustration: Sun Zheng