The Beijing restaurant scene is incontrovertibly diverse. Whether one walks into the cozy confines of a feline filled café or the modern interior of an all-organic diner, the depth of variation in the flavors, feelings and atmospheres of Beijing restaurants always has more to offer. And now, from the heart of Wangjing, emerges another new café attempting to make a name for itself among the who’s who of dining experiences: Cup One.
Entering Cup One, the first thing a person may experience is the distinctive ambiance the café offers; aside from the building itself being literally shaped like a cup, the modern industrial furniture combined with strong wood accents contribute to the café’s somewhat organic, lounge-style atmosphere. The café’s playlist of alternative yet folk-symusic obviously aims to relax, while its relative obscurity among young Beijingers guarantees it’s never crowded; even with the exception of the occasional group of Korean hipsters, Cup One’s crowds never seem to swell during dinner hours.Yet, though the café offers a comfortable minimalistic ambiance, it still lacks a vital aspect shared among most Beijing restaurants: a no-smoking zone. Despite the comforts of the furniture, music, or quirky silverware in Cup One, the secondhand smoke from surrounding customers is sure to overwhelm your senses, making for an unpleasant dinner if you can’t even handle Beijing pollution on good days.
Hazy atmosphere aside, Cup One again falls short in perhaps the most important aspect: food selections. Though the café advertises itself as having an “extensive food menu”, the reality couldn’t be further off; after flipping through ten consecutive pages of alcohol selections, you’ll finally find the scarcity of actual food options in the very back of the menu. The café simply offers two pages of appetizers and entrées, excessively priced from RMB 38 to RMB 140. A lacking portion of French fries or a bland strawberry milkshake will set you back RMB 38 , while a simple spaghetti bolognese costs RMB 58. For those of you looking to enjoy a warm drink while tackling some homework, Cup One will once again fail to deliver; though their tea selection features unique and interesting flavors (passion fruit honey, anyone?), the coffee offered is slightly watery and fails to impress amongst those of less-expensive chains like Starbucks or Costa Coffee.
Additionally, Cup One’s cuisine is often unremarkable and just barely hits the mark of mediocrity. Though some dishes can truly satisfy your palette, others definitely leave you with something to be desired. The sauces on the spaghetti dishes (which make up a good 2/3 of the food menu) are often plain and provided sparingly. The “chef’s recommendation”, a sausage and spinach spaghetti (RMB 5 ), creates an interesting balance of flavorful ingredients yet fails to provide value for the money; a common fault found in many of the dishes offered. And, despite few customers in the restaurant, food can take up to 40 minutes to arrive and the service is often inconsistent and sporadic; simply put, it’s one of those restaurants where you’ll have to yell “Fuwuyuan!” before anyone even attempts to notice you.
In sum, although Cup One attempts to provide young Beijingers with a modern and somewhat upscale café experience, it disappoints when balancing cost with quality. The food is similar to that you may order out from your local pizza restaurant, though it lacks value for money and fails to stand out from other restaurants in terms of flavor, quality, and simple originality. In fact, you’re better off getting a meal from the Burger King just downstairs; you’d probably get a nicer deal.
But then again, this is just the opinion of some of us here on the UNIT-E core team. Feel free to visit Cup One and try it out for yourself!
This article originally appeared in the May/June, 2014 issue of UNIT-E. It was written by Alex Gong, Kathleen Ma, Kathy Zhou, Kristy Cheung, Lauren You, students at the International School of Beijing and Sarah Lu, a student at Beijing World Youth Academy.
UNIT-E was founded in the spring of 2010 with the aim of establishing a non-profit, student-run magazine for international students in Beijing. Staffed by current students from a range of international schools, the magazine provides an amalgam of cultural tidbits, fragments of Beijing student life, and a broad spectrum of unique perspectives from a diverse group of young adults.
Photo courtesy of thebeijinger.com