Beijing is packed with places to eat, but the range of cuisines on offer can sometimes be repetitive. Apart from local dishes, the choice is mostly limited to endless variations on Tex-Mex, southeast Asian, sushi, and generic burgers and pizzas. So how about, for something different, Georgian food?
It was a new experience for our young reviewer, Owen Aikman, and for dad David, even though they’re a truly international family. David is originally Canadian and now Swiss, while Owen holds French, Swiss, and US passports! He’s currently in Year 8 at Dulwich College Beijing (DCB).
The menu is a trip into the unknown, so we rely on recommendations from our host Muhammet Annayev. Annayev is from Turkmenistan but is a passionate advocate for Georgian food. With his help, we select a range of dishes, then while we’re waiting we find out a bit more about Owen. His favorite food is steak from O’Steak, though he also enjoys Great Leap’s burgers and pizza from Pizza Marzano. When he’s not studying he enjoys battling with his friends on team video games like Fortnite and Overwatch.
After a crisp salad, the first real novelty arrives: three brightly colored balls of pkhali (RMB 36). They look like pate or terrine, but are in fact minced vegetables with ground walnuts, garlic, and spices. Owen is initially wary of the green (spinach) pkhali, but when Dad persuades him to try it, he’s immediately converted. The taste is nutty, salty, spicy, and utterly unexpected. Grilled new potatoes (RMB 38) are an easier sell.
“They have great flavor,” Owen comments.
The “Georgian dinner” (RMB 78) turns out to be beef baked with tomatoes and mushrooms, topped with cheese – not unlike a bolognese, but with the meat in chunks, not ground. This goes well with Ajapsandali (braised vegetables in a pot, RMB 52), and Adjarian khachapuri (RMB 68): bread with an egg cracked into the melted cheese, so it cooks gently from the heat. Owen is not keen on eggs, so Dad tries it out.
“No, you’re not going to like it,” he says mischievously, scooping up the gooey cheese with the bread.
The dramatic centerpiece of the meal is Baked Trout stuffed with Prawn (RMB 188), firm-fleshed with crispy charred skin. But Owen is silenced by the Tbilisi-style Lamb Shashlik (RMB 78).
“That,” he says at last, “is amazing.”
Annayev shows us how to eat Khinkali (Georgian dumplings, RMB 42). After generous seasoning with black pepper, you pick up the dumpling by its top, where the thick dough forms a convenient handle. Then you bite into it and suck out the sauce. These too are warmly appreciated by Owen and his dad.
Our bellies full, we were introduced to head chef Neli Tomaradze. Georgia’s Feast has been open for three years, and is a big hit with local families; when we visited on a Sunday lunchtime, the restaurant was packed. Annayev told us they are bringing in two new chefs to help meet demand, one from Georgia, one from Azerbaijan.
“We want to represent the Caucasus in China!” he said.
So, we ask the Aikmans, what’s the verdict?
“It’s amazing,” Owen said. “The food is very rich and tasty. The spice might be too much for younger children, though I’m quite sensitive to spices, and this is fine for me. It’s a place to go outside your comfort zone and try new things.”
And the family will definitely be going back, they told us.
“My sister would like the dumplings, they’re delicious,” Owen said.
Not only was the food a joy, we were made to feel warmly welcome, and got a real sense of Georgian hospitality. If you’re looking for something new to spice up your palate, then Georgia’s Feast is a real find.
Daily 11.30am-3pm, 5-11pm. 2 Sanlitun Beixiaojie, Chaoyang District (8448 6886)
This article appeared on p26-27 of beijingkids June 2018 issue
Photos: Uni You