New food, who dis? French bakery chain Comptoirs de France has been a fixture in Beijing for so long (they opened their first store way back in 2006) that they can sometimes be forgotten in the flood of new restaurants opening and closing.
Yet the bakery, which now has 12 outlets in both Beijing and Tianjin, has never stopped testing and trying new menu items, and each season represents a new opportunity to re-discover the old favorite. The new summer menu, which we were invited to taste recently, is no exception.
Two new bread items on the menu take their cues from the Provence region in the south of France, with the tomato and olive fougasse (RMB 25), and Italy, with the cheese focaccia (RMB 18). As is to be expected from the bakers, the bread is excellent. The fougasse is appropriately dense and a bit chewy, although a little light on the olives and semi-dried tomato, while the cheese focaccia, made with a mix of Parmesan and mozzarella give a delicious crunch and would be ideal served warm, with a side of salad or even a bowl of soup.
The two new summer salads: mango shrimp, and roast beef (both RMB 56) are good but unimaginative when compared with the dense and flavor-packed bowls one can find at Moka Bros, Tribe, and co. Then again, salads have always been a blind spot in French menus (where they rarely deviate from a simple garden salad or a classic niçoise), so if anything, this weak spot on the Comptoirs de France menu just proves the authenticity of their origins.
Thankfully, the tender marinated beef (supplied by French steak restaurant O’Steak) reappears in the more successful roast beef and mushroom sandwich (RMB 56). Served with mushroom, lettuce, and onion in a soft roll instead of the traditional baguette, it is a delicious and hearty lunch option.
So far, so good, but, the new range of patisseries are the real stars of the show. Served warm as the bakery recommends, the mini baked apricot and raspberry cake (RMB 39), is an absolute triumph, the almond-flour based dessert hitting the exact right balance of sweetness and tart summer flavors. Another classic French treat, the generously portioned Paris-Brest (RMB 39) is good enough to make you want to ride the famously grueling bicycle race after which it’s named, in order to earn the substantial calories therein, as is the chocolate chou (RMB 15 for small, RMB 39 for large), which is made with imported chocolate from the famous French chocolate makers, Chocolatier de l’Opera. In fact, the mini chocolate chou is among the desserts that Comptoirs de France supply to Air France first class customers, so good news fellow cattle-class warriors, even if we can’t afford to fly in luxury, we can enjoy at least some of the perks.
While these desserts sit firmly within the canon of French patisserie, the strawberry and vanilla ice cream macaroons (RMB 19, pictured at top) most decidedly do not. And that’s what makes them so fun. A disc of Baxi brand ice cream is sandwiched between the two airy, candy-colored shells of a French macaroon, making a deliciously silly, refreshing summer treat that we suspect will fly out of the store’s refrigerated shelves during the warmer months.
This new fresh summer menu reinforces why Comptoirs de France has been able to endure in an unforgiving Beijing food and beverage scene that has felled so many others. For more than 13 years they’ve made it their simple goal to serve fresh, authentic French food with high-quality ingredients right here in the capital. If it’s been a while since you dropped by one of their stores, perhaps now’s the time to say re-bonjour; hello again!
Images courtesy of Comptoirs de France