Kong Yi Ji 孔乙己 is a pretty popular name among the Chinese, albeit not necessarily for food.
The restaurant was named for the alcoholic scholar-bum protagonist of a short story by Lu Xun, the father of modern Chinese literature. For me however, having never read any of Lu Xun’s work, the name has a special value because it was home to the first ever Friday Dinner, a series I started back in the days before music took over a big chunk of my life. I never got to write about the restaurant or the meal but I kept thinking about it often enough.
A while back, with out of town guests dropping by, it felt like it was time to make good on that overdue visit. With the weather being amazing, we decided to hit the Houhai branch so that we could also take in the beautiful sights, enjoy the mild temperature outdoors and a great meal. We did get 2 out of 3 and in this case, it was more than enough.
The branch is located off the western end of Deshengmen, a fair bit of a commute if you do not happen to live in that side of town but I do feel it’s worth it just on the strength of the environment. Beijing able to eat while looking over the lake is one hell of an enjoyable experience. When we got there at 8:00 pm, the restaurant was jam packed with people waiting their turn. Thankfully, we had a reservation and a group big enough for a private room since they hadn’t yet opened their outdoor dining area.
The first good surprise came in the form of a full color menu with Chinese and some English which made ordering a lot easier than the dongsi branch i had visited years ago. We decided to try a couple of classics and some new twists. The fatty fork, méigān cài kòu ròu 梅干菜扣肉, scared the out of towner at first before they realized how good it was and gulped up the whole thing. The subtle tartness mixed really well with the pork without overpowering it.
The Sweet n Sour Ribs, Táng cù xiǎo pái zàn 糖醋小排赞, were an instant hit with everyone present; To say they were inhaled would be an understatement! Just the right amount of crust to cover the meat and the right balance of sweet and sour flavors. They were just right.
We wanted to get the West Lake Fish but the manager on duty recommended we try their newest specialty for a change: Secret Spice Fish, Mì zhì lúyú 秘制鲈鱼, which turned out to be a great choice. Instead of the subtle west lake soy flavors, we got ourselves a nice earthy broth covering a good-sized catfish. Can’t complain.
The hit of the night though was a chicken dish reminiscent of Beggar Chicken that was so awesome. The meat fell off the bone and just melted in our delighted mouths… dumbass me forgot to write the name though so that’s gonna be a good excuse to go back and investigate it further. Pretty much everything we ordered was well made and met my expectations. The out-of-towners weren’t big fans of the jellyfish though but you can’t win them all.
The service was also quite good but there were two negatives: When we reserved for outdoors seating, they didn’t tell us it was still not open for dining. I checked with them 3 times and still… I wouldn’t have gone that far had i known it was shut down. The other problem was the glass of fresh corn juice we ordered that never made it to the table despite our asking many times in a row. They were busy but still…. other than that, impeccable friendly service!
Overall, a great meal in a beautiful place. It’s definitely worth going to the Houhai branch while the weather is gentle. I know I will, very soon! The whole meal came out to about 600rmb for 10 of us which is a steal IMHO when you see what the prices are like these days. This is definitely worthy of the meal steal tag..
Note: My camera settings were completely wrong that day so i’ve managed to make a beautiful meal look unappealing. Sorry!
KongYiJi 孔乙己 (Houhai Branch)
South shore of Shichahai, Deshengmennei Dajie, Xicheng District
Keep in mind that there are probably branches closer to where you live in Beijing.