We visited Beijing's craziest themed eateries

Bondage, spit roasts and sword-fighting – dinner's never been weirder

Knights and Merchants

Hutong hangout of medieval mischief, mead and mutton


Novelty level Bashes you over the head with a broadsword.
Food One must continue the quest elsewhere for worthy sources of nourishment.

To call Knights and Merchants 'medieval themed' would be a lesson in understatement. The owners and regulars both take their knightly dress-up very seriously indeed. In fact, you can often hear the bang of lance upon shield and clatter of sword upon chainmail long before you turn the corner to see the bar’s marquee loom into view. Even the owner’s spirited hounds (okay – black labs, but meet us halfway here) don custom suits of armour as they fearlessly pursue vicious dragons (okay, tennis balls).

The small space is decked out with weaponry, fine silk tunics and colourful tapestries – almost all from the owner’s personal collection. The bar is named after a role-playing game that isn’t too choosy about facts, and it explores a similar range of time, with garb from the Romans well through to the Renaissance. Buy a few beers and ask the owner nicely and you can try on anything you like. The wood-panelled halls sport enough gruesome fun to while away more than a few hours.

34 Jiaodaokou Bei Santiao, Dongcheng district (182 1091 1057). Open 6pm-late daily.

Hai Tang Hua

The glorious people’s restaurant

hai tang hua

Novelty level There’s live jazz and traditional North Korean hospitality – so pretty high.
Food The greatest meal you will ever experience, officially.

Hai Tang Hua, the chain of official DPRK-sanctioned restaurants, offers a taste of what it must be like to be a high-level official in North Korea. With a few substitutions, the unremarkable space could easily be mistaken for the State-run canteen of a different, more local, regime, with its wide-open banquet hall and innumerable private rooms. For cadres with expense budgets to blow, a table in a private room – accompanied by the sultry sounds of the all-female jazz band – will do just nicely. More surreal meals are not easily found in Beijing, and for those with a fascination with the Hermit Kingdom, this is not to be missed. Just make sure you alert your embassy before you book.

1 Lize Zhonger Lu, Chaoyang district (6439 0916). Open 11am-2pm, 5-10pm daily.

Ke Er Spicy Crayfish

Spicy food paired with its natural partner – kinky sex

ke er

Novelty level We’re still scrubbing all the messy novelty from our soiled trousers.
Food Titillating, if not quite orgasmic, chow.

The connections between food and sex are well documented. Still, even we were surprised by the pairing of spicy crayfish and BDSM. Thank you Ke Er, for reminding us that no cuisine is dull when paired with enough leather, latex and love.

A relatively unassuming exterior on Xingfucun Zhong Lu belies a sex dungeon-themed spicy crayfish shop serving largely standard fare with an utterly jaw-dropping indifference to the decor. Black and red prevail throughout the dimly lit rooms, and the walls sport whips, ball gags and all manner of creative uses for crimson rope.

Our waiter approaches wearing a comic apron complete with a wonky pair of breasts, which we later use to protect ourselves from the spray of fiery oil emanating from the crayfish (remember kids, practise safe seafood). Maybe save this for lads’ night on the town – it’s not exactly first date stuff.

55-6 Xingfucun Zhong Lu (181 9159 1200). Open 10.30am-3pm, 5pm-1.30am daily.

99 Yurts

Whole roast lambs in yurts fit for the Mongolian steppe

99 yurts

Novelty level About as close to Ulaanbaatar as you can get in urban Beijing.
Food A tribal wedding-style banquet for the ages.

Theme restaurants aren’t usually known for their food, but 99 Yurts is a campy delight that delivers more than just a quirky dinner and show. The restaurant may lack the eponymous 99 yurts (we counted a mere 36, alas) but it’s still the most fun we’ve had at any lamb restaurant – Mongolian or otherwise – in the capital.

The semi-permanent yurts, reminiscent of the tents of the Asian steppe’s nomadic herders, are stocked to the nines with brightly coloured fabric and elaborate chandeliers. The place is over the top in all the best ways, with atmosphere and charm to spare. Waiters in full costume serve up whole roasted sides of lamb, spit-roasted and served on one mammoth platter, to a soundtrack provided by a roaming three-piece band.

The level of entertainment depends on the size of your party and the dining package you opt for. The whole lamb, for example, arrives with much fanfare atop a traditional cart draped in full finery. So for peak kitsch, bring a dozen of your closest pals, book a private yurt and splurge on the whole lamb (from 1,000RMB).

9 Yongtaizhuang Bei Lu, Haidian district (6299 1888). Open 10.30am-3pm, 5.30-10pm daily.

The People's Socialist Canteen

Reliving the days of the Cultural Revolution with Dongbei cuisine

peoples canteen

Novelty level The East is red – and so are the tablecloths, cups, bowls and everything else.
Food Hearty northeastern fare that pulls its own crowd of devotees.

Let’s gloss over the irony of decorating a restaurant aimed squarely at New China’s middle class with symbols and slogans from a turbulent period hell-bent on dismantling said bourgeoisie, shall we? The People’s Socialist Canteen is a 1960’s-themed restaurant serving home-style staples from China’s northeast (dongbei). Dongbei cuisine isn’t known for its subtlety of flavour, and the oil- and sugar-laden dishes here are no exception.

But if you’re seeking a taste of the old days, The People’s Socialist Canteen has got your number. Waiters are dressed in the traditional green floral print, and you eat off of enamel-coated tin plates and pressed steel mugs, replete with chipped portraits of Mao and choice slogans from the canon of socialist greats. Bring an appetite for rib-coating northern fare.

The People’s Socialist Canteen (Renmin Gongshe Dashitang, 人民公社大食堂) 15 Nan Lishi Lu, Xicheng district (6801 5017). Open 10am-11pm daily.

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