First published on 31 Jan 2012. Updated on 24 May 2013.
Inside the Lishui Garden complex, across from the south gate of Chaoyang Park, is The Rug Café, one of the first restaurants to work directly with local Beijing farmers, such as De Run Wu or Da He, who are organic by their own standards but without official certification.
A small trek across The Rug Café's patio brings you to a large plank of natural wood that, when you start to wonder where the door is, magically slides open. Inside is the leftover remnants of a holiday tree with donation boxes filled to the brim for those in need. And that’s the tone in this eatery, despite its bizarre name. The Rug Café's owners are mostly Taiwanese, with a little American and a lot of foresight to see the exigency in making a restaurant with a spirit of sustainability towards its environment wherever possible.
Almost a misfit in this residential area, The Rug Café has a large communal table for the laptop set, a small private room and an area full of distracting toys for kids. Initially, organic bagels were the big talk, with a debatable declaration that they were a health food. Coming in varieties like cinnamon-raisin or chocolate (12-19RMB), you can order a smear of cream cheese (10RMB) among other classic toppings, or try them as main-course options like egg, bacon and onion, with a side of organic potatoes and coffee or tea (58RMB). It’s everything you want, until you take a bite and realise this is a bagel made in China, with local flours that aren’t quite the way you expect them. And so you concede.
Breakfast is the main deal here. There’s an all-day menu with a full-page spread of pancakes (58RMB) or the big brunch (118RMB) that come with lots of things – including a bagel. The side menu has typical wine nibbles, but the unsung hero is a build-your-own hash brown, with a base (18RMB) that can be combined with imaginative things like avocado (15RMB) or thick sausage (16RMB). Fresh orange (32RMB) or other juices come in a jug grand enough to share.
The Rug signature salad (58RMB) wears a scatter of crunchy croutons and tatters of bacon, crowned with a poached egg that shows off a bright, papaya-coloured yolk when poked. It’s slightly heavy on the dressing, so ask for it on the side. With a bowl of creamy pumpkin soup (38RMB) that’s light on seasoning, it’s a perfect healthy lunch, with assurances that the produce is (probably) not grown with pesticides or chemical fertilisers.
But if you want a more substantial meal, the pastas, such as a spaghetti with a gratifying pile of clams and shrimp (98RMB), are cooked well. You can choose to have a garlicky chilli or pesto sauce, although be warned: there is such a thing as too much pesto. A broader expanse of main dishes to draw you in at night makes The Rug an all-day kind of place, in case you’d like something more than breakfast. It seems there are options for everyone, including families, thanks to a menu for little ones; plus there’s a kids room, too.
And save room for dessert, with a memorable cheesecake (38RMB) that boasts a five-hour slow bake. There’s a lot to like here and not only in terms of food – The Rug Café's owners have a commendable mindset with a commitment to not only making good food but also doing the right thing. Let’s hope it catches on. Lillian Chou