Of all the things we wouldn’t expect to find in a dilapidated compound on the edge of Shunyi, an English-style tearoom complete with Anglophile-baiting red phone box is pretty high on the list. Still, it’s proven a smart investment: this cute, kid-friendly gathering spot is doing a roaring trade off the back of Shunyi’s many money-wielding families, drawn in by its proximity, cleanliness, toy-filled kids’ room (complete with a massive window to view the kitchen staff at work) and charming décor.
There’s food, too, of course. The English Tearoom proudly boasts organic, local and free-range produce, but sadly the ensuing dishes are sometimes hit-and-miss. While the pea and mint soup with crispy bacon (all soups 48RMB) is pleasingly chunky and flavoursome, the carrot, leek and potato soup is an insipid affair that passes almost without notice. Even a little salt would help.
Thankfully, the fish and chips (66RMB small, 88RMB large) are far more satisfying, with juicy, tender sole (haddock and cod are more authentic, but the management says they've had trouble finding sources that don’t fill the fish with water to increase their weight) encased in satisfyingly crispy batter. The dish took an age to arrive, though; an apologetic (and unprompted) visit from the management confirmed that the kitchen staff hadn’t re-stocked the potato supplies when they were supposed to. A serving of sweet potato chips arrived instead, with a discount and more apologies; organisation might be a problem, but we have to give them props for customer service.
The sausage rolls (58RMB) were another success – you just can’t beat buttery, soft pastry wrapped around a hearty tube of tasty pig bits – rather unlike the scotch eggs (58RMB), which had a crispy shell encasing a palate-eluding ball of blanditude.
Our dessert of tea and cakes was also unpredictable. The ‘millionaire’s shortbread’ (25RMB) was great – a thick slab of perfect caramel on a satisfying shortbread base. But while the fondant fancies (25RMB each) and Victoria sponge were well made, they were both a taddry. The fairly wide selection of teas (30-40RMB), including Twinings’ Earl Grey and Teapigs’ fragrant rooibos crème caramel, are served in colourful teapots with a cute egg-timer to show when your drink is ready. The brews washed the cakes down well (though the Teapigs bags require some forceful prodding and squishing to maximise flavour), but at these prices we expect more.
Consistency, then, remains an issue for The English Tearoom. But if it can get a handle on that, this will be a great place for family feasts.