Situated in the shadow of Yonghegong Lama Temple, it’s perhaps unsurprising that this Beijing stalwart serves up exclusively vegetarian fare – though thankfully not the strict, monastic version that prohibits the use of aromatic ingredients such as onions, chives and garlic. Widely regarded as the gold standard when it comes to vegetarian dining, King’s Joy has achieved a legion of devotees thanks to its full-flavoured takes on Chinese classics and sun-drenched hutong courtyard. They’re also one of the few vegetarian places to serve afternoon high tea – and quite possibly the only place to have a full-time harpist. King’s Joy location in prime tourist territory means that reservations are usually required, book ahead to avoid missing out on a table.
One of the only restaurants in town that can tempt even the most hardened of carnivores with crazy flavourful and toothsome cuisine.
For most restaurants in the city, simply providing a place to sit and something to eat is about the extent of their ambition. Not so at King’s Joy, which provides not just excellent food, but a message of good health and environmental awareness. The restaurant’s chef, Pan Jianjun, was a disciple from the Donglin Monastery, a Buddhist temple in Jiangxi province, who was encouraged by his master to promote vegetarian eating in the world outside. His expertise is complemented by owner David Yin, who holds a degree in nutrition from Fu Jen University in Taipei.
As you might expect, King’s Joy offers vegetarian food, but not the restrictive, monastic version that prohibits leeks, onions, garlic, chives and other pungent ingredients. The food here is not shy of flavour, and many vegetables come from nearby, cooperating organic farms – though, admittedly, some harder-to-find ones come from faraway Yunnan.
But concessions must be made, and when you taste King’s Joy’s goods, you’ll be glad they were. Maki zushi
with wild rice (野米反转寿司, 109RMB) rolled in crunchy toasted sesame seeds and chilli flakes, is an instant amusement of textures and flavour. And it would not be far-fetched to claim the sweet-and-sour braised ‘monkey’s head mushrooms’ (Hericium erinaceus
, 鲜果咕咾菌菇, 99RMB) taste as good as the red-sauced pork classic served worldwide. These satisfying hunks of fibrous mushrooms, lightly battered then deep-fried to a golden crisp, could swear almost anyone off meat for good. Paired with pineapple chunks, thin-sliced straw mushrooms and nuts, then glazed with a tangy sweet-and-sour sauce, this dish is cooked to perfection.
Sautéed matsutake and celtis leaf (松茸朴叶烧, 169RMB) is a chorus of meaty mushrooms, asparagus and braised medallions of silky tofu, cradled within a large celtis leaf above a mini ceramic chafing dish. It is garnished with gingko nuts and fine slivers of red chilli and seaweed, exemplifying the chef’s masterful knife skills.
For a little starch, try the steamed glutinous oil rice (荷叶油饭, 39RMB for two pieces). Similar to lotus-leaf dim sum, it features fragrant shiitakes ensconced within perfectly-cooked sticky rice, in lotus leaf.
There is an exhaustive wine list, but we recommend the healthy drinks, like the ‘oatmeal nut-melange so soy beverage’ (麦片坚果豆浆, 59RMB), with its seductive nutty flavour, and the chilled papaya milk (木瓜牛奶, 58RMB), which is fresh, pure, and supposedly imbued with anti-ageing benefits. The great food and impeccable service of King’s Joy is wonderfully complemented by arguably one of the most beautiful courtyards in Beijing, designed by famed architect Zhang Yonghe. Sit outside and breathe in the mist that rises from the ground to mix with the scent of incense floating over from the nearby Lama Temple – you could almost be eating on a mythical mountaintop. As the PRC suffers from a decline of quality in Chinese cuisine and a seemingly never-ending rash of food scandal headlines, the arrival of King's Joy, arguably Beijing’s best vegetarian restaurant, couldn’t have come at a better time. By Eileen Wen Mooney