Beijingers are in for a treat with the second branch of Nanjing Impressions in Shimao Department Store. From the red lanterns hung high and large wooden doors open wide, it seems determined to make an impression, with some authentic Nanjing food.
A clever seating system works so well that a long queue is nothing to fear. However, with no reservations, it’s best to go before 7pm as many dishes sell out. Inside, seating is comfortable, with benches beneath well-spaced tables concealing willow baskets for your things. Diners order by ticking items from a menu, but the fun is in picking directly from a village of stalls, pointing towards mountains of steaming bamboo with your table card. Reliable staff ensure your order arrives within minutes.
Begin with yangzhou lanhuagan (扬州兰花干, 5RMB), a small piece of beancurd artfully cut and sauced. It looks better than it tastes and is a nice lead-in to the diguo xiaogongji (地锅小公鸡, 42RMB), tender chicken with bones served in a pot lined with sesame dressed bread, best shared among large groups. Try the jizhi yeshanjun tang (鸡汁野山菌汤,28RMB), a delightful soup that complements the mushroom well. That same soup also reappears in the laojitang xiaohuntun (老鸡汤小馄饨, 6RMB), afloat with small pork-filled gems and slices of green onion.
Elsewhere, a popular yaxue fensi shaguo (鸭血粉丝砂锅, 22RMB) arrives as a mixed bowl of duck blood, pig’s liver and rice noodles that’s simply overrated. We preferred the jiuniang chidou yuanxiao (酒酿赤豆元宵, 6RMB), a sweet fermented rice bean soup, or sweet taro cooked in the traditional way (古法糖芋苗, 6RMB) – a Nanjing favourite.
Order some Nanjing rainflower green tea (雨花茶; 30RMB per pot) for live performances of Suzhou Pingtan (every evening, Tuesday to Sunday). A pipa accompanies two or three storytellers, who, in Suzhou dialect, recite quotations from classic novels. It’s a perfect opportunity to steal a piece of southern tranquility in the midst of busy, northern city life. Mary Shang