First published on 25 Apr 2011. Updated on 17 May 2013.
Beijing-based fans of regional cuisine are increasingly being won over by the food of Yunnan. China’s capital has many options for those who want a taste of one of China’s most colourful provinces. Yunnanese restaurants are scattered throughout the city, but Guomao has remained sparse… until now.
Given the absence of folksy tie-dye swag and fiber-woven seats, the room doesn’t hint for a second that you’re in a Yunnanese joint. The dark, understated interior looks more like a modern furniture showroom than a restaurant. An entry table is strangely placed, stacked with novels that are sometimes for sale, sometimes not, depending on whom you ask.
A photo menu makes ordering easy and the dishes seem more palatable than the English descriptors manage. This text is a turnoff unless the words ‘cow bacilli’ sound more appetising to you than ‘porcini’.
The food from this region is great in some areas, weaker in others. What you might order is the ‘three ba in accordance with the master’, a dish of clear slippery noodles with sliced green beans tossed with rich eggs, scrambled into a not-so-pretty, but pretty darn good dish of comfort. A bowl of traditional rice noodles in spicy broth is a large portion compared to the traditional wide-neck ceramic pot that’s normally simmered over an open flame. It’s big enough to share, but doesn’t explode with hot and sour tastes like it should.
‘Incense thatched trapped ribs’ are pork ribs arranged on a long ceramic slab, each marinated then knotted with a strip of lemongrass. The result is a meaty rib that’s fragrant and bettered by a dip in hot oil that will really make you gnaw at the bones. The shrimp are crisp in their edible shells and smothered by a plantation of salty pu’er tea leaves. The menu’s assertion that they’re baked is a misnomer. They’re fried. Wash them down with Belgian beers off a menu straight out of Morel’s, the Belgian eatery known for its Trappist treats.
You can choose fillings including chicken or beef with a packet of ‘banana leaf bag burn tofu’. Its gift is a mélange of chillies, leeks and tofu that could go from good to great if the kitchen actually burned the bag and roasted the package.
The smoky world around is just as likely to contain girls gossiping over a bottle of cabernet in the evening as Beijingers playing cards. Indeed, with Wi-Fi thrown in, you’ll feel like you’re in a loft-space café that could be anywhere in the world instead of a provincial restaurant heavy on the minority. Staff are young and uninformed, clueless at times, but innocent enough to allow your patience to flow until you’re won over by their naivety. Moss has that strangeness where you can order a cappuccino with a dish of fried worms, and that’s something that can only happen in China.
Three ba in accordance with the master: 38RMB
Rice noodles in spicy broth: 18RMB
Incense thatched trapped ribs: 42RMB
Shrimp in pu'er tea: 58RMB
Banana leaf bag burn tofu: 28RMB
Two bottles of Duvel: 100RMB