Beijing is full of casual eateries with great food but a squalid space. Napa is here to buck that trend, providing style as well as substance – and then some.
Huge windows flood the lunch counter, bar and dining area in natural light, giving the Park Avenue space a lofty elegance further enhanced by the high ceilings, minimalist lighting and meringue-coloured walls. The countertops at the juice bar and lunch counter are topped with soft white marble, rippled with striations of dark crystal that catch the odd ray of sunlight. The rear houses an open kitchen, where the sounds and smells all point to chef Colin Smith’s handiwork.
The menu at Napa is an eclectic smattering of dishes from Smith’s own California-inspired repertoire. It abides by few conventions, wandering from Chinese-style braises to Mediterranean salads, Thai curries to Southeast Asian soups. Rather than fitting an existing mould, the menu is the product of research and honest experimentation.
The result is a menu that hosts a creamy cauliflower and bacon soup (38RMB) – rich with layers of green veggies, fragrant thyme and rosemary – next to a six-hour Shaoxing wine-braised oxtail salad (55RMB) served with radish and snap peas. The oxtail is perfectly tender, with a texture that holds just enough moisture to deliver a hearty dose of sweet wine and salty soy before yielding on the tongue.
Not all the dishes are as original, but all are equally as well executed. The Napa Warm Salad combines a nearly liquid sous vide egg with a fatty bacon dressing and sautéed mushrooms (35RMB), while the ham and cheese panini (65RMB) with organic honey-onion jam on house-baked wholegrain bread is a ‘gourmet’ sandwich worthy of the title, and price point.
It may have taken a little while to get things sorted at Napa, but we’re glad they took their time. The space is beautiful and the menu delivers some fantastic dishes at good value. We would have liked a location a bit more central, but we hear the rooftop that’s scheduled to open in time for the warm weather will be worth the trek. With a killer menu, a space that’s actually a pleasure to sit in and a selection of wines by the bottle from 250RMB, we can see Napa becoming a destination for larger events as well as a midweek solo escape for a taste of sunny Cali.