This venue has closed.
If the signs outside are any guide, Mr Shi certainly seems to be proud of his dumplings. With curious fillings like beef and cheese as well as more traditional pork and leek, Mr Shi has name a name for himself as a clever brander - if albeit as an exploitative dumpling slinger.
Dumplings come boiled or fried but expect to throw down a small fortune for what usually passes for every-man staple fare. Not a destination that bears repeat visits, but good for new arrivals and visitors looking for a more sanitised version of local Beijing cuisine.
Dumplings are special. Their global ubiquity and the ease with which they transcend cultural boundaries grants them an important role in the culinary lives of old Beijingers and foreign newbies alike. Perhaps this is why we’re hesitant to accept any attempt to exploit the natural inclination of all peoples towards balls of meat wrapped in dough. Some say the popular dumpling house Mr Shi’s has long straddled the line between honest family joint and profitable novelty, so when news came that a new branch was opening in Sanlitun, we had to ‘ingestigate’.
The space itself is comfortable, with a sense of intimacy afforded by the disjointed corners and retrofitted staircase of Beijing’s crudely repurposed first-floor apartment restaurants. The small kitchen is tucked in a corner, while the bulk of the dumpling wrapping takes place in a semi-exposed workstation in the front room. Dumplings are made to order, so take a peep over the low counter to critique the cook’s form – or, like us, drink cold Yanjing (25RMB) and gape at the speed with which balls of wheaten flour are filled, twisted and thrown in the pot.
In spite of our fears, things look good as we take a seat and pore over the dozen-page menu of dumplings. Naturally, we order as many different fillings as decency permits and get down to business. First come boiled pork and lotus root (50RMB for 12), followed by fried cheese, pork and aubergine (85RMB for 12), then back to boiled basil, black pepper, tomato and aubergine (80RMB for 12). The fillings are fresh, with differing textures and strong flavours that work well in tandem. The boiled skin holds up well despite its delicate appearance. The fried varieties, served piping hot from the skillet, are a glorious golden brown – pleasingly crunchy on the outside, moist and chewy inside.
For afters, we try the fried chocolate and strawberry (45RMB for 6), but the soupy mess of canned strawberry and chocolate sprinkles only made us miss their savoury cousins. Alas, the prices are even harder to swallow at 7RMB a pop.
As we look closer at the scribbles on the wall from satisfied customers and the smiling visage of Mr Shi, sporting a not-so-subtle registered trademark sign, the prices begin to make sense. Although the dumplings are quite good, we can’t see any reason to shell out the dough other than the chance to make your mark on the whitewashed walls. But if we know Sanlitun, that just might be enough.
By Nick Gollner