After a lengthy hiatus and remodelling, Sanlitun's sexiest Sichuanese restaurant is back, and it's sexier than ever.
Transit made waves on the Beijing dining scene back in 2012 when it first opened, serving up sleek renditions of classic Sichuan dishes. Now it's back and the dishes are just as sleek, and splashed with not-so-traditional flavours that elevate the traditional classics into something more modern, to varying degrees of success.
Something that is certainly successful is the design of the place. The lighting is as low as is feasibly possible, anything that could be shiny and marble is just that, and precious black bamboo screens make the generous space feel intimate. You know as soon as you walk in that you'll be spending a lot in Transit, and the entry makes it feel worth the price.
The food, however, performs less well on the bang for your buck meter. It's often the case that the simplest dishes are the best, and the Transit crispy chicken (198RMB) certainly promotes this theory – a well-proportioned ratio of crispy thin and just about juicy meat comes artfully presented on a sleek stone plate, all bones removed for a more elegant dining affair than your typical Chinese chicken dish. The other dishes we try include classics executed to perfection, such as the sea bass in hot chilli and Sichuan peppercorn-infused oil (298RMB), which comes as a beautiful vat of tender white fish in a well-balanced broth and the spicy wontons (35RMB), which are three juicy bites of pork in soft wrappings, which still retain a pleasing chew.
On the more adventurous side of things, however, the success is mixed. The dandanmian (35RMB) is surely the prettiest in town, and comes with an unconventional squeeze of fresh lime, but upon tasting the tiny bowl reveals itself to be more style than substance. There's nothing really wacky on the menu, but dishes like the signature aubergine with minced pork (88RMB) are thrown a curveball in the form of a strong lemongrass flavour, which comes from the addition of litsea cubea oil. It's a plant extract that's local to Sichuan, but it rather distracts from what could have been an excellent yuxiang qiezi. The ganbian doujiao (78RMB) is similarly and unnecessarily fragrant, with weaker flavours all round than a much cheaper version of this dish would be.
There is much to commend at Transit – a cracking wine selection and excellent service for starters – and nothing we try is unpleasant. It's also certainly possible that the heft of traditional Sichuan cooking leaves anything more delicate looking limp. But still, everyone has a favourite Sichuan restaurant, and although Transit is surely the most refined of the lot, we doubt it will be winning first place in too many hearts.
Dinner for two with wine 1,000RMB
By Amy Hawkins