With four locations throughout Beijing, you would expect a restaurant to boast a consistent, if not high, standard. However, Xiao Wang Fu brings up feelings of mild bewilderment as half of their dishes wow, and the other half leave you questioning your daily food choices.

The Xiao Wang Fu close to the Kerry Hotel Beijing is awkwardly located in what is best described as a dimly-lit alley, and the front door would probably work better as the back entrance. The décor inside the long hallway-like restaurant creates an ambience of not-so-fine European dining in a second tier Chinese city, which is somewhat surprising for a Chinese restaurant catering to tourists. We can’t deny we were expecting a more Chinese-themed experience.

The service is friendly, and not overbearing regardless of the sheer extent by which the waiters outnumber the diners. The observant will notice that Xiao Wang Fu almost exclusively employs male servers, rare in Beijing, and even more so in the rest of the country. The restaurant has a long and somewhat hard-to-physically handle menu that expands like an uncontrollable and never-ending accordion, offering a diverse range of dishes whose origins lie throughout the entirety of China. A novel idea but perhaps not the best execution.

Out of the four dishes, two were especially to our liking: the wilted spinach and vinegar peanuts cold starter and the gongbao jiding (RMB 28), also known as kung pao chicken. Although the spinach with peanuts served in other restaurants is often a battle between the spinach, and salt and MSG, Xiao Wang Fu’s version was perfectly seasoned and retained its moreish quality. The gongbao jiding was composed of large chunks of marinated meat rather than leftover pieces of fat, and was not lacking in vinegar-soaked nutty delights. There was also the occasional fried garlic chunk for the fans – we know you’re out there! Their version was hands-down one of the best variations of this classic dish we have tasted in Beijing.

The other two dishes we ordered are also both classics: the ganbian biandou (RMB 32), or deep fried beans, and the huiguorou (RMB 42), twice-fried pork. The ganbian biandou is considered by some to be Beijing’s best, but for those expecting chili peppers and a reasonable amount of pork – Xiao Wang Fu’s isn’t the place. The huiguorou had the opposite conundrum: particularly over-seasoned. The seasoning mix, and the amount used, left us extraordinarily thirsty and we didn’t even make it halfway through a dish that is usually a staple.

Part of Xiao Wang Fu’s longevity has been its reliability in a pinch. Walk in, get a table, ask for a half or full Peking duck (RMB 88 per half ), and there it is, providing a foolproof back-up plan when the unexpected visitor appears. It’s easy to order Beijing favorites here, and while none will be best in class, there will be little disappointment.

Xiao Wang Fu’s success has come as a safe bet that’s conveniently located for the central business district. Foreigners find it consistent – and its Ritan Park location is genuinely lovely, although with higher prices than its other locations.

More stories by this author here.

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