Anyone strolling by the recently unveiled Mercedes me square these days is sure to notice the bustling crowds in the complex's first floor cafe. Our curiosity thoroughly piqued, we stopped by to see what all the fuss was about. Interestingly enough, the venue both exceeded and fell short of our expectations in different ways.

The downsides were few, but apparent. Chief among them was the lackluster coffee offerings, an outright shock given the venue's billing as a cafe in a top notch lifestyle plaza. The cafe's promotional materials boasts brews with 100 percent Arabica beans from South America, and 100 percent certified organic coffee from Yunnan, China. This sounded very promising, but when we opened the menu, we were surprised to see eight items on offer: an RMB 22 black coffee, RMB 24 cafe latte, RMB 22 cafe Americano, RMB 24 cappuccino, RMB 22 espresso, RMB 22 double espresso, RMB 24 macchiato, and RMB 24 cafe mocha. The black coffee was strong and flavorful enough to rouse any weary patron, and the iced mocha made for refreshing and slightly bitter (though mostly bland) summer beverage. But neither was by any means innovative, and we had entered the cafe assuming that a wide range of creative choices would be on offer.

This state of affairs would have sufficed at other, lesser venues, but our expectations were quite high, given the bold food and beverage artistry on display at the complex's adjacent Sifang Sanchuan and Lighthaus Bar. Thankfully the juice bar was more impressive, with clever offerings fitting the Mercedes theme like the Drive Me (made with pear, tomato, wheat grass, hawthorn, and lemon) and the Recharge Me (consisting of pineapple, pomelo, lemon and sea salt). This was the top-of-the-line quality we were expecting of a world renowned luxury brand (all the juices cost RMB 32 per glass).

Even better than those juices were the eats. We started with the bite sized bun sandwiches, which come in threes and are are available in chili crab (RMB 66), black pepper crab (RMB 66), white pepper crab (RMB 66), and pork belly (RMB 58) varieties.

We went with the black pepper crab, which was served in a bamboo steamer, and consisted of pillow fluffy sesame flecked mantou buns, sesame sauce, and ginger and shallot dressing, along with Alaska imported crab that was deeply flavorful. In short, these sandwiches are highly satisfying comfort food that are perfect for sharing.

Up next was the RMB 86 mackerel, which came in a generous portion that justified its price, and made the preceding buns look pretty skimpy in comparison, given their cost (though of course no one would come to the Mercedes me to pinch pennies). The mackerel had a subtly salty flavor, and its texture was also excellent, staying firm yet tender, rather than the flaky mush that is too often served as "prime seafood" at lesser Beijing eateries. The dish's side of coconut rice was delicately sweet and fluffier than the mantou buns we'd tried earlier, and when it was mixed with adjacent spicy chili-esque jam, their contrasting flavors dazzled our palate.

We'll gladly return to try the RMB 45 pork consomme, RMB 77 salmon small plate, or maybe even the RMB 282 whole seabass if we really feel like splurging. Hopefully by then Mercedes gives its me Cafe coffee menu a much needed tune up. Until then, this venue won't be able to stand by its brand's famous slogan: "The best, or nothing."

Mercedes Me Cafe
1/F, Mercedes me, 1 Nan Sanlitun Lu, Chaoyang District

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Photos: Kyle Mullin, courtesy of Mercedes me

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