King’s Joy 2 Wudaoying Hutong Lama Temple Dongcheng District Tel 8404 9191
京兆尹 东城区 雍和宫 五道营胡同2号
Yuan Mei, a Qing dynasty poet who had sharp tongue for both eating and writing, would have been thrilled had he had a chance to dine at King’s Joy 京兆尹. He no doubt would have admired how each dish was prepared with passion and utmost attention to the smallest details.
The opening of King’s Joy, arguably Beijing’s best vegetarian restaurant, couldn’t have come at a better time, as we suffer falling quality in Chinese cuisine and a rash of never-ending food scandals that keep making headlines.
King’s Joy offers vegetarian food, but not the restrictive monastic style, where leeks, onions, garlic, chives and other pungent ingredients are prohibited. Hence, the flavor and fragrance here are bursting and not impeded.
The focus here is on health and preservation of the environment. Many of the vegetables come from nearby cooperating organic farms or from far-away Yunnan.
And the restaurant is in very capable hands. Owner David Yin has a degree in nutrition from Fujen University in Taipei. We also learned that the chef of King Joy’s kitchen was a disciple from the Donglin Monastery, on Lushan, in Jiangxi Province , who was encouraged by his master to promote vegetarian eating outside of the monastery. “The life of an animal is equal to a human life,” his master once told him.
The dishes we try are phenomenally superb: organically tasty and flavorful and without trying to make the food look like fake meat. Every dish is creatively made. I am most impressed with the herbal soup using shouwu 首乌, tuber of multi-flower knotweed paired with walnut, cubes of bean curd, and Chinese yam in a subtle mushroom-based broth. This is the best soup I’ve ever tasted.
Another amazing dish is the fresh Gorgon fruit, indigenous to Jiangsu Province, which is stir-fried with asparagus. The pearly Gorgon fruit has a wonderful texture; it’s slightly chewy, somewhat akin to glutinous rice, yet lovely light. Gorgon fruit is dubbed water ginseng because it is an aquatic herbaceous.
Sautéed Matsutake Mushroom Celtis Leaf 松茸朴叶烧 is artistically presented, with a large celtis leave serving as a "plate" sitting on a candle-lit mini-pot, which keeps the dish warm. Gingko nuts and slivers of red chillies and seaweed are carefully laid on the surface of the dish.
King’s Joy also excels in making wonderful traditional desserts. “Donkey rolling on the ground” is the signature sweet of Old Peking. This is red bean paste rolled in glutinous rice cake, which resembles a jelly roll, and dusted with grounded soya bean flour which gives it the look of a donkey that has rolled in the dust on the ground. The fragrant of the roasted soya bean flour giving this snack a unique taste. No other place I know of in Beijing makes “donkey rolling on the ground” nearly as good as King’s Joy. Here, the rice cake is served with homemade sweet-scented osmanthus-jujube-brown sugar syrup.
The wine and beverage list are also extensive, and includes healthy beverages made with soya beans, oatmeal, peanuts, and fruits. The Oatmeal Nut-Melange Soy Beverage 麦片坚果豆浆 is particularly delicious, a hot drink that has a nutty cocoa flavor.
Adding to the attraction of the food is the magnificent design of the restaurant, which is the work of Zhang Yonghe, one of China’s most famous architects. The restaurant, possibly the most beautiful one in Beijing, is built in a simple courtyard style with a small outdoor dining area in the rectangle. One private room faces a clump of rich green bamboo, while another has a view of a pomegranate tree. A mist floats up from the sides of the ground, which combined with the scent of incense wafting over the walls of the Lama Temple just across the street, gives the restaurant a mysterious but alluring feel.
Quality like this comes at a price, however. The lowest-priced set meal, which is served in the private dining rooms, runs Rmb 699 per person for a 10-course meal. If you want something simpler, choose a table in one of the open areas or in the Zen-like courtyard, where you can order à la carte from the menu.