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Saturday, August 19, 2017, 18:19
Confessions of a gourmand
By Zhao Xu
Saturday, August 19, 2017, 18:19 By Zhao Xu

An invitation from a top hotel to spoil your taste buds as never before cannot possibly be refused

Braised beef cheek and prime beef tenderloin presented by Waldorf Astoria Beijing's French-style restaurant Brasserie 1893. (Photo provided to China Daily)

What do you call someone who samples four major beef courses at one meal sitting? A gourmet or a glutton? I will happily go along with the former, having relished exactly that at the Waldorf Astoria Beijing recently.

The five-star downtown hotel, known for its impeccable service and its vibrant soul, is eager for its dining experience to be seen as one that is "consummate without being extremely costly", to quote Benoit Chargy, the hotel's executive chef.

That's true, at least two days of a week. Beef Tuesday and Lobster Wednesday, a special dining program offered in parallel by the hotel's two restaurants, the Frenchstyle Brasserie 1893 and the Chinese-style Zijin Mansion, provide diners with sumptuous food at 268 yuan (US$40) per person.

For sophisticated diners this is a real bargain. For unsophisticated ones with a more modest budget it is an opportunity to indulge taste buds and learn a culinary lesson or two.

For a single meal you usually have to choose between the two restaurants, but since we are there to sample the food, all four main beef courses - two from each - become inevitable.

The first one to make a grand entry, after starters including zucchini salad and beef carpaccio - yes, before beef there is beef - is braised beef cheek. (Just smile and don't think too deeply.)

The beef comes from the venerated Japanese wagyu. In fact the cows are raised in Chile, regarded as one of the best places on Earth for such an enterprise.

Fresh lobsters bound for the table at Waldorf Astoria Beijing. (Photo provided to China Daily)

The dish, prepared by Chargy, requires the beef to be stewed for 36 hours.

"Near the end of that process, cooling-off is needed to let the beef contract, which allows the savory and sticky juice to be absorbed deeper into the meat," Chargy says.

"Succulence is what we are aiming for, inside and out."

The result is a slice of heaven on the tip of my tongue.

Next, the chef challenges himself by offering another dish, this time featuring Stockyard Beef, an Australian premium brand named Grand Champion at the Royal Queensland Food and Wine Show. Chargy stresses that this voting does not include any Japanese beef - so you are getting a taste of the very best twice.

Here he offers medium-cooked prime beef tenderloin - a classy way of doing justice to a classy cut of beef.

By this point the pressure is piling high for the remaining beef dishes, both dished out by Chargy's colleague James Wang, the chef in charge of Zijin Mansion. Wang, who is spare with his words, preferring to let his food do the talking, rises to the challenge with his braised beef ribs with pear, and later with wok fried beef with chili paste.

The pears are meant to offset the creaminess of the beef ribs - a perfect match especially when we are half way through this prolonged session of abandoning ourselves to the indulgence of our palates.

Speaking of creaminess, that is what the wok fried beef is rich in. If the entire thing could be compared to an aria, then with the consumption of this last dish, the feeling of being pampered strikes a high note, before the stomach gives a gratifying sign.

Braised beef cheek and prime beef tenderloin presented by Waldorf Astoria Beijing's French-style restaurant Brasserie 1893. (Photo provided to China Daily)

Having approached the borders of gluttony with all this eating, it is time to stop. But before that I become philosophical and nostalgic, as I always do after some form of guilty pleasure.

In my household when I was a child my father cooked the best beef - so much so that every Chinese New Year's Eve he was responsible for doing exactly that. He always used beef with many tendons, which I still adore.

He always threw a few hawthorns into the pot, too. This was to make the beef more tender, he said, and he boasted of having mastered the delicate art of knifemanship, best evidenced by his treatment of the cooked beef.

Benoit Chargy (left), executive chef of Waldorf Astoria Beijing, gives the final touchup to a dish. (Photo provided to China Daily)

"You must cut through the grains of the meat," he said.

Perhaps this is the place to bring Dad, I thought. I could treat him to these taste delights, and after a similar session in which we let our taste buds run riot, let him know that for all the undoubted prowess of culinary masters everywhere, he stands head and shoulders above them all.

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