Monday, 21 May 2007

Charming Courtyards in Beijing

A courtyard house is the most charming way to live in Beijing. But not the most convenient one. There are only few courtyards available that have bathrooms and electricity. They are difficult to access because hutongs are long small one way alleys. And, it is a fairly new and not a very transparent market. You have to ask around. Renovated hutongs are gone fast. To find one and convince a landlord to renovate it (with your money) or to buy one is even more difficult. A courtyard purchase is several times more complex than buying a house anywhere else as you find yourself confronted with six or more owners and their support team of 20 or more extended relatives (see Tom's Hutongs for rent here). And then at the end, you never know how long your new investment is save from the Beijing's bull-dozers (see post from Daily Telegraph's China Correspondant Richard Spencer). Because Beijing's preservation plan seems not always to protect where it was supposed to.


For the moment, I suggest, the easiest was to enjoy the charming courtyards is to have dinner at one of the many restaurants located in courtyard houses.


The Source
Superbly restored old Hutong House with delicious, spicy set menu (120 or 190 RMB).
14 Banchang Alley, Kuan Jie, Dongcheng, phone 6400 3736

Red Capital Club
Red Capital Restaurant opened in 1999, followed by Mr. Brahm's boutique hotel. Both are crammed with Mao-mentos - Cultural Revolution paintings and figurines, antique phones, radios and actual chairs from Zongnanhai. The courtyard restaurant can't be missed in the alley as Mrs. Mao's car is parked outside.
66, Dongsi Jiu Tiao, Dongsi Dajie.

Mei Fu or Mei's Mansion
Peking opera master Mei Langang's favorite dishes are served in this three-level courtyard house. Dinner is an experience in this low-lit, chic and contemporary, restored 200-year-old Hutong with its fountains and pebbles and simply furnished dining salons. Set menu, around 300 RMB per person. Little English is spoken.
24 Daxianfeng Hutong, Houhai, Xicheng, phone 6612 6845

Yi He Ya Ju
Very popular, very casual restaurant with two 'beer garden' like gardens. Ideal for lunch combined with a walk in Ritan park or shopping in this area. It serves a mix of Sichuan, Shandong, Cantonese, Beijing and Shanghai cuisine.
Northeast corner of Ritan Park, Cahoyang, 8561 7643
(some expats call it the 'hole in the wall restaurant', because of its entrance)

Dali Courtyard
Hidden off an Alley. Warm and rustic, with coal furnaces, and old jazz tunes.
67 Xiaojingchang Hutong, Gulou Dong Dajie, Dongcheng, phone 8404 1430

Huajia Yiyuan
Courtyard with painted girder and roofs. Beijing style food.
235 Dongzhimennei Dajie, phone 6405 1908

The Gourmet Room
A small courtyard with delicate cantonese food and good wine.
Mo - Thur 6 pm - 9.30 pm, Fri - Sun 11 am - 2 pm, 6 pm - 9.30 pm.
3 Qianhai Xijie, Shichahai, Xicheng District 3, phone 6613 9641

Yan Yi Shan Zhai Ge Ge Fu
Staff dressed in ancient Chinese costumes. The cuisine is the so-called 'official cuisine' and there are nutritional soups. (??)
11 am - 2 pm, 4.30 pm - 10.30 pm.
9 Daqudeng Hutong, Meishuguan Houjie, Dongcheng, phone 6407 8006

Tan Hua Xuan
Tanjia Cuisine featuring the best of all Chinese cuisines.
112 Gulou Xidajie, Xicheng, phone 6403 3171

Baijia Dazhaimen
Official cuisine served in a Qing Dynasty king's former residence.
15 Suzhou Jie, Haidan, phone 6265 4186

Family Yue's Banquet House
Nutrious soups in the backyard of a king's former residence (same king as above?...).
29 Suzhou Jie, Haidan, phone 8262 5960

Village of the beautiful stove
Local Jiangxi food prepared in porcelain pots and nutritious soups
11 Suzhou Jie, Haidan, phone 6253 8883

Gui Gong Fu's
two yards are the best part of the restaurants as the rooms are a bit dark. The courtyard is said to belong to Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) empress Cixi's brother. The restaurant is famous for its dishes made of tea ingredients, as well as for Cantonese and Sichuan cuisines. 10.30 am - 2 pm, 5 pm - 10.30 pm.
11 Dafangjia Hutong, Chaoyangmennei Nanxiao Jie, Dongcheng, phone 6512 7677

Plenty of space for outdoor and indoor dining. It's a three level courtyard house adapted from a nunnery where a Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) princess spent her life as a nun. Vegetarian food.
10 am - 10 pm. 200 meters north of North gate of Taoranting Park,
10-16 Heiyaochang Jie, Xuanwu District, phone 63557348

Courtyard No 28
Small restaurant with a big tree and three rooms decorated in ancient Chinese Style. Spicy Guilin and Sichuan food. 11 am - 11 pm.
1 Xilou Hutong, South of Lama Temple, Dongcheng, phone 8401 6788

Crabapple House
Inside simple and a bit dark, outside under wisteria vine two wooden benches. Menu in Chinese and quiet expensive. Maybe better for tea time in the garden.
32 Xuanwumen Xidajie, Xuanwu District, phone 8315 4678


Remark: There is this chic restaurant called The Courtyard, that is overlooking the moat and the Eastern wall of the Forbidden City. Despite its name it is not a typical courtyard house and offers elegant indoor dining. The contemporary art gallery has moved from the basement out of town to Shunyi. Instead you could dine very intimate with a cozy bed next to the table... Reservation some days in advance:
95 Donghuamen Dajie, Dongcheng, phone 6526 8883


Oh, well, I have to say, I did not know that there are sooo many courtyard restaurants. I have tried only three or four so far. And I will use this list to check them out one by one, as it is courtyard season right now!


One more thought after reading Richard Spencer's post and the comments... I have never before thought about what has happend to the former residents of a courtyard restaurant or bar. Were they forced out? Were they compensated accordingly? Not only modern developpment projects are a threat to hutong residents even restaurants and bars might be.


- China Daily's Beijing Weekend Guide (May 18-20), list of romantic courtyard restaurants,
- Luxe City Guide Beijing for the review and addresses of the Source, Mei Fu, Dali Courtyard, The Courtyard,
- That's Beijing's tbjhome (May 2007) for the courtyard renovation and purchase articles 'Hutong Heaven' and 'This Courting Life' by Tom Luckock. For further info about renting, buying and renovating courtyards contact the writer at or visit his website about his two renovated courtyard houses. One is for rent, and one is a Bed & Breakfast that will open during 2007.
- photo via Red Capital Club

My older post:Beijing Courtyard House sells for Record Price (April 2007)


Ian said...

I LOVED that post Suzie, it was a real learning experience for me. Thanks for sharing!


- Susan - said...

Hey Ian, you are my favorite commentor!
This morning I thought I will do something more intellectual than sitting in front of the computer (again) so I went through some books... one is about Chinese houses. It is so interesting, lot of stories and layouts about courtyard houses. And I read this chapter about the courtyard of famous former Peking opera star Mei Langfang. His residence is a museum. And I am going to visit it later this morning! I am so excited and will take my camera... and post about it later.

Thanks for visiting. Until soon.


LinkWithin Related Stories Widget for Blogs