Collin, a diner at Barbeque Ji Restaurant in Houhai with his American friend Laurie is reacquainting himself with this "renowned Muslim restaurant", which has hosted figures such as former U.S. President George Bushand is adjacent to the former residence of Soong Ching-ling.
They are enjoying a plate of stir-fired snow pea and the roast lamb kept hot on a candle stove, a must at the eatery founded by chef Ji Decai during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) that has catered to diners for 160 years.
The century-old recipe includes several critical steps: select choice lamb and beef, pickle and barbecue them on the specially made grill with onion, coriander and other spices. The dish was a favorite with the nobility living in the lake area when the restaurant opened.
The best way to eat the meat is to make a Chinese "beef/lamb burger" by stuffing the meat into a pre-sliced baked wheaten cake.
Chinese beans, vegetable hors d'oeuvres, quick fried white turnip, spiced beef and laurel-lotus roots are most popular starters.
Beijing roast duck here is less greasy compared with some other roast duck eateries in the city as Barbeque Ji has its own finely selected duck breed.
Other popular main dishes include curry beef, savory beef, roast lamb back, braised ox tail, grilled beef cutlets, diced chicken with chili pepper, chicken with cashew nut, deep-fried prawns, stir-fried asparagus and sauted celery and lily.
The small dish is enough for two and the large for more than three.
Sipping 5-year-old Chinese rice wine beneath pictures from ancient Chinese mythology at the lakeside restaurant is a very oriental experience.
You can ask the waiter to spice up your rice wine with salted plums and take away the porcelain wine bottle as a souvenir.
The chef's own plum juice can cool you off on a sweltering summer day.
The three-storey traditional building is set against the Yinding Bridge (Silver Ingot Bridge), at the southeast end of the lake, about 15 minutes walk from the southern gate of the lake.
The servings at the always-packed restaurant have diminished over the years and the service during peak hours is a bit slow.
So be patient. You can spend the wait by the Yinding Bridge with a view of the mountains in the west of Beijing if it is a clear day. This is rated as one of the eight best views of the ancient city.
Phone number: 8610 6404-2554.
Opening time: 11:00 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.
English menu available and major credit cards accepted.
You would spend around 60 yuan (8.8 U.S. dollars) to 80 yuan for a meal per person on average here.
Besides the tasty food at Barbeque Ji for lunch, Collin has much more to share with his friend. For instance, he can show her along the meandering Yandaixie Street (Tobacco Pipe Lane) just at the back of Barbeque Ji, a 300-meter-plus, time-honored twisting road scattered along with many souvenir shops.
When you cross Yinding Bridge and walk for about five minutes to the south, you will run into a hotpot eating house along the bar street, ideally set in an old siheyuan (four-sided enclosed yards), with a perfect view of the street and lake.
Hongyuan Nan Men Hotpot
If you are a hotpot lover, you have loads of choices in Beijing. If you are a bar-flyer, you also have many options in Houhai. But having a hotpot meal at a siheyuan in Houhai, Nan Men Hotpot would be the premium destination.
Nan Men (South Gate) got its name when the first of its eight branches opened a decade ago next to the south gate of the Temple of Heaven in southern Beijing.
Although hotpot meals have gone through many changes, the traditional Beijing-style large copper pot with pure-water broth that you can have in Nan Men remains many people's unchanged favorite.
However, you can order one separate small pot for each around the table, a finely eclectic practice between the Chinese and Western dining styles.
The prices here are fair, for you would spend around 50 yuan per person to buy a decent meal with a group of friends.
You will find most diners boiling and supping on a plate of fresh and exquisite lamb or beef from Inner Mongolia, Chinese cabbage, spinach, sliced yam, sliced potato or other veggies, and quaffing a local Yanjing beer.
Two specialties of the hotpot chain are its chef-made sesame sauce with chopped onion, peanut and coriander and its mouth-watering sesame wheaten cake (either a baked one or a deep-fried one).
If you want to enjoy supper under the sky, you have to be early to get one of the six tables outside in the courtyard, although the surrounding street environment is actually too bustling for a quiet meal.
Phone number: 8610 6616-7033 (Chinese speaking service only).
Opening time: 11 a.m. to midnight.
Major credit cards accepted.
After a hearty hotpot meal, if you take a stroll along the narrow hutong at the gate of Nan Men Hotpot to the south for several minutes, you will find an eatery in the real depth of the hutong. Moreover, the food here is likely something you are familiar with.
You will find this five-year-old restaurant in a two-storied structure with a shabby outlook in the real depth of the hutong. Accordingly, its name is "Hutong Pizza."
When asked about the structure's history, even the manager of the eatery could not tell for sure whether the building was a former residence of an influential official in the Qing Dynasty or a Buddhist convent of nuns. However, the painted rafters and the creaking sound from the wooden stairs of the building tell how many passersby it has witnessed.
From the wooden bridge, bamboo, fish pond and rockery, you can get a glimpse of what Chinese fengshui means. For food there are 11 vegetarian and seafood pizzas and 13 meaty pizzas for choices. The handwritten menu blackboard is in English and tells of what's on offer.
Mediterranean, veggie mania, carnivore carnival and roast chicken and bacon pizzas are recommended.
On the first page of the menu, there is a lovely reminder that"a small pizza (30 cm 30 cm) is suitable for one (very hungry) person or two (hungry) people. A large pizza (30 cm 50 cm) is suitable for two (very hungry) people to four (hungry) people."
Snacks like crispy jacket potato skins with garlic dip are warmly welcomed among foreign hutong explorers.
If you want to enjoy more tastes during your Houhai gastronomic odyssey, you can order combined pizzas here, either a combination of two different toppings to make one small pizza, or three different toppings together to make one large pizza.
Sipping a beer or a soup in the ambiance of the rattan-plaited bookshelf, big wooden chairs and Tibetan pictures on the wall, you will feel at home, although you may also find the light on the second floor too dim.
Phone number: 8610 6617-5916.
Opening time: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
English menu. Cash only, no credit cards accepted.
You would spend around 70 to 90 yuan for a meal per person on average here.