Beijing is never what you expect it to be. Fulcrum of Chinese political and economic power, cultural epicenter of a grand old country, desert oasis, home to Chinese artists and musicians, entrepreneurial paradise. It’s all these things – and more. It’s a great place to do business (so long as you have the contacts and the patience) and a surprisingly fabulous place to eat, drink and party. It isn’t a city for the faint of heart, or for those looking strictly to relax and find their inner karma. But it is a city of opportunity: a place to find yourself, your future and, yes, if you know where to look, your fortune.

Beijing is also a coin with two sides: one, dulled and sober, appears while the sun is up; the other, shiny and luminescent, seen in the evening, when the bars open on Sanlitun, Nanluoguxiang, and around Shishahai Lake. There are also great hotels – and great bars and restaurants - along with a myriad of eateries, all catering to a higher class of travellers, from hotpot restaurants on Ghost Street to roast duck restaurants in Qianmen district.

Breakfast, Brunch & Lunch

Forget breakfasts in Beijing. Seriously. Most hotels offer a good buffet, but then most Chinese ignore the first meal of the day: the real focus is on lunch and dinner and, to a lesser extent, brunch.

For the latter, Beijing offers a solid if rarely exceptional choice for business travelers. The Westin Chaoyang on Dongsanhuan Beilu in Chaoyang district is popular among early-ish eaters, offering good seafood with champagne and smoothies. At the Sheraton Dongcheng on Dongsanhuan Lu, brash Bene, a relative newcomer, boasts nice pastries and an impressive cheeseboard, alongside freshly made Asian-fusion dishes.

At Agua at Nali Patio on Sanlitun Lu, the atmosphere is altogether quieter, with quality set lunches running at just shy of Rmb100 a person. Another likely contender for best Beijing brunch is BLD Restaurant at the Renaissance Beijing Capital Hotel on Dongsanhuan Zhonglu, which offers something for everyone for seafood lovers, washed down with a wide array of sparkling wine and sotto voce live music. A final option for carb-seekers is the South German Bakery on Chaoyang Gongyuan Lu in Chaoyang district, which offers more than 20 varieties of European and German breads along with sweetbreads. Upstairs is the Café Konstanz, a German restaurant offering hearty business lunches dominated by sausages, sauerkraut and dumplings, and great weekend breakfasts.

Lunch is an altogether different matter. You know a really successful Chinese business lunch when you see it, as it usually morphs seamlessly into a business dinner. So choose carefully: First-Class Traveller has identified a few of the best eateries that also offer quality booze at reasonable prices.

Nuage is an oldie-but-a-goodie. Located at Qianhai Dongyan, on the northeastern side of Qianhai Lake, this three-tiered eatery with rooftop views across the lakes to Jingshan Park’s hilltop pagoda offers an Asian-fusion menu, heavy on salads, fruit and fish, and with an excellent wine menu.

If you find yourself in Finance Street in western Beijing – home to the big banks and insurers and many of the leading regulators – head to Cepe at the Ritz-Carlton hotel on Jinchengfang Dongjie. Classy, elegant Italian dishes – veal Milanese style; grilled salmon with citrus couscous asparagus; linguini with Boston lobster – blend with one of the city’s best wine selections. Your clients will love you: there is simply no better set-menu around.

In Chaoyang district, Sureño at the Opposite House in Sanlitun Village on Sanlitun Lu offers space and fine dining with a competitively priced (three courses: Rmb138) is the perfect location for a casual business lunch. Another favourite among the business-lunching crowd is Enoterra at Nali Patio, also on Sanlitun Lu – great for a lunch-on-the-go, sandwiches and salads, or wine and tapas. Enoterra also runs a cracking little eatery in Hong Kong, used for light lunches and post-work networking, and it has replicated that success here.

SALT is another outstanding lunch destination. Based opposite the Japanese School on Jiangtai Xilu, SALT offers that perfect balance of price and quality: it’s classy, but doesn’t break the bank. The setting is modern, yet never overly trendy: it’s also quiet enough to talk, yet has enough background noise to ensure your discussions aren’t overheard. Classic contemporary cuisine rules the say, offering everything from cold-cured salmon carpaccio to crispy soft-shell crab salad and red snapper with prawn-pork crackling parmentier.

Evening Eating

As recently as a decade ago, Beijing was a culinary backwater. Local eateries served up solid enough fare, but haute cuisine started and ended with the inimitable roast duck with thin-sliced pancakes and plum sauce.

No more. Beijing isn’t a world-beater yet, but it’s only a matter of time before China’s capital is up there with the best. A few of its top restaurants now sneak into those global Top-100 lists, inching their way, ever-higher, every year.

Lets start with Tiandi Yijia, a stone’s throw from the Forbidden City in central Beijing: a restaurant with an indefinable yet undeniable VIP air. Got a client to impress and entertain? Bring them here. Great contemporary Chinese cuisine with a real sense of humour (sesame pancakes, anyone?) infused with the best of the West, including great foie gras. Hardwood floors stretch across this two-floor behemoth on Nanchizi Dajie, west of Changpuhe Park, overseen by a far-sighted local chef, Zhang Shaogang.

Then there’s Capital M on Qianmen Buxing Jie, another in the growing “M on…” stable of eateries found in Shanghai and Hong Kong. Big, bold European dishes, from suckling pig to succulent steaks, and open fireplaces keeping clients warm through the cold Beijing winter. Best of all: the astounding views, over the towers, statues and overpowering space of Tiananmen Square.

Aria at the China World Hotel on Jianguomenwai Dajie has been completely turned around in recent years. Great fish, lamb porterhouse, foie gras mousse, wagyu steaks, ‘deconstructed’ cheesecake: here is a restaurant that loves its food. A great find in the Sanlitun bar area is Bei, at The Opposite House hotel. Its spare, high ceilings and funky modern setup aren’t for everyone: but young Chinese corporate executives dig the modern, semi-Westernised feel. The vibe is pan-Asian, mixing Korean and Chinese tastes with kaiseki-style multi-course Japanese dishes and Mongolian horse-milk liquor. For those seeking the simple things in life, Sanlitun also offers another delight: the Hidden Tree, west of The Opposite House, offering Belgian ales galore, superb flat-bread pizzas, and roaring open fires on colder nights. A potluck option is a hotpot meal: boil-it-yourself cauldrons of fiery beef, mutton and vegetables, washed down with local beer: the best options are on Ghost Street (Gujie), notably Jin Gui Xiao Shan Cheng, and La Jie Malaxiangguo, near Gulou Bridge.

Finally: don’t forget the duck. It’s a cliché, but all clichés have solid foundations, and Beijing remains the best place in the world to order a roasted bird. There are so many options, so here are the two extreme options. Duck de Chine in Courtyard 4 on Gongti Beilu, is the posh option, offering 43-day-old, longer-roasted duck with homemade hoisin sauce, washed down – a sign of the upscale patronage found here – Bollinger champagne. At the other end of the range lies a restaurant that offers irrefutably the best duck in the city – so long as you and your clients are willing to ‘slum it’ a little. Liqun Roast Duck at 11 Beixiangfeng, Zhengyi Lu, northeast of Qianmen in Dongcheng district remains a family-run affair since sometime before the dawn of Man. Located in a rambling ‘hutong’ alleyway, in the depths of winter, with the fire roaring and ducks roasting in a giant, glass-fronted oven by the door, there’s nothing better.


Some cities never quite convert wealth into classy wining-and-dining. Beijing is vehemently not on this list. The last several years have seen China’s capital transform itself into one of the coolest and hippest places for the über-elite – from all over the world – to hang out.

Centro at the Kerry Centre Hotel on Guanghua Road in the central business district is one of the best bars in town. It caters to everyone – so long as they have the money to buy one of Centro’s excellent cocktails. Primarily a business clientele, Centro is a great place to start the evening.

Xiu on the sixth floor of the Park Hyatt on Jianguomenwai Street is one of those locales you go to when the night is at its height. Bang in the heart of the central business district, this is the place to be seen and heard. The interior is vast and wonderfully designed; the view is extraordinary. Bring your client here to show them a mix of business and bling: they’ll love you for it.

Mesh at the Opposite House on Sanlitun Beilu is a great late-night haunt at one of the city’s best hotels. A great cocktail list and a diverse demographic ranging from twentysomethings to silver foxes (and hens). At Chaoyang Park West Gate, i-Ultra is another high-end joint with a vast variety of champagne and some pretty impressive cocktails to boot. If you get hungry, you can always head upstairs, to the Beach, a popular rooftop bar.

At the Eastern Hotel on Sanlitun Nan Lu, Q Bar is a genuine Beijing institution: It feels like it has been around forever. Top-end mixologists George and Echo rule the roost here, serving up quality martinis to an eclectic audience and smooth jazz. Another popular Sanlitun South destination is Glen, a whisky-lovers’ paradise with a superb selection of single malts.

On the eastern side of the Forbidden City, Domus, on Nanchizi Street, offers both fine dining and an elegant lounge bar catering to the monied. An excellent place to take old contacts and make new ones. For beer lovers, head to either the Hidden Tree (see “Evening Eating” and Beer Mania, a homage to Belgian and European ales at Taiyue Fang on Sanlitun Nanlu.

And if you’re still awake as night turns to dawn, why not head to The Den on Gongti Donglu, another Beijing staple. Good pizza, great beats, and a cosy bar that never seems to close. And if you’re still around in the morning, why not come back here for brunch, and start all over again.

Bed Down for the Night

Given that Beijing, not Shanghai, lies at the heart of the country’s business community, the relative paucity of top-end hotels in China’s capital comes as something of a surprise. Those that do exist, however, do themselves proud, stacking up well against peers in any major global city.

High on anyone’s list should be the Opposite House. Cool, in the right sense of the word, it’s also very laissez-faire, in the sense that the hotel’s staff, while being super-attentive on demand, tend to leave you to your own devices. Business travellers will love the desks – wide and deep, with super-fast broadband – along with the spacious rooms. It’s quite, too, despite being located right in the heart of Sanlitun entertainment district.

Hotel G is different: come here for real and unusual luxury (thick carpets, strong colours, huge beds, cavernous bathrooms, and a cracking locale on Gongtixulu, round the corner from the Worker’s Stadium. A great bar and restaurant, both of which stay open late. And for old-fashioned Beijing, head to Raffles Beijing on East Chang An Avenue, a stone’s throw from Tiananmen Square. It’s a hotel that has some serious historical chops, having been opened in 1909 under the old name Grand Hotel du Pekin.

Insider Knowledge

Beijing is flooded with great, ‘trip of a lifetime’ things that can be done in an hour, a morning, or less than a day. Here are a few of the best. On Sunday mornings, head as early as you can to Panjiayuan, a vast, semi-roofed flea market on the Third East Ring Road. Literally everything, from ancient coins and colonial-era art, to replicated Chinese furniture, can be bought here.

Another curio is the Underground City, or Dixia Cheng, a warren of subsurface shelters built in the early 1970s on the orders of Chairman Mao in anticipation of a Russian nuclear attack. The bombs never came, and all that remains is a genuinely eerie reminder of the Cold War. One of the main entrances is at 62 West Damochang Street in Qianmen district.

A lucky dip option here is a healing session. If you want to boost your immune system or ward off ailments without the pesky use of surgical equipment or pills, Beijing is the place to come for alternative medicine. Reflexology, foot massages, acupuncture, cupping therapy: it’s all available here. Some places are better (and cleaner) than others: try the experts at one of the respected Liangzi outlets: in Chaoyang district at China Wenlian Hotel and Jinzhiqiao Dasha, and in Haidian district at Qingzhu Hotel on Chedaogou Street.

Finally, no trip to Beijing is complete without a trip to the Chang Cheng. Contrary to urban myth, it cannot be seen from space, but the Great Wall of China is visible to anyone who strays north of the capital city any great distance. Come rain, sun or snow, and in any season, the wall is an awesome sight, particularly if you are standing on it. There are many vantage points but one of the best (and least known) is at Huanghua, home to a steepling stretch of the wall known as the Dragon’s Back, along with groves of hazelnut orchards. Take the subway to Dongzhimen station, then hop on bus 916 to Huai Rou Di Shui – go with a Chinese friend or ask for help locally at the station: you’ll find it. Then take a taxi (Rmb50 ($8, £5) to Haunghua Chang Cheng: it will take roughly 40 minutes.