#11 – 老杨家炉包: Not sure if it was worth the trouble.
It was at this moment that the trip finally started to spiral out of control. The subway journey was ok, but when we arrived it was verging on rush hour, and it proved very tricky to find a taxi, and even then the first couple of drivers had no idea where the place was. Fortunately the third driver was actually from Beijing, and took us twenty minutes down the road to another booth.
Price: 3.5¥ each
James – Very light these – a fluffy texture and a mild flavour. Is that good? At this point I want the baozi to stand out, and though these are a bit different, they still don’t. Pleasant and inoffensive doesn’t cut it any more. 6/10
V – Compared with the usual Shanghai fried baozi they aren’t really good enough, but for North China they aren’t bad. The skin is not perfect, it’s too thick. Here they are called ‘lubao’ but I could swear they’re what we call ‘shengjianbao’ in Wuhan. 7/10
Total score: 6½/10
#12 – 开封第一楼： What’s all the fuss about?
Another long journey, though this time only because it was now peak time, and the bus immediately became caught in a traffic jam. We finally arrived at one of Beijing’s most famous baozi restaurants, serving Henan style xiaolongbao. As the price difference was tiny we thought we might as well go for the crab ones.
Price: 38¥ for 7
Location: 276 DongsiBeiDaJie
James – the casing is doughy and floury – to my mind this is too distracting from the filling. The crab inside is also a little too dry and powdery. A plain flavour to the soup, but that doesn’t necessarily mean a subtle flavour. It may be that I’m getting fussy now. 5½/10
V – The flavour inside isn’t too strong, which is good, but the skin is too thick and it generally doesn’t seem fresh enough. A little plain too. 6½/10
Total score: 6/10
It was evening by now, and by any sensible standard time to go home. We’d certainly eaten enough baozi to keep us going for a long while. But there was just time for one more stop. Or maybe two, why not two?
#13 – “Elegant Place”: High points for presentation
A short taxi journey and a walk over the bridge took us to the next place, called ‘Elegant Place’. The name was quite apt – inside it looked like a 1980s 5-star hotel lobby, with plastic roses on the tables and Richard Clayderman on the sound system. It was only 7.30, but the place was completely deserted. we ordered pork and Chinese radish xiaolongbao, which took them 20 minutes to bring to the table. Very strange all round.
Price: 20¥ for 5
Location: Dongsi Shitiao Lukou (northwest corner)
James – The baozi were very meaty with big chunks of steak inside. Quite a good flavour overall, with a hint of ginger. More like a dumpling filling than anything else. A bit too much meat, then, but the sweetened vinegar provided made for good dipping. A generous 7½/10
V – The skin is a failure. Too thick, sticky and chewy. The contents are just ok. These should score higher than the standard, cheaper ones above, but they don’t. 6½/10
Total score: 7/10
#14 – Jingdian Shanghai Xiaolong Tangbao: A fitting ending.
Our final stop was a short bus journey away in Sanlitun, which was by this point starting to fill up with people having a snack before they went out to a bar or clubbing – a strange feeling when you’ve been out all day and are heading home. We took the last table and bought a single bowl of pork and crab xiaolongbao, which surprised the staff.
Price: 16¥ for 3
Location: Sanlitun Village North Gate
James – Lots of soup inside these, with a very pleasant savoury taste. You can tell they are made from quality ingredients. The meat inside, well, it’s not perfect, but it’s the best we’ve had since brunch. 8/10
V – The vital thing for great baozi is the skin, and this skin is perfect. The soup is delicious, the crab is fresh and oily, it’s all here. My favourites today. 9/10
Total score: 8½/10
….and that was it for then, we headed off home, ‘chi bao(zi) le’ (though, to be fair, nine servings of baozi between two people for three meals isn’t exactly glutton level). There had been some great finds, some terrible ones, and a great deal in-between. Here, for reference, is our score-sheet:
7 Eleven – 0½
GuHuai BaoDing – 4
Dingtaifeng (chicken) – 5
开封第一楼 – 6
Wangpanzi Lurou Huoshao – 6½
亚奥国际酒店 – 6½
“Elegant Place” – 7
江南大包 – 7
Dingtaifeng (pork & crab) – 7½
Achunjia – 7½
唐宫海鲜舫 (xioalongbao) – 8
唐宫海鲜舫 (chashaobao) – 8½
Jingdian Shanghai Xiaolong Tangbao – 8½
Baorui Mending Roubing – 8½
Laomanbaodu – 8½
A Wen Shanghai Restaurant – 9