Qingyunlou is known as Beijing's guardian of Shandong cuisine, but few people realize that it also has a Vietnamese restaurant.
This Southeast Asian dining destination is called Nuage, or "cloud" in French, echoing the name of its parent. Located on the east bank of Qianhai Lake, the restaurant faces the water, overlooking the ice rink.
The dinning room is a bit dark, except for a couple of tables next to its carved wooden windows, which let in plenty of sunshine even in winter. On my visit for a weekday lunch, there were only a few guests.
Servers, in the Vietnamese long skirt called ao dai, were young and amiable and very attentive. Run Run, one of the owners, says the place is more popular in summer.
For starters, the spring rolls and green papaya salad were both appealing. Spring rolls are my favorite, the crystal rice paper wrapper concealing a filling of chopped shrimp, rice noodle, mixed vegetable and sprigs of mint.
Dressed in a sweet Vietnamese sauce and ground peanut, the rolls were refreshing and a real palate cleanser. The salad plate is heaped with shredded green papaya tossed with chillis, mint leaves, peanut and shrimp crackers, balanced with just enough fish sauce to pull the whole thing together.
For the mains, there is the seasonal Vietnam hotpot that could cure a cold, or at least ward off the chill of winter. This is scallop, prawn, beef and mixed vegetable flavored with a broth made with mushroom, lemongrass, lime juice and kaffir lime leaves. It tastes a little like the Thai tomyum soup, but is less tart.
Bites of Vietnam by the lake
The beef served has been tenderized so that it cooks easily and lends its sweetness.
Sweet sugarcane prawn is another good dish to try. Crisp-fried prawn is well balanced, with the fresh sugarcane cutting through the richness of the prawn crust. It was a pretty dish, enhanced by its sweet and spicy chili dip.
For a sweet finish, the homemade soybean milk is something to savor, as is the cranberry milkshake.
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