Culinary inspiration can come from a lot of sources but many Chefs feel that travel is one of the most interesting ways to grow your culinary skills. So this past summer, Niajo’s owner Alex Sanchez brought one of his chefs, Pan Huiya for a 3-month trip to Spain to work in three different Michelin-starred restaurants (Vinícolas by Raúl Aleixandre, San Sebastián, and a restaurant by a friend of Alex’s). They both came back with new inspirations and Pan learned a better understanding of Spain’s philosophies in the kitchen.
“I wanted to reconnect with my people, my country and my friends – and for Pan to see and experience those things too. You know, once she saw me in that environment, she said: “I understand now! We thought you were crazy, but now I get it!” Once she was able to appreciate the philosophy and the method – she realized I wasn’t crazy, there was a reason why I wanted things to be done a certain way and in a certain style.” – Alex Sanchez, an excerpt from That’s Beijing’s interview with Niajo’s owner Alex Sanchez and his chef Pan Huiya on their 3-month training in Spain (You can read more about their eye-opening culinary trip in the May issue of That’s Beijing magazine)
Needless to say, both Alex and Pan have returned to Beijing feeling excited about their new knowledge and motivated to implement what they’ve learned abroad into their own kitchen. With a whole new perspective from what’s happening in Spain’s top-rated restaurants, they’ve gone to work on putting together a brand-new menu for Niajo.
A slick new menu covered in a soft material that begs to be rubbed, the interior is framed in a shiny silver border and all the dishes are as fancy and sophisticated as the new text font they’ve been presented as. With only a small portion of old dishes that still remain, this is a serious make-over for Niajo. The restaurant interior and decor remains the same, but for anyone who can appreciate improvement, Niajo deserves a big pat on the back. As a fan of this quaint and intimate Spanish restaurant since it opened in 2009, it’s been a pleasure to see it evolve into what it is today. While their ever-popular signature authentic Valencia paella remains on their menu, you can expect a splash of new pintxos and tapas to explore and savor.
New Menu, New Dishes
Iberico Cured Acorn-Fed Shoulder (RMB 198 per 60g)
Scottish Salmon, Cream Cheese and Truffle (RMB 25 each)
Pie Stuffed with Spanish Tuna (RMB 20 each)
Iberico Ham Roll, Rice, Tuna and Tomato Confit (RMB 40 per 4 pieces)
Piquillo Red Pepper Stuffed with Bechamel, Cod Fish and Shrimps (RMB 38 each)
Banana, Bacon and Rugula (RMB 32)
French Cube Foie Gras Marinated in Red Wine and Caramelized (RMB 58 for 6 pieces)
Shrimps in Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Garlic and Chili (RMB 75)
Fried Potatoes, Iberico Chorizo and Aioli Cream (RMB 38)
Spanish Octopus Grilled with Extra Virgin Olive Oil (RMB 108)
Scampi from the North Sea (RMB 58 each)
Codfish with Green Pepper Sauce (RMB 36)
Assorted Spanish Desserts Platter (RMB 108)
While some signature Spanish pintxos and tapas were pretty authentic to Spain like the grilled octopus and potatoes with Iberico ham, some of these fusion pintxos and tapas were really bold and rather ingenius like the Banana and Bacon roll, Iberico Ham and Rice “Spanish sushi” roll and French cube foie gras marinated in red wine and caramelized. None of these would have been on the old Niajo menu. This is a big step up. Niajo is no longer sticking to traditional Spanish tapas and dishes, they are mixing things up, experimenting with new flavor and texture combinations.
While many of their dishes are gathering the attention of both old and new customers, we were most delighted by two pintxos dishes- the Scottish smoked salmon, cream cheese and truffle rolls (an explosion of flavor in your mouth and truffle is amazing with smoked salmon) and the pie stuffed with Spanish tuna was much more delicate than expected. We were actually hesitant to order these two dishes, but as they came highly recommended by the staff, we gave them both a try and are so pleased that we had.
Though I asked after Alex, turns out that he’s back in Spain for another trip so I was happy to see Chef Pan leading Alex’s kitchen like a BOSS. She was very gracious when we briefly spoke and though she’s stressed to be heading the kitchen in Alex’s absence, I know he would be really proud to see how well she’s done! Though Alex took a risk in taking his chef away with him for 3 months, I believe it was a worthy investment because the resulting dishes inspired from their travels will delight and surprise you on your next visit to Niajo.
Always an Intimate Dining Experience at Niajo
Niajo Spanish Restaurant Details:
- Hours: 12PM-23:00 Sunday-2:30PM (Lunch)
- Address: 3rd Floor Nali Huayuan (Nali Patio), 81 Sanlitun Beilu Chaoyang District
- Tel: 010 – 52086052
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Website: http://niajo.com/
Kristen Lum has an accomplished background in PR, communications and events in China. Born and raised in California, Kristen has been based in Beijing since 2006 and is founder of the lifestyle blog called LumDimSum, covering mostly restaurant news and reviews alongside upcoming events around town that relate to Beijing’s muti-faceted, quickly-developing creative industries like art, music, film, health and fitness, fashion, nightlife, charity events, and travel tips.