Pretty in Red

Pretty in Red describes the new fitting new menu at a Beijing institution and a perennial favorite for Beijingers.

The Bookworm is one of the stalwarts of Beijing because of it’s ability to consistently provide a great space to work during the day and still host a wide range of popular public events from storytelling, live music, comedy shows and of course their annual literary festival. So much more than just a bookshop or a library, the Bookworm serves as a welcome community space that lends itself as a creative platform and after over 10 years, it still stands strong as one of Beijing’s most beloved places to hang out, read a book and believe it or not, this is also a hot spot for people to meet and mingle. What’s more romantic than being surrounded by thousands of books and that soft red hue from their signature hanging lanterns?

While their menu was already pretty standard with a range of straight-forward basic salads, soups, pasta and sandwiches designed to satisfy your cravings while you’re working away, I was pretty stoked when the Hatchery team hosted a winter pop-up at The Bookworm serving their newly launched Soul Bowls menu and now The Bookworm has taken their own initiative to step up their own food game.  There are new kids on the block popping up to challenge it as a cafe everyday, but the Bookworm has undergone a food renaissance and is pushing back.

“The Bookworm continues to attract gastronomes and casual diners alike. Our no-nonsense menu is tasty and wholesome, freshly prepared to your liking by our team of expert chefs. Reading is thirsty work and we don’t want you getting parched among the parchments. The Bookworm bar staff are on hand to proffer your desired elixir as you continue turning the pages.”The Bookworm

The Bookworm Beijing: New Menu

The Bookworm’s “Pretty in Red” New Food & Drinks Menu

The Bookworm Beijing: New Menu Dishes

The new menu is pretty swanky with a nice hard cover and the photos inside will already get your mouth watering. Though I have previously just had lunch at The Bookworm, we came for dinner and as we flipped through the new menu, we noticed a few things.

The first thing that struck us was that this is not normal cafe food – this is a thoughtful menu with healthy options, both Western and Asian options and a range of snacks, salads, main courses and dessert – a complete menu that you would find worthy of any restaurant establishment. Not only will this be a nice surprise for all Bookworm regulars, this will hopefully start attracting a whole new crew of foodies who will surely give praise and recognition to this new menu facelift.

The second surprise was that the breakfasts look great! There aren’t many breakfast options in Beijing aside from street food and a handful of bakeries that open before most restaurants do at 11AM. I will definitely be going back to dig into their breakfast selection soon. The third thing that we noticed about this new menu was that this menu is actually really suited to sharing with a group. They have a variety of sharing platters and to take proper advantage, you would want to go with 4 or more fellow foodies. No longer just fare for the lone bookworm, the new menu will hopefully get more people mixing, mingling and sharing!

The culinary brains and creativity behind this new menu upgrade is by their chef Ivan Arroyo, who also heads up their venue in Chengdu and spent a few weeks brushing up the Beijing Bookworm menu. In speaking to Ivan about his new menu dishes, he was clearly passionate about the new menu dishes and we were happy to go with his recommendations.

As a pair, we couldn’t go for as many dishes in one go as we would have liked, but tried to do the large selection justice and made our way through four of their recommended dishes.

The Bookworm Beijing: Kale & Coconut Salad (RMB 60) with pearl barley, cilantro and cashew pesto

Kale & Coconut Salad with Pearl Barley, Cilantro and Cashew Pesto (RMB 60)

The kale and coconut salad was great. Loved the mix of flavours, the sweet, crunch of the coconut and the bitter kale. Only ask would be a greater proportion of vegetable matter vs grains.

The Bookworm Beijing: Baked Camembert Cheese with Garlic & Rosemary and Warm Bread, Nuts, Raisins + Homemade Jam

Baked Camembert Cheese with Garlic & Rosemary and Warm Bread, Nuts, Raisins + Homemade Jam (RMB 65)

The Bookworm Beijing: Sautéed Shrimps with Garlic, Butter, Cayenne. Served with Warm Bread & Garlic Mayonnaise (RMB 55)

Sautéed Shrimps with Garlic, Butter, Cayenne. Served with Warm Bread & Garlic Mayonnaise (RMB 55)

Both sharing plates were awesome, the baked Camembert is as smelly as it should be and the perfect amount of gooey-ness. The almonds, raisins, homemade jam and warm bread make this cheese platter complete as a stand-alone dish and a gorgeous snack to have any time of day (preferably alongside a glass of red).

The shrimps are really juicy and begging to be dipped in the aioli. The cayenne gives a nice spice kick and not sure this dish needs a serving of warm bread but adds a little filler for those who just want one dish to snack on.

The Bookworm Beijing: Roasted Rack of Lamb with Creamy Polenta, Sautéed Mushrooms Spiced with Pickled Mustard Seed

Roasted Rack of Lamb with Creamy Polenta, Sautéed Mushrooms Spiced with Pickled Mustard Seed (RMB 95)

The lamb was excellent – tender, juicy and paired very nicely with the bed of polenta, roasted carrots and spiced mushrooms. In hindsight, it would have paired well with our glass of red wine, but we had long finished that by this point in the meal…

Overall, a worthy overhaul! It is good value for money and has some great options for both the solo eater and big groups.

Couple of other things to note –

  • They had a pianist(!) playing on the night that we went. Not sure how often this happens, but it made for a great atmosphere and was a nice, unexpected touch.
  • Pro tip: The lighting inside their main room has a deep red hue which again makes for a nice, romantic atmosphere but if you plan on Instagramming your food, bring a partner with a mobile phone torch otherwise your shots are going to come out not very representative of what you’re trying to capture.

The Bookworm Beijing: Live Music Entertainment

Live Music Entertainment 

The Bookworm’s Contact Details:

About Kristen

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.