The talk of the town seems to be all about this new, hidden hutong gem named Xiao Jiao Private Kitchen No. 10. I’ve been told by multiple sources that this is the new “it”place. A nightmare to find, but worth the effort (or so I have been led to believe).
In a time of Beijing’s “great brickening”, perhaps this is a glimmer of hope that the soul of Beijing’s beloved hutongs is not dead and gone. This new restaurant opening shows that there are still creative entrepreneurs who are trying to keep the hipster hutong vibes alive. We don’t buy the gentrified baloney we see on Nanluoguxiang, we miss the good old days where authenticity and passion were the foundations behind each little cafe, restaurant, or bar. Our hutong neighborhoods that we hold dear to our hearts are being gutted and we are helpless to stop it.
So that brings us to Xiao Jiao Private Kitchen No. 10 (XJPK). To say that I was ecstatic when told about a new opening in the hutongs is an understatement. I literally dropped all my plans to book 2 seats on Wednesday evening and gave myself plenty of time to get lost (because I knew that I would and I recommend that you do the same). Xiao Jiao is a tiny, narrow little hutong that you could very easily miss if you aren’t paying attention. It’s not far from Meishuguan 美术馆 Art Museum and in a similar neighborhood to Little Yunnan and Susu. The trickiest thing about finding the right door to knock on is that there is literally no signage, so I accidentally knocked on the wrong door and met a grumbling neighbor who knew what door I was trying to find (I guess I’m not the first to make this mistake) and pointed me to the correct door.
I wasn’t sure about what to expect, but I knew that there is very limited seating each night (only a grand total of 6 seats), there is no menu, and that there is one lady running the show (the owner, chef and also the server).
Upon arrival, I was greeted by name (which was a nice touch) and escorted to my seat. My first impressions of Xiao Jiao Private Kitchen No. 10 is that this place is exactly the setting that I wish I could bring all tourists could see and experience when they come to Beijing. The hanging traditional Chinese lamps from the high ceilings, tall, wooden chairs and even the table is an old wooden door with a glass top. Nothing here is glamorous, but it’s all very tasteful and I liked the details in the décor – especially the large calligraphy brush set (pictured above). It’s cozy and quaint, with a lovely “hutong home” feel.
Table Setting with Fresh Flowers
Details in Décor
While initial impressions were positive, our dining experience really went downhill after we sat down.
Some things that intially struck me as odd (of which there are many throughout this dining experience), was that the music is all over the place. When I initially arrived and sat down, the music was very dark and dramatic (and ominous). As our evening progressed, the playlist ranged from theatrical soundtracks to Kenny G’s “Songbird”which I had to Shazam and make note to mention because I couldn’t believe they were playing it. It was, without a doubt, the most Schizophrenic playlist imaginable!
And while the branch of fresh cherry blossoms was a lovely table centerpiece in theory, it was just always in the way and I couldn’t believe they didn’t take it away when our food was being served. Perhaps they thought that the dishes were more Instagrammable, but it was very impractical and awkward for all the dining guests because we all had to keep moving the off-shoots of cherry blossoms out of our food.
Knowing that there is no menu and that the food changes regularly on the whims of their owner/chef/server, but it is generally Western and I had been told to expect between 3-4 courses and that wine would be included in the set price per person of RMB 420.
Once all the dining guests arrived, the owner/chef/server introduced herself and told us that the theme of our dinner was “Spring” (which explains the cherry blossom centerpiece). She brought over a bottle of red and struggled with the cork so one of the other dining guests offered to lend a hand. She left us to our own devices and went back into the kitchen, so we ended up pouring the wine ourselves. Even though there are only a max of 6 guests here per night, I think it’s still ambitious for one person to think that she can do everything from cooking to hosting and serving. It was obvious that she was feeling frazzled even before the meal began and it didn’t get any better throughout the night.
Amuse Bouche: Candied Walnuts
First up, we were served a very small portion of candied walnuts. I’m pretty sure you can just buy these candied walnuts in any generic Chinese shop serving nuts, so these were definitely not homemade, albiet served on a pretty porcelain plate. A classic example of all show and no substance.
Starter: Tricolore Bruschetta
Next up was giant slices of toast topped with Mozzarella, avocado and diced tomatoes. Pretty average presentation, but was actually quite tasty. But, let’s be honest, this is such a random dish to be served…especially in a “restaurant” and for dinner as part of a set menu! And it gets worse – as we were very impressed by the quality of the bread, we asked the owner/chef/server if she bakes it herself and, as it turns out, she orders it from The Bake Shop (an awesome delivery service that offers loaves of freshly baked bread, bagels, cookies, and other baked treats in Beijing). Kind of awesome that she knew about The Bake Shop, but also kind of cheating for her to be serving it as part of her menu! Similar to the candied walnuts, this is all stuff that I could easily get on my own.
Main Course: Pan-Fried Chicken Breast
Sides of Roasted Potatoes and Carrots
The mains for each guest was a pan-fried chicken bread and sides of roasted potatoes and carrots were shared. I feared the chicken would be dry and bland, but it was decently marinated and tender. The roasted potatoes were crispy on the outside and mushy on the inside and you can’t go wrong with baked carrots. But seriously, this entire dinner menu is all very simple, home-cooked foods that anyone can make at home. I don’t cook, everyone knows that, but I could make everything that was served to me tonight and that is worrying.
Dessert: Ice Cream Bar
Back to the theme of the meal that started with the candied walnuts – I am convinced that this dessert is 100% store-bought. It even came served ON A STICK. She clearly just took this out of her freezer and drizzled on some chocolate fudge and added a few fresh raspberries to two corners of the plate. Points of presentation, and again, the ice cream bar was absolutely delicious, but this is absurd for any restaurant aka “private kitchen” to be serving food that they aren’t actually making themselves! The audacity! If it’s not a crime, it should be and I’m here to tell the world that this place is an absolute joke.
What I can’t seem to wrap my brain around is how this place is operating as a restaurant (by calling themselves a “private kitchen”) and how are people actually promoting this place to other people? I can’t think of a more obvious scam – luring hopeful foodies desperate to discover life in the hutongs and crushing their dreams with a very mediocre meal where half of it was bought in a store down the street. And the worst part of it all is that they are robbing its customers of RMB 420 per person. If I had to guess, the cost of this meal is probably RMB 100-200 total including the wine and that’s my estimation for the total cost for 6 people. So this place is bringing in more than RMB 2,500 per evening and pocketing RMB 2,300. There is nothing that more heart-breaking.
So there you have it Beijing – the sad truth. Warn all fellow foodies far and wide, steer clear of Xiao Jiao Private Kitchen No. 10! If you don’t believe me, go right ahead and try it for yourself. But don’t say that I didn’t warn you.
Contact Details for Xiao Jiao Private Kitchen No. 10:
- Address: No. 10 Xiao Jiao Hutong, Dongcheng District
- Tel: 138 1028 8141
- Price: Set Menu RMB 420 (includes wine)
- Opening Hours: Monday-Saturday for Dinner Service Only. 6 Seats per night starting at 7:00PM
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.