Experience an all-new Courtyard Restaurant
Once upon a time, The Courtyard restaurant was hands-down Beijing’s finest restaurant. It was run by Filipino-born Executive Chef Rey Lim and under his direction, the restaurant was widely respected for it’s crafty nouveau French-Asian fusion cuisine, international dining service and spectacular location just a stone throw’s away from The Forbidden City, overlooking the moat that once protected the imperial family from the outside world. Back in the day, not only was it the most elegant, upscale (and also the most expensive) Western restaurant in town, it was also rated as one of the top 50 restaurants in the world by Condé Nast magazine.
And while this was all true when The Courtyard first opened in 1997 by lawyer, art patron and luxury developer Handel Lee, that was a time when Beijing’s restaurant scene was rather barren and and before the arrival of first-class dining establishments like Maison Boulud, Capital M, and most recently, Temple Restaurant Beijing (TRB).
But even when I first arrived in 2006, The Courtyard was starting to lose its luster. I dined there once in 2006, and even then I wasn’t impressed and never returned. After its initial streak of success and strong track record, the restaurant’s service standards started to lost its consistency and the general consensus was that it became overpriced beyond reason.
…that was the story until now. Everything has since changed once award-wining Chef Brian McKenna came into the picture.
Still in the same remarkable location, The Courtyard has been gutted through and through and renovated as a new operation entirely. No longer just “The Courtyard”, it’s now been renamed and rebranded as “Brian McKenna @ The Courtyard” or BMK@TC for short.
Promising “unparalleled quality, creative and modern cuisine and friendly-casual atmosphere”, Brian McKenna @ The Courtyard is actually a whole new beast. The only thing that remains the same is that it’s managed to keep its prize location on Beijing’s most historical landmark, the Forbidden City.
Location aside, it’s essentially about to wipe out the past 15 years of ups and downs and reinvent the restaurant concept entirely, thanks to the combined forces of its original founder Handel Lee and the brains of his new life-blood, Chef Brian McKenna.
“Overjoyed with the impressive result of bringing McKenna’s innovative and modern ideas on such a historically charged background, Handel Lee says – ‘Brian and I have a common vision that is to take The Courtyard as if it were a blank canvas and to paint it with Brian’s palette of colors’.” - Excerpt from Press Release for the Opening of Brian McKenna @ The Courtyard
Brian McKenna Breathes New Life into The Courtyard (Photo Courtesy of BMK@TC)
British-born Brian McKenna comes from a pretty impressive culinary background, having worked in Michelin-starred restaurants from the ripe age of 14 and first made his mark in China back in 2007 with his legendary restaurant Blu Lobster in Shangri-la (which has since closed and replaced by French sensation Michelin-star chef Yannick Alleno’s S.T.A.Y. restaurant) and again 2009 with ROOMbeijing in the Park Hyatt.
“Classically trained, Brian McKenna has earned a reputation for putting together traditional cooking methods and highly creative dishes in the lineage of molecular gastronomy. Brian’s biggest inspirations come from working under Kevin Mangoelles, three Michelin star Pierre Koffman, two star Michelin Chef Nigel Goodwin and Juan Mari Arzak, three Michelin star Chef.”
Still maintaining his funky flair and playful imagination along with a few of his signature culinary creations, Brian McKenna will be getting creative with The Courtyard’s new menu concept - “Mediterranean cuisine mixed with large hints of Asian produce and spices”. Now that he’ll be back in the kitchen cooking every day, you can be sure The Courtyard’s menu will feature Chef Brian’s most impressive culinary achievements to date.
“Combining innovative flavours with what modern and traditional techniques have best to offer, Chef McKenna’s creative dishes aim to excite all our guest’s senses and bring them on a new kind of culinary experience and put all senses in alert.”
The Courtyard’s interior design has also been redone by GRAFT (also responsible for W Hotel and Residences Downtown in New York, U.S.A., The Vertical Village in Dubai, U.A.E. and The Emperor Hotel in Beijing).
On a guided tour by Brian himself, he first walked us in his big and beautiful kitchen (as a proud father would), then through the main dining room, which has been re-sized to seat 40, a cocktail bar and intimate cigar room downstairs along with an upstairs Private Room with its own rooftop deck overlooking The Forbidden City.
LDS Snapshots of Brian McKenna @ The Courtyard:
The Main Dining Room Seats 40
Brian Spoiled Our Family of Foodie Friends
Tour of The Courtyard’s Spotless Kitchen
The Courtyard’s Basement Cocktail Bar: Try the Signature Cocktail “The Perfect Start”
Some Fine Lookin’ Wine on Showcase Display
Antique Furniture in the Private Cigar Lounge – enjoy a “McKenna-approved cigar”
“The Private Room will bring clients on yet another level of McKenna’s culinary journey with specially made dishes and
View over Rooftops of The Forbidden City’s Serene Moat
Peeking back in to The Private Room
The Forbidden City is Temporarily Under Scaffolding
With the restaurant only just open for a couple of weeks, everyone looks to be ordering the recommended tasting menu, but I hear there will also be an a la carte menu to choose from. The tasting menu we ordered was six courses, priced at RMB 588 per person or RMB 888 including drink pairings per each course. In the future, there will also be 10+ course menu for RMB 888 and a 15+ course menu for RMB 1,488.
Below is a course-by-course breakdown of our culinary journey by Brian McKenna. Prepare to start drooling uncontrollably.
LDS Snapshots of The Courtyard’s Set Dinner Menu by Brian McKenna:
Shared Amuse Bouche: Test-tubes of leek soup, rich foie gras on a caramel rice cake and mini oysters tucked inside kafir limes, topped with shaved ice and pop rocks
Close-Up: Foie Gras on Caramel Rice Cake
Loaf of Warm, Sliced Bread Alongside a Trio of Smart Butter Options
The First Course (and my favorite): The Garden Salad Like You’ve Never Seen Before.
Served in two parts with 40 different hot and cold seasonal greens and vegetables presented as a growing garden. One part is served in a diagonal cube box display where the salad seasoning actually looks like dirt and a mini potato looks like a little rock. The other serving is topped with a perfectly poached egg cooked at exactly 60 degrees (temperature is made precise by a state-of-the-art egg-cooking device in the kitchen).
Upon reflection, this course is easily my favorite of the evening because it literally blew my mind in terms of food creativity and playful presentation. It is just mind-boggling to pour dry herbs that look identical to dirt over your salad and have it taste fantastic.
And my favorite bit – You’re given a mini garden fork and spade to use as utensils. Adorable!
If I were designated this “Garden Salad” task in the kitchen, I’d be giggling too.
Doesn’t come as natural instinct, but you’ll want to get plenty of that “dirt” to spread about your salad
2nd Course: Asian Spiced Rice – Spicy Crab Risotto Topped with Avocado Ice Cream, Tempura King Crab and Lemongrass Bubbles
A signature dish featured before on ROOMbeijing’s menu, this isn’t a new creation by Brian, but it’s definitely good enough to repeat again at The Courtyard. If the previous course’s Garden Salad was my favorite because of originality and creative presentation, this course was my favorite in textures, temperatures and taste.
Under strict instructions, I carefully and strategically made sure each bite had the perfect combination of cold, creamy avocado ice cream with chewy, spicy risotto, delicate lemongrass froth and crispy king crab tempura. I wouldn’t recommend eating the avocado ice cream on its own and honestly each of the components of this dish alone would not amaze you, but blended together is something absolutely remarkable.
Third Course: Sauteed King Scallop with All things Cauliflower, Spiced Sugar and Cumin Milk
Aside from the plump scallop, everything else on this dish is cauliflower in all its glory. It’s amazing how one vegetable can be presented in so many diverse ways. From thin, dried slices to diced and pureed cauliflower, it’s all there and ready to prove that cauliflower is not to be underestimated.
Fourth Course: Slow-Cooked Salmon with Pan-fried Foie Gras, Spiced Lentils and a Fig & Apple Chutney
When Brian McKenna says his salmon is “slow cooked”, he’s not kidding. It’s slow cooked for over 60 hours and the result is the most tender salmon I’ve ever tasted. It essentially melts in your mouth the second it touches your tongue, but paired alongside a rich, hearty slice of foie gras and chewy lentils is a rewarding combination.
Close-Up: Slow Cooked Salmon & Foie Grad on a Bed of Spiced Lentils
Fifth Course: Slow Cooked Beef with Marrow, Mushrooms and Onions
Once again, this beef is slow cooked for days on end. It’s a shame more restaurants don’t slow-cook everything because the result is undeniably an improvement upon any other current cooking method. And yes, it tastes as good as it looks, if not better which is a bold statement to make considering how full we already were by this fifth course.
“Carnivores’ guilty pleasures will be satisfied with Chef Brian’s 65 degrees Ribs of Beef cooked under vacuum for 72hours.”
Break: Fruit Salad Tube alongside Lemongrass Ice Cream in a White Chocolate Hard Shell
Brian Introduces His Homemade Ginger Beer
Sixth Course: A Chocolate & Orange Dessert
Here you have it – A proud Terracotta Warrior kneeling in chocolate soil sprinkled over a bottom layer of Mandarin gel, Mandarin jelly, Chocolate Mandarin Ganache and a Mandarin Sorbet.
And inside the Terracotta Warrior is a Mandarin Soup. Made so well, it’s almost heart-breaking to have to knock him over and crack him open for the orange gooey soup to pour out. But for the sake of LumDimSum, I did the deed. (Photo Proof Below)
Heart-Breaking to Break Him Open, but I was Heartless Enough to Do the Deed
As if we weren’t full enough, Brian also brought us each bites of Foie Gras Wrapped in a Wispy Cloud of Cotton Candy
We didn’t have a chance to try any of the other desserts I read about in the restaurant’s opening press release, but soon to come include some pretty incredible creations.
“Desserts such as China Berry Cheesecake will have diners going crazy as Brian makes a berry flavored balloon representing China’s flag, served with spiced crumbs, a mascarpone foam and ice-cream. Other desserts include Frozen banana, Elderflowers in tempura batter, Elderflower honey, Coconut Snow Ball and Coffee and Orange Granite, Praline Soufflé, Smoked Chocolate and Orange Mousse, Malt Honeycomb for a suitable finale.” - Excerpt from Press Release for Opening of Brian McKenna @ The Courtyard
Last but not least – Vegetarians, fear not!
Chef Brian will also be offering a vegetarian tasting menu with eye-popping dishes like ‘Truffle-scented Poached Quail Egg, New Season Asparagus, Peas, White Asparagus Truffles and Sweet Garlic Custard’ that’s made to tempt even your non-vegetarian dinner company to beg for a bite.
Review of Brian McKenna @ The Courtyard: 95 Donghuamen Dajie, East Gate of the Forbidden City, 东华门大街95号 (故宫东门), Tel: 6526-8883. Open Daily, Call for Reservations. Website: www.bmktc.com
- This is Brian McKenna at his best. Keeping a few signature dishes, he’s also invented a whole lot of exciting new creations. His culinary imagination is running wild and you can expect a beautiful fusion of molecular gastronomy and culinary experimentation when it comes to Chef Brian.
- A true foodie’s dream in the seductive, romantic setting on the moat of The Forbidden City.
- Located in a historic building that belonged to the imperial court of the Qing Dynasty, the CourtYard has been renovated by the talented people of GRAFT (also responsible for W Hotel and Residences Downtown in New York, U.S.A., The Vertical Village in Dubai, U.A.E. and The Emperor Hotel in Beijing).
- My favorite of Brian’s new dishes is his Garden Salad that looks…exactly like a mini garden with little vegetables growing out of dirt, which is actually a dried herb dressing. Trust me, it tastes a lot better than I can explain.
- They have a Private Room upstairs with a rooftop deck overlooking the moat of the Forbidden City and a Cocktail bar downstairs with an intimate cigar lounge with some very antique furniture.
- Taking one of Beijing’s longest lasting restaurants and reinventing it with an entirely new restaurant concept, feel and dining experience.
- I dare say that The Courtyard is once again in the running as Beijing’s very finest restaurants.
- As it’s always been, The Courtyard remains quite pricey, but for the first time in a long time, it’s worth the high price tag. Set menus start at RMB 588 for 6 courses (RMB 888 plus wine pairing), RMB 888 for 10+ courses and RMB 1,488 for 15+ courses.
- It’s definitely the most impressive food meal I’ve had in Beijing to date, and I dare say it’s equivalent to the amazing three-Michelin starred restaurants I’ve been fortunate to experience in both Japan and the US of A. Combine that with it’s prized location and priceless views of the Forbidden City, this restaurant is going to give Beijing’s top restaurants some serious competition.
- With Brian promising regularly changing seasonal menus and special holiday menus, stay tuned on LDS for news and updates! (For anyone looking for a special place to take that special someone on Valentine’s Day, I think I’ve said enough…)
Rating: (on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being best)
- Food: 10
- Atmosphere: 9
- Service: 9
Overall Experience: 9.5