Tourism often involves a ton of planning. You read up and plan and follow your itinerary leaving very little to unexpected surprises, unless of course you are a backpacker. There is so much information available online, it is hard to have much left to chance anyway. But there are those rare occasions when you meet with something or someone completely unexpected and unplanned, which become etched in your memories as treasured experiences that go beyond a Facebook feed or a blogpost write-up or an Instagram photo.
I remember discovering a restaurant dedicated to mushrooms in Paris; finding a Greek township on a hill near Ephesus and ending up staying with one of the nicest hosts in her home; a school of pink dolphins frolicking in the water like they were in a fun park; then there was a time on a safari, after looking for tigers for the whole evening, we gave up only to find a tigress playing with her cub, right in the middle of the road, completely oblivious to a jeep full of gawkers. Adding to this frugal list is the chance finding of an absolutely gem of a place in Beijing – a vegetarian restaurant: King’s Joy.
Thanks to a mis-communication with the taxi driver which brought us to the area nearby, we happened to find the entrance quite by chance. Unlike other restaurants whose doors open onto the main street, the door to King’s Joy is tucked on the side, making it a little hard to see it at first. Once inside, it is like entering a sanctuary – peaceful and an absolute delight to the senses, it is created by someone with exquisite taste and a firm belief in the entire concept of vegetarianism. What sets it apart is that even though it is vying to gain Michelin star accolade, it does so by keeping it a relatively inexpensive, inclusive and ensuring that the staff is friendly and down to earth.
The meal is also a wonderful prelude to the walk inside the Lamma Temple set inside a serene compound.
Highly recommend it.
Located inside a Hutong, the old Chinese courtyard houses, the entrance is actually on the side, a small hidden door, secretly guiding the visitors to an enchanted place.
Mist-filled outdoors greet you upon arrival – a refreshing start to the experience.
Guests are treated to a melodious harp music, which creates a surreal atmosphere.
The set menus offer the best option to savour all the dishes. I opted for the RMB 399 meal. The meals go up to RMB 1299 or you can opt for a la carte. There is also a high tea menu.
The set course is to be shared by 2 people, and for RMB 399 (approx US$45), it is not a bad deal at all. It started with a glass of tomatoes sprinkled with plum powder. To tell you the truth, I had forgotten the taste of sweet, delicious cherry tomatoes. The plum powder adds to the flavour.
I tried to create my own form of edible art.
The fruit sushi was a side order from al la carte menu and interestingly, the chef included banana puree. It was very refreshing.
A course of turnip, peas and hawthorne (tasted like quince)
A nourishing soup with walnuts
Although the waitress very kindly explained this course, I couldn’t understand what the English translation was. It tasted like barley but promised eternal beauty.
A side order of fried rice with nuts and pineapple
We were told the chef loved mushrooms. We found mushrooms in many courses (I think the chef and I think alike). I would give anything to have mushrooms for the rest of my life, meal after meal after meal.
The misty welcome found its way to our dessert too. Mango pudding with red bean cake on the side.
The restaurant has a lot to discover inside. Its courtyard has a fruit tree with more mist making it feel like we are in a mountainous place.
Reservations are highly, highly recommended as the place is very busy. As we waited, we found various still life art installations around us, gently carrying us into this gastronomical wonderland. The owner has fine taste, that is for certain.
More still life art in the waiting area
The bird is free. The chef is a true believer of vegetarianism and his belief can be seen in conceptual translations via art – here the bird is free.