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Cuisine: American/European (focus on breakfast, brunch, sandwiches).
Price: 30-60 RMB per person
Just in case you haven’t heard of Alba on Gulou: they make a nice breakfast fry-up and delicious pancakes, at reasonable prices. They are much better than Sculpting in Time, my previous breakfast spot. The sausage, especially, was very good and spicy. The pancakes were fluffy and great paired with the house-made jam.
That said: we have returned and found that their coffee is seriously overpriced (28 RMB for an iced latte that was mostly milk), and that the kitchen doesn’t seem to be holding up to Alba’s increased popularity. Return visits have found badly scrambled eggs and tasteless potatoes. It is better than Sculpting in Time, but Alba still has some ways to go; it’s not yet serving consistently great food at good value. But sometimes when you really want pancakes, good is often good enough.
Drop by if you haven’t yet! And check out what City Weekend has to say about it here.
70 Gulou Dongdajie
Open 10 a.m. – 1 a.m.
Price: 40-70 RMB per person
A lot of what I like about Irresistible Cafe is the bike ride there. I like riding past places like the Drum Tower, then turning left at the Fire God temple. And you get to feel the buildings getting shorter and greyer as you enter the old city. Mao’er Hutong is particularly nice, with a park on a canal, a Qing-era garden and now terrific Czech food.
Most of the seating at Irresistible Cafe is outdoors, in a beautiful, old-fashioned, leafy courtyard. Cats have the run of the yard, and if you like dogs and don’t mind a playful bite or two, say hi to Da Xiong the husky. There’s something about resident dogs in a cafe that makes me really happy.
Anyway, the atmosphere is lovely and the food is just as good, focused on salads, crepes and Czech beers. The last time I was here I had the avocado salad, which was simple and excellent quality – this time I went for the roasted chicken salad.
Here, there were several surprises: bitter-smoky notes from the cheeses, a nice dressing made from grainy mustard, and, the most unusual, whole mint leaves in the salad. It made a very light, very interesting dinner, perfect for a salad-starved Westerner. Plus, all the salads were in the 30-40 RMB range (making Element Fresh look like a sad, unfunny joke).
The crepes are also very high-quality. The “Prague,” which I tried on a previous visit, is a delicious mix of melted cheese, egg and tomato. And I’m looking forward to trying other menu items, like the papaya salad. The quality, unusual ingredients and price have all enticed me to return twice this week…and I’ll probably be back again and again over the summer.
14 Mao’er Hutong, off Nanluoguxiang (or turn left at the Fire God Temple on Dianmen Wai Da Jie)