Made in China is on the ground floor of the Grand Hyatt hotel. It is a long, narrow room with an open kitchen at a one end, and assorted bars and alcoves; in theory the dining room can accommodate 126 diners, but this includes several private rooms. This restaurant gets busy, so booking ahead is essential. If you want the Peking duck they ask you to order this in advance.
The duck here is prepared by making a hole in the side of the duck and using this to gut the duck, then the back of the duck is sealed and the internal cavity of the duck is filled with water prior to roasting. This technique allows the skin to be roast to a crispy texture without overcooking the meat, the evaporating water cooling the interior of the duck. Well in advance (some days ahead) of the actual cooking, the skin of the duck is inflated with air and then dried, initially in a fridge, then in a freezer. Finally, the duck is roasted in a wood-fired oven, roasted over peach wood. The result is served in several forms. The skin is remarkable, crisp but very thin, and so tender that it melts on the tongue. (you can dip the skin in sugar as is traditional if you wish). The meat itself is superbly tender, a world away from the grey, dried out meat that passes for Peking Duck in so many restaurants. This is served with thin, delicate pancakes, superb plum sauce and the usual strips of spring onion and cucumber, as well as garlic paste. Perfect (10/10).
However, Made in China is not a one trick pony. Noodles are made in front of you, cooked and then mixed with pork at the table. They have superb texture, with no hint of the hardness that so often occurs with Chinese noodles in lesser restaurants. The treatment of vegetables is also impressive, with even simple dishes such as stir-fried leaves cooked lightly with a carefully balanced soy dressing.
Another elaborate dish is beggar's chicken, where a whole chicken is stuffed with mushrooms, coated in oil, wrapped in a lotus leave and then encased in a clay shell before being slow-cooked. The resulting dish has its outer shell cracked with a hammer at the table and then unwrapped. The result was extremely tender chicken flesh, inside which was a delicious layer of mixed mushrooms (and a few chestnuts). This was a superb rendition of the classic dish (8/10 seems a slightly mean score). In legend, the dish was invented by a peasant thief who stole a chicken from a feudal lord and wanted to cook the chicken without cooking smells giving him away; whatever the real origins of the dish, you no longer have to steal a chicken from royalty to try the dish, but you do need to order it in advance, as obviously it requires some work.
I was just as impressed with a vastly simpler dish of stir-fried vegetables with a little pork and shrimp. The cabbage was cooked with precision in a delicious soy-based dressing, and tasted superb. It takes real ability to make such a simple dish taste as good as this (8/10). I also tried some dumplings while here (in case you were wondering, I had three visits here in 2011), both boiled dumplings with seafood and fried dumplings with pork filling. You can watch these being made if you are seated at a counter towards the back of the dining room. These were both very good, but not dazzling in the way that some of the other dishes here are (5/10).
If you expecting western style service you will be disappointed: dishes come when they are ready rather than in any particular sequence, and you may find the service a little curt, even chaotic. However by the standards of Beijing the service here is a shining beacon of courtesy and organisational skill.
Below are notes from two meals in May 2006.
Easily the best restaurant we encountered in
China. It is tucked away on the ground floor of the excellent Grand Hyatt hotel, and is famed for its Beijing Duck. The décor is very smart, with a long thin layout. When booking ask for a table opposite the open kitchen, so that you can see what is going on. You walk past a cabinet of attractively displayed vegetable produce, past wood-fired ovens and through into an open kitchen area.
We started with a very simple dish of braised cabbage in soy sauce, and as soon as I tasted this I knew that we were in a serious restaurant: the cabbage was remarkably fresh, cooked perfectly to retain crispness, and the soy dressing was very well balanced; this kind of treatment of vegetables is something you rarely encounter outside of top French restaurants in France (7/10). Hot and sour soup was also in a different league to what one associated with this dish: no oiliness, just crisp, clean flavours balancing the heat of the chilli with the sourness of the vinegar, excellent pieces of seafood in the soup and a garnish of fresh herbs (6/10).
Spicy prawns were also very fine indeed, the prawns large and fresh, marinated and cooked through very well, coated in a delicious spicy sauce (6/10). However pride of place goes to the Beijing Duck. The duck arrives at the table glistening, and is carved in front of you into a selection of the skin, the breast meat and the legs, which are served with the traditional pancakes. The duck skin was truly amazing, succulent, crispy yet full of flavour. The breast meat, quite light in colour, could have come from a 3 star Michelin restaurant; it was magnificent. The pancakes were wafer thin and the traditional sauce was also far more interesting than the usual. I do not think this could be improved upon, and so I have to give this 10/10.
Overall I would rate this restaurant 8/10, easily the best Chinese food I have ever eaten. We were so impressed that we cancelled another reservation and came back here another night on my first trip to Beijing.