Beijing’s newest gastronomical feat is about to launch its new summer menu, its third since the restaurant’s inception. S.T.A.Y., an acronym for Simple Table Alléno Yannick, is in fact a chain restaurant, with outposts around the world, but Beijing’s location at the Shangri-La Hotel is Asia’s first; a location in Taiepi being the second. However, given the restaurant’s attention to detail to create the ultimate dinning experience, one would never assume the larger scale from which it comes. The restaurant’s concept focuses on the notion of a community table, one where friends and family can gather for a meal of shared courses and oversized bottles of wine.
The French, three Michelin star chef, Yannick Alléno has selected the talented Maxime Gilbert as the ‘Chef de Cuisine’ to execute his quarterly creations as well as Florian Cousteau to run the restaurant’s pastry kitchen and ‘library’. Both chefs, despite being under 30 years of age, have close to 20 years of experience between the two of them. Having started working at the young age of 16, Gilbert has worked both in Yannick’s Royal Mansour Marrakech Hotel and the 3 Michelin-starred, Le Meurice in Paris. Cousteau, at the age of 24, is the youngest pastry chef in Beijing and he comes from roughly 10 years of experience working with the famed Pierre Hermé in Paris.
The S.T.A.Y. Duo: Florian Cousteau (left) and Maxime Gilbert
Brian Chan, the designer of S.T.A.Y. Beijing incorporates the restaurants community table concept into the ambiance, with large tables and tasteful lazy-susans to allow for easy access to the shared foods. At the far end of the big and open, yet cozy restaurant lies a ‘pastry library’ to showcase Cousteau’s delightful desserts and to allow visitors easy browsing during the brunch dessert buffet. Further, S.T.A.Y. incorporates other aspects of Chinese dining culture, indirectly helping attract Chinese clientele, such as chopsticks. After asking Gilbert about using these beautifully crafted Yannick Alléno chopsticks to eat his foods, he mentioned that the chopstick is the most universal utensil, as it allows one to eat the most of delicate of dishes.
S.T.A.Y.’s Community Table
A view of the restaurant
And one of the bar
As for the meal itself, there was a continual serving of plates from the kitchen that were perfectly cooked, seasoned and presented. A few highlights included the canapé of a fresh, cold and crispy red radish dipped in a melted butter, similar to how a strawberry would be coated in chocolate, with a sea salt garnish. Amongst others, was a delicious breaded and deep fried gougeonette fish served with a homemade tartar sauce. After the refreshing starter, came my personal favorite, a sea urchin shell filled with sour cream, quail eggs cooked in a ‘bain marie,’ or water bath, and then topped with Shrencki caviar. Together, these ingredients combined for a perfect mouth-feel; it was savory, yet sweet, but also smooth from the custard and textured from the caviar. Presented neatly in the perfect spherical shell with a rounded hole in the top, this dish alone deserves three thumbs up. Of course I cannot forget the seared Scallops en meurette and the lamb saddle. Although having never acquired a taste for scallops, I must admit it is rare for me to try a scallop that has been cooked to perfection to avoid the often times rubbery and tirelessly, chewy shellfish, but Gilbert’s was one. Further, his lamb saddle was presented in a manner paralleling service at the finest of steakhouses. Plated solo, the lamb came with a variety of garnishes included, potatoes puree, sautéed spinach and mushroom, potatoes as well as a vegetable gratin.
The variety of canapés
Sea Urchin, Quail Egg + Caviar
Last, but certainly not least, was the grand finale of the meal: a meter long dessert tray. As my eyes bulged at this enormous mountain of sweets, Gilbert noted “you sign a contract when you order the meter, you eat the meter.” Atop the long, metal ribbon sat a plethora of treats from cheesecake + strawberry balls coated with white chocolate and almond chips, a cocoa-coconut banana that consisted of a caramelized banana laying on a bed of chocolate with Malibu-infused coconut mouse, and a pink macaroon biscuit with strawberry sauce, fresh ruby red grapefruit slices with a vanilla custard. Just to name a few, Cousteau’s delectable creations were “not too sweet, yet light. You can eat the full dessert after a big menu…you wont feel like eating a big brioche,” but you do want a bit of sweetness to round out the pallet. Although Cousteau clearly has a talent with his flours and sugars, butters and creams, he says his secret is, “I put all my love inside my desserts.”
The mouth watering dessert meter
Macaroon, ruby red grapefruit + strawberry dessert
Passion fruit sorbet + chocolate mouse dessert
Still in its first year, Gilbert feels that “you really need to spend one year first to understand the seasons and the produce. We know the seasons of the produce in France, but every country is not really the same.” Both Gilbert and Cousteau are dedicated to incorporating the freshest of local and international products, importing from around the world, but strangely only lemons from the US. Despite finding it challenging at times to have their high-quality, food import standards in Beijing, they welcome the task at hand and find it to be a learning experience; one that parallels opening a fine dining restaurant, yet ‘casual’ by their notions, in the lesser developed ‘foodie’ environment of Beijing.
Been given a sneak peak to the new summer menu, I highly recommend that one visits to taste the new duck foie gras terrine with passion fruit and coffee jelly as well as their black pepper Wagyu beef filet served with gratin dauphinois. I further suggest a weekend brunch visit so to browse Cousteau’s dessert library, which is staffed by a team of six, so to participate in the dessert making process yourself. But if that isn’t reason enough to make the trip to Western Beijing, just west of the zoo, Gilbert + Cousteau have kindly offered JingDaily readers a free dessert upon their next meal; all that is needed is to mention ‘dessert’ + ‘JingDaily’.
Florian Cousteau hard at work in his dessert library
Both Gilbert and Cousteau were refreshingly welcoming given their all-star status of heading Alléno’s Beijing location. It is surprising, and somewhat shameful that they were not included in Timeout Beijing’s 2012 food awards, as I find the dynamic duo to create a fresh and innovative menu rivaling that of Maison Boulud; their presentation alone is truly a work of art. Yet with that being said, the chefs at Boloud and Migas, another upscale eatery in Sanlitun’s Nali Patio, are of the closest of friends with Gilbert and Cousteau. The two would even call Maison Boulud to be one of their favorite restaurants in Beijing, amongst DinTaiFung, Migas and of couse, S.T.A.Y.
It is clear that the young team has slowly found their groove despite having spent less than a year in Beijing and I can only imagine the tasteful creations the two will contrive over the years to come.