Belgian-born, Ignace Lecleir, the owner of Beijing’s newest fine dining restaurant, Temple Restaurant Beijing (TRB), has been trained and equipped with the necessary tools to create the city’s new dining oasis. Having been trained in hotel management, Lecleir has worked in the food meccas from London to Los Angeles, from San Francisco to New York, and quite literally around the world, as a sommelier for a prestigious cruise line. Believing New York was where he wanted to finally call home, he was given the opportunity to open Daniel Boulud’s newest project in Beijing, Maison Boulud. Too good of an opportunity to pass, Lecleir moved to Beijing with little knowledge of China, to open the famed Boulud restaurant in the old American embassy building in Qian’men. After two and a half years, Lecleir decided it was time to venture off with his own project, something that would allow him to have full creative control.
Having seen the 600-year-old temple during his weekly jogs around the area, Lecleir worked hard to renovate the space, assemble and train a service-oriented team and develop a superb menu based upon local and organic ingredients. Only open for the past five and a half months, TRB sits in an old Beijing hutong just at the Northeast corner of the Forbidden City.
Temple Restaurant Beijing, Exterior (Courtesy of TRB)
Zandie Brockett (ZB): What inspired you to create the restaurant in this atmosphere and how has influenced your menu?
Ignace Lecleir (IL): Trying to set up a restaurant in this surrounding is difficult because it’s very old. The most important thing for me was trying to find a way to respect the Chinese culture without doing too much damage. We opened up the space as much as possible, so that it pulls your attention outside. Inside the restaurant, we tried to create an environment that was very clean and slick. Almost like the big city feeling of New York. The idea was to integrate the big city feeling in the middle of a Beijing hutong.
Temple Restaurant Beijing, Interior (Courtesy of TRB)
ZB: Tell me more about your menu and your head chef.
IL: We have a culinary team composed of three Chinese chefs, one gentleman from London, whose role is the facilitator and gives inspiration to the team. We also have a Chinese pastry chef from the south of China. She speaks no English, but rather French. We try as much to support the local community, and so we work with local farmers and try to use organic ingredients. If we feel that we cannot find the right ingredients, then we go abroad. In that case we still try to stay as close as possible. The most exciting thing is to see how the local team is coming to understand flavors and pull things together.
‘Pulling things together,’ was an understatement, for the twelve-course lunch I was served incorporated interesting combinations, whether fresh baked breads imbedded with squid ink or bacon, fresh Boston lobster served with fois gras and a side lobster salad, or roasted young pigeon with cauliflower + green bean puree and crisped bacon, the plethora of flavors and delicately crafted presentation proved an excellent tasting of the multinational culinary talents. A personal favorite was the truffled soup with black truffle slice and tofu-like mushroom garnish; the creamy puree was warm and rich with earthy flavors. Further an olive oil poached black cod served with saffron potatoes quite literally melted in my mouth. For those who prefer the last course first, there was a series of desserts to please even the most avid sweet tooth. Starting with a perfectly creamy and somewhat iced cheesecake toped with a jammed passion fruit, it was followed by three quaint trays filled with chocolate truffles, jellied raspberry candies, white chocolate fondant, marshmallows found in plain, citrus and rose flavors, and finally, a deep fried fondant to finish the meal along side a shot of espresso.
Freshly Baked Squid Ink Bread
Truffled Mushroom Soup with Black Truffle and Tofu-Like Mushroom Garnish
Roast Pigeon with Green Bean and Cauliflower Puree and Crisped Bacon
Olive Oil Poached Cod served with Saffron Potatoes
Additionally, the meal was paired with a variety of predominately white wines ranging in region, body, and fruitiness. TRB and their knowledgeable sommelier clearly exercised their large selection of wines, which Lecleir said to range in value form 280RMB to 100,000RMB. “We have different price points in our menu and in our wine list, so that you can come and find an interesting bottle of wine and feel like your like you’re having a good time. As from the service perspective, you will be treated the same whether coming for a special occasion or just coming to enjoy a western meal.”
Cheesecake with Passionfruit + many a wine pairing
Beyond TRB’s extensive wine list and well-produced contemporary European fare, I found the service to be restaurant’s strongest element. Given that new restaurants often take “some time to tango” as Lecleir says, TRB’s wait staff was surprisingly attentive and well equipped to provide their customers a comfortable meal. Despite many TRB staff coming from little to no service background, Lecleir works with his staff to train them for two hours daily; it’s no wonder the service mimics that found in a five-star hotel. “My goal is that they make the right decision without me telling them what to do. That’s why we train so much, because I feel that service should be very spontaneous and not pre-programmed. When the moment is there, you try to make an impact and understand what the customer wants; its really about emotions, about how you personally feel and how the other person feels.”
Lecleir clearly has dedicated his heart into the creation of TRB, yet the restaurateur speaks of the other food related activities he enjoys on his time away from the restaurant.
ZB: When you’re at home, what do you enjoy cooking for yourself?
IL: I usually like simple things. When I cook at home, I like to go to Sanyuanli market. I love that feeling of going to a market and going to look and feel the produce. I never have a plan, I just walk in, get inspired, see what’s fresh and just go home and try to put things together.
ZB: What is your favorite cuisine?
IL: I’m from Belgium, so we don’t have any spicy food. So when I first tasted Sichuan food, it was a very, very new experience. I have really taken a liking to it, especially in this kind of weather, when it’s a little rainy and during the winter. Actually, I crave it; I have to have it.
ZB: What is your favorite Chinese restaurant in Beijing?
IL: It’s actually down the street. It’s the state house representative restaurant for Chengdu.