Well, I think I've got the name of the place right in the title. It's a chain of restaurants with branches covering most of Beijing (including two within an easy bus or taxi ride of BeiGongDa), but we visited the one near our friends' place in Beichen. I believe that's the Yayuncun branch.
Anyway, last night we went up to Beichen to visit R and his missus who are leaving for America tomorrow. It was their going away party that saw us in the Kro's Nest and the Rickshaw last Friday night. Last night we were collecting up the loot and saying proper goodbyes. Anyway, Lao Chengyiguo was chosen for dinner.
I was not impressed, unfortunately.
It's a kind of hotpot place, Sichuan-style, but a very particular kind of Sichuan-style. The pot arrived with bits of sheep piled high in the broth. I wasn't particularly hungry, having had a huge lunch and having a cold coming on, but I picked at one or two small bits of lamb. The meat was pretty good, I have to say, nice and tender and flavoursome. But I'm losing my taste for large amounts of meat- which is certainly not a criticism of the restaurant, that's just the way my tastes are changing. No, the meat was fine, and there were veges to be cooked once enough space was cleared in the pot, and the veges were good, too.
It was the broth. Yeah, I know Sichuan food is supposed to be mala (麻辣, numb and spicy), but I couldn't taste any la (spicy, like chilli pepper), only ma (numb, like what the huajiao/prickly ash does to your mouth). That is a problem.
Well, perhaps part of the problem is that I really am getting my chilli tolerance back. The others insisted they could taste a little of the la. Not me, though, all I could taste was ma. And although I like Sichuan food, especially hotpot, it's not my favourite. Mala is cheating- your mouth goes numb from the huajiao so you don't get the full force of the chilli. And I'm starting to worry that mala is all their is to Sichuan food. I hope not, because your province is in a pretty sorry state if you can only muster up one flavour. Hunan and Yunnan are also known for spicy food, and yet both provinces offer a huge range of flavours and textures and spices. I think I need to visit Sichuan and investigate this situation for myself. I hope that if I do I will find more variety in the flavours offered.
Now, one of the major drawbacks of frozen tofu in a hotpot is also its biggest advantage. It acts like a sponge, soaking up vast amounts of broth. The downside is that if you're not careful you can seriously scald the inside of your mouth. The advantage is that the tofu takes on the full flavour of the broth. I like frozen tofu in a hotpot. Fresh tofu comes out tasting like fresh tofu with some broth sitting on the outside- mostly flavourless, in other words. Frozen tofu comes out tasty. But when it comes out tasting of nothing more than ma and muttonfat, you know there's something wrong with the broth.
So there you go. I do not recommend Lao Chengyiguo. It's all ma and muttonfat, no la broth just does not satisfy.Apparently there is also a 诚一锅 chain which is somehow different, but similar to Lao Chengyiguo. Maybe I'll need to check that one out.