Well, well, well. What have we here? A hidden subterranean restaurant actually inside the Forbidden City? Believe it people.
Turns out the emperor’s ice storage rooms make for a pretty cool restaurant (pun absolutely intended). Yep, we think we’ve found the motherlode when it comes to Beijing’s hidden gems…
Hiding in plain sight, Bingjiao Restaurant and Café is tucked away in a corner of Cining Gong (the Forbidden City’s west wing), and at first just seems to be a café. But if you keep walking south to the third door, you’ll see two Chinese characters that signal you’ve arrived at the ancient part of this new development.
Built during the Qing dynasty, the underground store didn’t just serve as a spot to keep ice cool, but as a giant refrigerator for the royal family’s food in summer. If you venture below ground level, you’ll discover a stylishly-decorated restaurant open to all, happily still complete with its original 300-year-old, 2-meter-thick stone walls. Pretty special.
You know what else? Someone’s actually given a lot of thought to the interiors. From the tables and pillars that look like blocks of ice, to the chandeliers seemingly made from icicles, they’ve really run with the theme.
So how’s the food? Overpriced of course, but nevertheless tasty. Get the zhajiangmian and one of the Palace Museum’s cute themed ice lollies.
The verdict? You’d be hard pushed to stumble across this spot on a regular visit to the Forbidden City, but make a little detour off the beaten path and you’ll be rewarded with a quieter, altogether more chill environment in which to enjoy lunch or an imperial-themed snack. Plus you get to wow people with photos of a spot that few will guess the location of.
Bingjiao Café Cining Gong, Inside the Palace Museum (Forbidden City), Dongcheng district (6521 4285). Passport required for Forbidden City entry. Open 10am-5pm Tuesday-Sunday.