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Sinology, on a plate
Updated: 2018-12-24 10:43:56
( China Daily )

The restaurant's decor corresponds to the philosophy of wuxing, the five elements in Chinese culture. [Photo provided to China Daily]

The owner of new Sanlitun restaurant Ology says he's out to redefine the fine dining scene in the capital with his emphasis on all things ancient and Chinese, Dong Fangyu reports.

With a name like Ology, one would expect this new fine dining Chinese restaurant in Beijing's Sanlitun area to sport a modern, perhaps even sci-fi decor that reflects the meaning of its name - the study of a particular branch of science.

But walk inside this cozy 22-seater restaurant and the first thing you'd realize is that the theme is completely different. If anything, "ancient" is the name of the game here. No, there is no molecular gastronomy here either.

The square bar area comprises 22 antique chairs from the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) that revolve around a 300-year-old pavilion from the same era. Surrounding you are 60-year-old hutong bricks lining the walls.

Ology's dishes are inspired by the 10 Heavenly Stems and its dessert reflects the dichotomy of yin and yang. [Photo provided to China Daily]

The restaurant owner Fu Yu says that he acquired that Hui-style pavilion, which is prevalent in today's Anhui province and its surrounding areas, from an antique collector friend in Beijing. The pine wood structure, he adds, is meant to infuse the restaurant with a sense of history.

"Fine dining restaurants in Beijing tend to look alike with their white tablecloths and white plates. The environment is just too stiff and filled with lots of formalities and standard operating procedures," explains Fu of his choice of decor.

"Why do people eat French fries with ketchup? And why are certain ingredients paired with each other and presented in the way they are? I just want to break away from convention. It's hard to say whether that's good or not. But I like to be different," he adds.

Ology's dishes are inspired by the 10 Heavenly Stems and its dessert reflects the dichotomy of yin and yang. [Photo provided to China Daily]

The decor of the dining area was inspired by the philosophy of wuxing, the five elements in Chinese culture - Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water. Just like how each element is associated with different aspects of the universe, they too have the same function in Ology. For example, Metal is associated with the yellow copper window frames, while Wood can be referenced to the antique wooden decors. The red cinnabar ceiling symbolizes Fire while the brick wall and tiles represent Earth. With regard to Water, Fu says that it is represented by the diners in the space as "human beings are like floating clouds and flowing water".

The music that the restaurant streams shares the same traditional theme. Chinese opera works such as Peony Pavilion, Tale of the Pipa, The Jade Hairpin can be heard, though there were also instances of Chinese electronic music.

Ology's dishes are inspired by the 10 Heavenly Stems and its dessert reflects the dichotomy of yin and yang. [Photo provided to China Daily]

In terms of their food offerings, Ology only has one set menu priced at 399 yuan ($57.9) which is inspired by the 10 Heavenly Stems, an ancient calendrical system to codify time, patterns of life and of the universe that dates back to more than 3,000 years ago. Each of the 10 dishes featured corresponds to these stems, namely Jia, Yi, Bing, Ding, Wu, Ji, Geng, Xin, Ren and Gui.

Likewise, Ology's alcohol selection is based on the concept of the Earthly Branches, with its 12 housemade beverages named after the 12 Earthly Branches. The impressive infusions include watermelon with tequila, apple and beer infused with Citadelle original gin, peach, honey, as well as Lapsang black tea infused with rum.

Fu, who had spent a decade working in five-star hotels in China before opening his own bar, certainly knows what he's doing when it comes to beverages. After all, his Long Jing bar, which is situated just across from Ology, is renowned for its unique blends of Chinese tea and Western spirits.

Ology's dishes are inspired by the 10 Heavenly Stems and its dessert reflects the dichotomy of yin and yang. [Photo provided to China Daily]

The food is no less impressive. The appetizer made up of three bite-sized delicacies - wafer sprinkled with pumpkin seeds, broccoli in deep-fried batter, and a hollowedout tomato filled with balsamic vinegar and brown sugar - did well to whet the appetite. The dish, says Fu, reflects the cycle of life, from seed to flower to fruit.

Some of the other standout dishes include the seasonal white fish which is deep-fried before being rolled up with a mix of shredded shiitake and rapeseed, as well as the succulent Australian Angus filet mignon that is complemented with a side of eggplant and a sauce made of plum and calendula flower, and served on a plate resembling a square inkstone so the dish looks like a Chinese calligraphy work.

For dessert, Ology serves up a mantou, a steamed bun, that comes with two sides to represent the dichotomy of yin and yang: a black half topped with black sesame paste and a morsel of squid ink, and a white half coated with condensed milk. The same could be said for the textures. The deep-fried bun is delightfully crisp on the outside but soft and fluffy on the inside.

Fu says that current trial menu would soon be replaced with a new menu that would have a stronger focus on using local produce, though the theme would remain the same. One ingredient he's looking forward to working with is zhenmo (Arimillaria Mellea), a variety of wild mushrooms from Changbai Mountain in northeastern China.

"The new ingredients that I am going to incorporate are not necessarily expensive, but they will be unique to Chinese food culture, be it zhenmo, ginseng or pickled cabbages," he says.

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