Traverse City Record-Eagle

Life

September 12, 2013

China's top restaurants reeling

BEIJING (AP) — The shark’s fin, bird’s nest and abalone are gone from the offerings at Beijing’s Xiang E Qing restaurant — a favorite of Communist Party cadres just months ago. Diners are now left with less exotic fare such as shredded beef, pickled turnip and fried peanuts.

China’s high-end restaurants have gone into crisis under leader Xi Jinping’s campaign to crack down on the kinds of party extravagances that have angered ordinary Chinese, such as dining on the public dime. To stem big losses and avoid the now-tarnished image of VIP banquet halls, these restaurants have been busy reinventing themselves.

“We don’t do high-end! We just serve family-style food!” a jittery manager at Xiang E Qing told a visitor who wanted to see the dramatic, near-overnight transformation of one of the capital’s most prestigious eateries.

The Xiang E Qing restaurant in downtown Beijing — part of a national chain that has been among the hardest hit — no longer has the expensive liquors, minimum spending requirements or special fees for the private banquet rooms where government officials and business executives once gathered in seclusion. Its calling cards have been rewritten to promote a joyful, family atmosphere.

Restaurants serving exquisite delicacies in banquet rooms long flourished under the lavish spending habits among all levels of public officials, who spent about 300 billion yuan ($50 billion) a year on food and drinks in recent years, according to state media. But new party rules since the beginning of this year curb spending on food and drink, and Xi himself has set the example by having a work meal of four simple dishes and one soup.

Some of that wining and dining has gone underground, with officials sprucing up private clubs and government canteens with pricey booze and fancy meals or ducking into secluded locales to avoid detection, according to state media who have sent undercover reporters.

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