Xiao Susu (小苏苏)
Location: China World Complex (Hotel Jen)
English Menu: Yes
English Service: Yes
I could seriously eat Chinese food every day. There’s so much regional diversity in the cuisine that even after a decade of living here, I still discover new dishes. My heart breaks that so many Americans think of Chinese food as Panda Express or P.F. Chang’s. If only they knew…
Having said that, there are times that I need to dive into other types of foods. We all know the rivalry between Shanghai and Beijing as to which is the better city. Many of my foreign friends in Shanghai say that city has better Western fare than Beijing. While that was the case a decade ago, Beijing IS starting to catch up. On the flip side, Chinese restaurants in Beijing taste better and cost less. And that’s a fact!
What people forget about Beijing is that as the capital we have all the embassies here. That immediately creates a market for more international and multi-ethnic food. Perhaps it’s one of the unsung benefits of living in a capital city. When I lived in Washington, D.C., I also had access to some exquisite international food. I still remember that Ecuadorean restaurant near Dupont Circle…
One of my new go-to’s for business lunches is Xiao Susu in the China World complex (connected to Hotel Jen) and near the CCTV tower. The original Susu is a storied Vietnamese restaurant located in a Beijing hutong. Susu created immediate buzz when it opened years ago for its quaint, intimate location. It also elevated Vietnamese cuisine in a way that I don’t think Chinese people appreciated before. Asians can somewhat be snobby about their country offering the best cuisine, but Susu recast these Vietnamese dishes in a new, fresh way.
The original Susu exists although I haven’t been there in years. My last visit was a good experience, but I’ve somewhat sworn off hutong locations for their difficulty in finding (Susu’s original location is notoriously tough to find!). So, when I heard Susu was opening Xiao Susu in the CBD, I was intrigued. Basically, over the past couple of years, it has emerged as a reliable and healthy choice when you’re just craving something different. I also find Vietnamese food to be a bridge if you’re eating with a mixed group of nationalities. That is, there’s something for everyone.
There’s a Monday-Friday set menu that is affordably priced and offers an excellent variety. While I SHOULD eat the fresh spring rolls, I always go for fried! Another perk of Xiao Susu is the drinks list which has some innovative cocktails that play on the exotic theme of Southeast Asia.
Perhaps my only negative critique of Xiao Susu is the dining room. There are times that even when Beijing has a sunny day the dining room can seem a little dark. I’ve actually started to request the tables with mirrors because I find it adds some much-needed reflective light. I’ve eaten there at dinnertime as well, and the darkness works. Not so at lunch.
Lunch tends to be busy here (like most of the restaurants in the business-centric Guomao area), so I’d suggest arriving early. Serving times can be delayed if they’re slammed. Another unfortunate aspect of the dining room is that the tables are close together. I can’t even imagine how much the rent costs, but they’ve been forced to pack tables tight. That’s why I only go there at lunch – it’s something quick. It’s not particularly a place to unwind as you’ll be eavesdropping on all the conversations around you.
My understanding is that the partners in Susu also own a few other brands, including a Thai restaurant that I wasn’t overall impressed with. Xiao Susu distinguishes itself from its original location with a more limited menu and more modern location. I don’t feel that the choices are lacking at all and I’m always impressed with the variety. Besides spring rolls and the ever-present pho, the chicken dishes stand out. The way the chefs incorporate lime into the dishes give them a simple kick that adds freshness.
Service has improved markedly over the months here. When they first opened the staff seemed overwhelmed by their almost immediate success – and queues. On my last visit, I found the staff to be efficient and proactive – that’s as rare as spotting a unicorn in Beijing.
I’ve only been to Vietnam once, and I can’t claim to be an expert on this cuisine. But as a nice respite from the norm, Xiao Susu delivers.