Are celebrity restaurants worth the hype? Maison Boulud, the French fine dining restaurant from celebrity chef Daniel Boulud, romped home with award after award at the Time Out Beijing Food Awards in March, while last week the buzz was all about the much anticipated official opening of Nobu Beijing - owned by celebrity chef-restaurateur Nobu Matsushisa and US actor Robert de Niro.
However while the aforementioned currently have Beijing's blogging and tweeting community salivating, they won't be the only celebrity restaurants in town for very long. For, if the rumor mill is to be believed, there are plenty more celebrity chefs and celebrity-owned restaurants winging their way to the capital. Word is that Beijing-based, Irish-born Michelin starred chef Brian McKenna (the man behind ROOMBeijing) will open a new venue, INO, later this year, while the critically acclaimed Paul Pairet will bring the Shanghai brasserie Mr and Mrs Bund to Beijing.
In many ways these celebrity ventures are something to celebrate: Not only are they helping to put Beijing on the dining destination map - showing visitors that there's no need to hit the road as soon as they have had their fill of the Forbidden City - but they can be a great night out and provide mere mortals (like me) with the chance to rub shoulders with the rich and famous. Case in point? I was fortunate enough to attend the opening of Nobu Beijing in the CBD last week and, having breathed the same air as Hong Kong actress Lin Peng and everyone's favorite action star Jackie Chan, left feeling every inch the Hollywood celeb. A night at Nobu allowed me to escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday Beijing life - the crowded pavements and pollution.
But before you flag a cab and make for the JW Marriott (where Nobu is located), it's important to remember that on nine out of 10 occasions, you probably won't be dining with the stars. Let's not forget that Robert Niro didn't even make last night's "grand" opening. True the Little Fockers' co-owner, Chef Nobu Matsushisa, was on hand to cut the ceremonial ribbon but with 27 Nobu restaurants around the world to keep tabs on, the chance of finding Mr Matsushisa at work in the Beijing kitchen with anything like regularity, is pretty slim. Then there's the small matter of money: Eating at a celebrity restaurant can be prohibitively expensive (you are after all paying for a name) and chances are you'll have to bust out your black Amex for the occasion.
The message? Visit celebrity chef and celebrity owned restaurants by all means; there's definitely room for them in a city that boasts some 20 million people, all of whom love to eat. But adjust your expectations and don't forget about Beijing's myriad of excellent restaurants run by passionate chefs who serve up good, honest food and need your support if they are to not only survive - the River Club and the Workers' Stadium branch of Three Guizhou Men both recently closed their doors - but thrive in a city of 60,000 restaurants and countless food stalls.