Location, location, location. That old nut is exactly what is hurting Caffe Parma, a great Italian place in Jianwai Soho. It would be one thing if it was 5 years ago, but the Soho complex has shown itself to be a location for smalltime businesses and not a place that can cater to a higher end crowd (perhaps this will change now that its draped by Yintai?). Caffe Parma has a small location viewable from the exit of Yintai, which might be what inspired the owners to choose this location. Yet the reality is that without any lunch specials on offer, few will travel to Soho to drop RMB50+ on lunch. Further, people don't stay around Soho for dinner, which was why Caffe Parma was always sparsely populated during recent visits, which is very sad.
First off, it's hard to figure out what Caffe Parma wants to be. It has a number of couches making it feel like a very nice cafe to enjoy a cup of coffee and a snack, it has stool seating around some windows making it feel like a quick sandwich spot, and it has white table cloth covered tables making it feel like a high end dining spot: so what is it?
It claims to be an "Italian Coffee Shop", except if you're there to order food, you'll pay far more than what you'd expect at a coffee shop. Sandwiches, salads, and soups are in the RMB35-50 range and the ones we tried were all excellent, though on the small side. Pastas are mostly between RMB45-65 and usually included a card giving a full introduction to the dish. The pastas were excellent, almost always coming out al dente and included some very interesting flavors, including a ravioli filled with spinach and ricotta. The service was befitting of white table cloth dining at dinner, including an amuse bouche, twice a mini pizza which was interesting and would fit well on the menu as an appetizer, and bread service (though no refills on the bread).
The food is all very good, but the problem? There are no lunch specials or dinner/drink specials and its in Jianwai Soho, so its not going to bring in much of the higher end Guomao business crowd. It's a good place to stop in for a cup of coffee and dessert or even for a great pasta, but it needs to drop its desire to be a higher end spot. Offer a RMB40 lunch deal and you'll be able to bring in the crowds. Also, and this is a major pet peeve of mine, a can of Coke costs RMB15, bottled beers are also highly marked up. Caffe Parma (and other Beijing restaurants) stop. doing. this. Don't gouge people on drink prices, its just going to make people choose water or tea over a drink, so you won't make more money and ultimately, people will think twice about choosing your place and instead choose somewhere that's a little more affordable. If a meal only costs RMB55, how can you charge RMB40 for a beer?!?
Give us some deals and you'll see more customers. Or move. If Caffe Parma was located somewhere in Sanlitun, it would have a reputation as one of the top Italian spots in the city, instead its whiling away in obscurity in Jianwai Soho. If you're in the area, it's worth checking out for real Italian food.
Building 6 Jianwai SOHO