Situated in the trendy EAST Beijing, Hagaki serves up modern Japanese cuisine for adventurous eaters looking for a creative kick stronger than wasabi. With a lively sushi bar and a varied menu boasting tempura, rice and noodle dishes and eclectic sushi rolls, Hagaki is well on its way to making its mark on the saturated Japanese dining market.
A definite draw of the restaurant is the set lunch available every day. The wide range allows diners to choose from meals such as prawn and vegetable tempura, soy-glazed sea bass and pork ramen to pair with pickles, salad, egg custard and miso soup. The meals are served bento-style for convenience and at RMB 58-108, are affordable and truly good value for money.
The modern edge that differentiates Hagaki from its competitors was highlighted best in the California rolls. Through the double restaurant review, we found that the quintessential dish can be telling of the restaurant’s entire repertoire. At first bite, we detected a hint of lemon in the mayonnaise that spiced up the usual, tried and tested California roll. Hagaki’s creative sushi bar boasts nearly 20 sushi rolls, including the asparagus and prawn roll (RMB 78) and tempura roll (RMB 68).
However, it’s also possible for innovation to achieve lesser success. An example would be the fried udon with sautéed vegetables and pork (RMB 35), which was either misrepresented in the menu or entirely missed the mark. The udon came stir-fried with copious bonito (fish flakes), a mix of random vegetables and a few strands of pork – the saving grace was the large serving size, characteristic of most Hagaki dishes. However, we still regret not ordering the standard, safe tempura udon (RMB 48).
Thankfully, we managed to get our tempura fix with the prawn and vegetable tempura (RMB 68). The carefully stacked pile of battered vegetables and prawns demonstrated the importance of food presentation, as it enhanced our enjoyment of the dish. From the restaurant’sdelicate sushi rolls, colorful dishes and the beautiful cutlery, it was evident that it was willing to go the extra mile to whip up a feast for a diner’s eyes and palate.
Hagaki’s atmosphere is also a feast for the eyes. The dim lighting, natural wood panels, sleek furniture and muted color palette contribute to the formal setting. One can’t help but feel that the restaurant would be perfect for a business meeting, dinner with girlfriends or a date. At lunchtime, however, the atmosphere is more relaxed and your fellow diners consist mostly of families and singles looking for a quick bite.
As can be expected from a hotel restaurant, Hagaki does have a 15% service charge. However, the staff’s attention to detail and impeccable service left us with no doubt that it was worth it. Our tea and soy sauce were replenished throughout the meal and the waitresses were always on hand to answer any questions we had.
Mugen is a lesser-known Japanese restaurant tucked in the alleyway bordering the Lido Hotel. Once you enter the start of the Lido Hotel driveway (on the Starbucks side), turn left, and then right to make your way past the country club. Some of the most affordable Japanese food in Beijing lies at the end of the maze, making the journey well worth the effort.
The restaurant was crowded for dinner, but not so crowded that we had to queue. Sounds of conversation blended with the sizzling from the teppanyaki grill, creating a hubbub not unbearable, but not ideal for quiet conversation. Service was efficient and we managed to get a copy of the menu and hot tea as soon as we sat down.
The menu itself was almost as frustrating as finding the restaurant had been. There seemed to be no logical order to the layout of the food, and the typos were abundant, albeit entertaining. However, reading every single page and taking advantage of the photos let us know quickly that we were going to be spoiled for choice.
Choosing, however, was difficult because there was no description of the rolls and the ingredients they contained. Many of these rolls had obscure names (caterpillar and spider rolls anyone?) but were similar in taste to the same dishes at Hatsune. For those who haven’t been to Hatsune for a reference sample, it’s suggested to pick the rolls in good faith and find your favorite. If all else fails, there’s the tried and tested crowd pleaser, the California roll (RMB 55), which is delicious and comes exactly how you’d expect it.
Sushi lovers can also pick from hand rolls, containing ingredients ranging from beef to avocado (RMB 20-30), and nigiri topped with sea bass, shrimp, salmon and more (RMB 20-30 for two). Big groups can choose from a few sushi platters, or order several sushi rolls (averaging RMB 60-80) that consist of eight pieces to share.
Despite the filling rice, udon, and soba dishes with all combinations of side dishes (RMB 30-60), the sushi is the best offering on Mugen’s menu. There is not only a diverse selection to choose from, but also amazing value for your money. All sushi is subject to a 35% discount, an offer that brought our bill to a shade above RMB 100 for two people. Furthermore, Mugen’s sushi is more filling than Hagaki’s, most likely because the rolls are bigger and more rice is used.
In terms of presentation, the sushi pieces were laid out neatly, but it was obvious that the presentation was not overthought. The focus truly laid on the authentic taste of the food. Due to its price, portions and presentation, Mugen is the perfect place to bring your cash-strapped friends whom you don’t need to impress.
- Price for two people: RMB 197
- Food: Innovative, well-presented, delicate, fairly-priced
- Must try: Tempura, California rolls
- Atmosphere: Formal, classy, quiet
- Service: Attentive and efficient
- Perfect for: Dates, formal dinners, business lunches
- Notes: The food isn’t expensive, but the 15% service charge will raise bills and eyebrows
- Price for two people: RMB 103
- Food: Standard fare, simple, big portions, good value for money
- Must try: Agedashi Tofu (listed as Fried Tofu) and sushi as a whole
- Atmosphere: Informal, simple, noisy
- Service: Efficient
- Perfect for: Big groups of friends, family meals
- Notes: All sushi is subject to 35% discount (valid for lunch and dinner, and according to the waitress, is a semi-permanent offer)
This article originally appeared in the May/June 2013 issue of UNIT-E. It was written by Heather Budimulia and Chrystal Li, two recent graduates of the International School of Beijing.
UNIT-E was founded in the spring of 2010 with the aim of establishing a non-profit, student-run magazine for international students in Beijing. Staffed by current students from a range of international schools, the magazine provides an amalgam of cultural tidbits, fragments of Beijing student life, and a broad spectrum of unique perspectives from a diverse group of young adults.
Photo courtesy of UNIT-E