There is an old adage that states: once you live in Japan and then move away, you spend the rest of your days searching for great Japanese food – usually to no avail. Okay, I made that up, but that is how it feels to me. Two years living in Japan made me realize how little of that wonderful cuisine actually makes it to foreign shores. That is even truer if you live in the Wangjing/Lido area. Fortunately, Hagaki, located inside East Beijing, has resolved some of my culinary predicament.
Walking into Hagaki from the hotel’s lobby, I forgot that I was in Beijing and felt like I had stepped into a restaurant in Japan. The wood paneling, orderly and minimal décor, and the prominent sushi bar, all worked to help transport us back to Fukuoka prefecture. Although the curves of the wooden chairs beckoned us to the sushi bar, we selected a table along the wall where there is a padded bench seat and silk throw pillows so that our daughter would be more comfortable. We had left the boys in the care of their nannies, and we were treating our six year-old to lunch with Mama and Baba on a workday.
The service at Hagaki is prompt and the server did not hesitant to make some recommendations. Naturally, we were delighted to see some less standard fare on their menu and we ordered a bit of tried-and-true, as well as some new things, to get a sense of the kitchen staff’s culinary chops. Kid friendly items, such as gyoza (fried dumplings) and ramen noodles were well received by our daughter and tasted spot on to us.
The California roll had a nice tang to it and the yellowtail sushi was among the best I have sampled in Beijing. For the more adventurous, Hagaki has a Wangjing roll that is marinated tuna with Korean chili sauce and kimchi and finished off with tuna and tobiko. Although not exactly to my liking, I did finish it off and I can see where some will relish in the unique combination of flavors. Despite recommendations for unagi and foie gras maki, and boiled Boston lobster in sake, I settled on the toro-don (fatty tuna on sushi rice); such a deliciously decadent dish despite its simplicity. We rounded out our meal with tempura ice cream with fresh lychee and the chocolate mousse with soya milk ice cream. We felt the tempura was a bit too thick on the ice cream, but the chocolate mousse nearly started a family feud. Next time, we had better order two.
From the moment we walked in until we left, Hagaki managed to carry us away on a 90-minute trip to Japan that elated the senses and sated our appetite for great Japanese food. The staff went out of their way to make sure all of our needs were taken care of, even fetching me some soy milk from another restaurant in the hotel for my coffee. Despite the busy lunchtime crowd, the staff was also attentive to our daughter and they were happy to have a child to talk with. I’m certain it will become a favorite place of ours to return to again and again.
Hagaki has lunch sets from RMB48-168, ordering a la carte will run about RMB100-300 per person and up depending on your appetite. As Hagaki is located in a hotel, all prices are subject to a 15% service charge.
Photo courtesy of Loorzboy (Flickr) and by Christopher Lay