“Just go up the stairs for the tattoo parlor.”
“Umm … actually we’re here for the sushi.”

It’s not often that tattoos and sushi can get mixed up, but walking into the entrance of Goku Uma Japanese Restaurant, Cafe & Bar it seems one has to state intentions clearly. At the tip of Quanyuan’ensi Hutong, joining the realm of Katchup and 8-Bit, this small hutong holding also boasts a shared space with a tattoo parlor up its rickety staircase, but luckily you don’t need to fight a potential broken ankle to get to the sushi.

Get through the door however and you’ll be met with a claustrophobe’s nightmare. The tiny space holds three small tables divided by screens, and a bar bench/preparation area with five or so stools squeezed next to each other. Keep your elbows tucked in as you navigate yourself to a table, but at least with one side dedicated to lightening things up with windows you’ll be able to see where you’re going at all times. If you have a large group try to go during off-peak hours or risk not being seated.

English and Chinese is on the menu, with a spread of starters, sashimi, nigiri sushi, and other specialty assortments accurately translated. Our large dollop of seasoned lobster meat (RMB 18) had a surprising amount of sweet prawn meat slivers among the fish roe and shredded crustacean. A behemoth bowl of boiled edamame (RMB 10) acted as a palate cleanser for the whole lunch; a disappointing amount of blandness popped out from each unsalted pod. Flavor redemption came in the form of belly warming miso soup (RMB 10), nigiri salmon sushi (RMB 20) delicately laid atop warm rice balls, and their specialty Goku Uma roll (RMB 68) Roll your sleeves up for this monster, a fist-sized mix of deep-fried large prawn, crab meat, cucumber, and swishes of marinade and mayonnaise makes for one hefty bite (or five).

One menu mishap, due to confused finger pointing, finished our lunch in the form of what we thought would be a california roll that arrived at the table transformed into a fruit sushi roll (RMB 20), but in the spirit of eating we decided to give it a go. Fish roe and banana is not a combination my palate has acquired though, and we abandoned plates.

Service is lightning quick but a bit brutish so don’t expect a lot of chit-chat from behind the bar until all the teething problems have been worked out. But to be honest, it’s so reasonably priced (two of us were stuffed for about RMB 150 total) you can put up with a few impatient huffs.

Goku Uma Japanese Restaurant, Cafe & Bar
Daily 10am-10pm. 2 Qianyuan'ensi Hutong. Dongcheng District (138 1060 0189)

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Photos: Erin Strong

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