Did you know that a prawn could deceive you? At Hagaki, you will learn many things from this swimming crustacean. No, it’s not a pat of butter, as adamantly as you may feel when it melts leisurely against your tongue. Yes, the kitchen will indulge you should you take the brilliant suggestion to send back the severed heads for deep-frying. (This is delicious, if you were a skeptic.)
There are other things to learn, too. Educate yourself in tuna and its gradations of fattiness with a tuna sashimi plate (RMB 398, add 15 percent to all prices). The Wangjing roll (RMB 128) nods to the neighborhood down the road – tuna marinated with Korean chilli sauce and kimchi comes bundled in rice and lavishly draped with tuna and sprinklings of tobiko. The lotus root will surprise you. Its fried cross-sections are golden and lacy, and despite the many holes, they’re well-matched for scooping the accompanying spicy tuna tartare (RMB 58).
The kitchen possesses a light touch and certain sensitivity. A teapot of earthy matsutake soup (RMB 48) is delicately balanced – rich, salty, and won’t last long. Shrimp and gingko nuts rattle against the walls of the empty pot which explain the depths of the broth’s flavor. The greens and fishcake salad with ponzu mayo (RMB 38) jumbles oblique stars of okra with pale yellow endive leaves and quarters of bright cherry red tomatoes, the chewiness of fishcake contrasting with the crunch of fresh vegetables.
You learn most from a dense brick of chocolate mousse (RMB 58) with its curious but enchanting scoop of soya milk ice cream. Little worlds unfold in this cold orb. Did you think that early morning dumpling shop breakfasts could reappear, frigid not warm, solid not liquid, delicious not bland?
Daily 11am-10pm. 1/F, EAST Beijing, 22 Jiuxianqiao Lu, Chaoyang District (8414 9815)
A version of this article appears in the March 2014 issue of the Beijinger.
Photos: Mitchell Pe Masilun
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