Beijing is not the most obvious place to entertain the idea of a restaurant serving fresh, raw fish, but it can be done. The irony of eating sushi so far from the coastline doesn’t seem to deter the clientele who continue to frequent the city’s ever-growing army of sushi restaurants. Now Timezone 8
– a café in 798 popular among arty types – has joined the ranks by opening a new sushi wing.
For long-time residents and visitors of 798 art district there is a soft spot for this cafe that has matured into an industrial-snazzy watering hole. But will they take to this latest addition or will they find it lacking a certain shokunin (artisan) influence?
Duck beneath the noren (traditional Japanese curtains) separating the café area from the new sushi joint, and you step into a Japanese shabby-chic space with blonde-wood timbers and exposed brick. We sit at the sushi bar for ringside seats to the action.
The small selection of sashimi (188RMB) consists of four types of fish and shrimp, served atop a bed of ice, nestled in a forest of parsley. The prawns are fresh and sweet, which raises our expectations for the fish. But, although the albacore tuna slices arrive looking an alluring stark white, they are watery in flavour and slightly mushy in texture. The salmon and yellowtail sashimi also lacked richness and flavour. Most disappointing was the rose-coloured maguro tuna, a bit icy in the centre and tasting as flat as the other fish.
With the standalone raw fish pieces presenting such a lacklustre offering, it’s best to order dishes that involve a little more trickery, such as the fried soft-shell crab hand roll (32RMB). In this dish, large tempura-battered legs kick out of their nori seaweed wrapper like a can-can dancer, and are drizzled with mayonnaise, perhaps a bit too generously squeezed.
Highlights here are the sushi rolls designed by chef Alan Wong of Hatsune. Subpar fish gets a second chance in nine signature makizushi rolls and won’t disappoint those looking for a filling meal. They include the Timezone 8 roll (58RMB), with torched white tuna, tobikofish roe, fragrant shiso leaf and green onions drizzled with wasabi mayo and a sweet soy-based unagi sauce. The toasted sesame seeds, tobiko and green onion add a nutty crunch, perking up this roll. Given our location, we order the 798 roll (78RMB), which is an exciting melee of flavours and textures, including bouncy shrimp tempura, crisp asparagus, creamy avocado and bursting tobiko, with a mayo drizzle.
The potato croquettes with bacon (22RMB) are a hit for the soft and giving mashed potato inside a thin, breaded jacket, fried to a golden crisp and topped with shavings of dried bonito fish flakes. The roasted ginkgo nuts (18RMB), served in their shells, cracked and heartily salted, are incredibly moreish, but make sure they’re served hot.
The sushi chefs are functional, offering little amusement as we witness one chef unravel a cut of salmon from cling wrap only to drop the fish with a careless thud on the counter. Our money spent could command a little more attention to detail, but, alas, with polite service and ho-hum flavours, what you see is really what you get. Timezone 8 Sushi fills a niche in the factory yard-turned-art district, but wouldn’t hurt from a bit more freshness and soul.