Beijing's Soho properties aren’t known as sites of spiritual restoration. Nestled away in the property giant’s labyrinthine Jianwai development, however, sits Re (stylised RE), a Muji-chic Japanese bicycle store, organic café and champion of wellness and sustainability in a city that is beginning to embrace its need for it.
Japanese architect and founder Sugane Shiro’s 'Re' is shorthand for his three tenets of a healthy future: research, recreation and revolution. If it’s not immediately clear on entering how these lofty constructs connect to a city coffee shop, or why they should, that’s okay; Re’s worth as a lifestyle space speaks for itself. Entering from the western reaches of Jianwai Soho, the chaos of the neighbouring Third Ring Road melts into a thoughtful range of lifestyle accoutrements on Re’s first floor: bespoke bicycles, expensive document holders, pastel-coloured gardening tools and designer bum bags speak to a new, uniquely Japanese definition of luxury and carry price tags to match. Opposite, a softly spoken barista foams our 38RMB latté – good, not great and which elsewhere wouldn’t fly at that price, but by now we’re too yinned and yanged to feel even faintly aggrieved.
Upstairs, Re explodes into a light-filled lifestyle space, soundtracked by the cerebral strains of ambient music, light keyboard tapping and little else: Re asks that patrons keep it to a minimum. A row of low-seated leather chairs are positioned by floor-to-ceiling windows that look onto the Third Ring Road in a hospice-like configuration, making for a lovely spot from which to enjoy a slice of ham and cheese bread (18RMB) and flick through one of Re’s many Japanese bicycle enthusiast magazines – even just to say you did.
A coffee and a bite from Re’s very brief, granola-forward menu is a palliative pleasure and a fine way to reset in one of the more human uses of space in any of the Soho properties. We’ll sooner lick every hot iron in Beijing than spend 900RMB on a bumbag, though.
By Frank Sweet