In the tradition of Beijing’s atmospheric weirdness, a white, fluffy catkin rainfall instead of sunny blue skies announced that the warm season was here last month. As always, it comes with a whole set of expectations of outdoor fun: terrace drinking, pool parties, courtyard barbecues.
Brought to you by the team behind Bottega and El Barrio, Nali Patio’s latest opening Daruma clearly caters to summer crowds looking for a quick and tasty meal as they move from one terrace to the next. In this regard, they hit the nail on the head: the combination of ice-cold Asahi beer and Japanese skewers simply works, especially in a city where Nali Patio is the closest thing we’re going to get to, well, an actual private patio, and where outdoor fires are strictly forbidden.
The group's latest move in the attempt to diversify their offering of high-quality and hip food concepts, Daruma presents the same winning recipe: regional cuisine, attractive design and a large selection of drinks.
Daruma’s interiors fit a genre (we’ll call it “izakaya-chic”) all-too-common among the capital’s Japanese eateries. In this specific iteration, the large, blood-red neon signs instantly evoke the feel of Tokyo, the red-padded couches say American diner and the reclaimed wood paneling on the floors and the ceiling tie everything together, making it all feel a bit cozier. It also looks like it’s going to keep the place warm when winter comes. A large countertop, from which you can peek inside the kitchen, confirms this is a place you can just stop by for a quick bite on tasty skewers. And while you definitely should, because those skewers did not disappoint, we suggest you opt instead for the seats next to the large bay window that opens out on the courtyard: It looks great and we were not surprised those chairs were the first to fill up when we went.
Still a work in progress, Daruma’s menu is a solid selection of Japanese grub for all tastes. If you’re there just for a snack, opt for the small plates and skewers. Beware, Daruma serves edamame with dressing, in the garlic butter and chili variations (RMB38) – as if edamame weren’t already the most addictive of things, the added sauces make them absolutely irresistible. While we’re still compulsively munching down on soybeans, as if we hadn’t eaten for weeks, our cucumber rolls with Ume plum arrive (RMB38). This entree is a fresh kick perfect for summer, though the very delicate aroma of plum paste ends up being overshadowed by the minty, citrusy, almost basil-like taste of the shiso herb used on top. The highlight of the yakitori menu is instead the chicken meatball (RMB20), with egg yolk and balsamic vinegar.
If you’re looking for a full dinner, peek at the mains. Despite presenting itself as a yakitori joint, we believe this is where Daruma shines the most. Next to classics like eel rice (RMB158) and chicken rice (RMB68), we find abura soba (RMB68), the soup-less, “oil noodles” that are a staple of Tokyo cuisine. This sort of dry ramen, cooked together with herbs, veggies, mushrooms and mouthwatering crispy pork, has all the scrumptious umami taste of soup ramen, plus a je ne sais quoi that hooks us at the first bite.
Peeking out of the large windows, surrounded by a feel-good score filled with summer anthems and classic Queen hits, we sip on a beer (OK, maybe two – the food is quite salty after all) and notice that time has passed rather quickly. With good snacks at fair prices and nice cool drinks, there’s everything we need here. And if you’re in good company and decide to tap into their two-page sake menu, we don’t see why you wouldn’t want to hang out at Daruma a while longer, waiting for the sun to go down – a little later every day.
[Images via Edoardo Donati Fogliazza/That’s]