Sandwiched between empty-looking hutongs, Zhazha Bistro, helmed by ex-Ramo owner Paca Li, is a hidden gem. Keeping a low-key store front, the exterior – like much of Beijing’s best spots to grab a bite – gives the illusion of a tiny place that can only fit a cozy bunch. But Zhazha finds more room by going vertical.
Choosing a seat at the highest point in the restaurant, we are greeted by large windows, a balcony, and a tasteful leafy green wallpaper, giving the interior a tropical edge. We relax into our clear plastic chairs and drink a refreshing ginger whiskey (RMB58) and the Someone Like It Hot (RMB38), a sweet and fiery cocktail with rice wine, vanilla soda and chili, as we peruse the menu.
With a limited and easy-to-read menu, Zhazha fuses Southwest China’s cuisine with Mediterranean culture. This place keeps it simple with three sections: tapas, mains and dessert. The drink menu is more extensive with options for cocktails, rice wine and everything in between.
From the tapas menu we sample both the vegan and non-vegan offerings. We find ourselves finishing every last bit of the steamed eggplant with garlic (RMB18), potato mash (RMB28) and spicy lamb with mint (RMB48). Being smaller portions, they are a bit of a stretch for four people to share, but we all manage to get a few bites in. On the Irish potato scale – a real scale we’re told by our trusty Irish friend – the potato mash gets satisfied munches of approval. The eggplant is simple and delicious, though the lamb could have used more mint.
After luxuriating over the tapas, we turn our attention to the main acts. The menu includes a modest total of four noodle dishes and two rice dishes, and we’ll be honest here – we’re tempted by all six. We talk ourselves down to two: the meatball sour soup rice noodles (RMB46) and soup rice noodles with pork ribs (RMB46). Rich in flavors and a fantastic complement to the tapas, we were sad to see our meals go so quickly.
Aside from some downright delicious fare, Zhazha as a whole is a relaxing escape that fits every kind of mood. Each level has a slightly different vibe, with the first level feeling more like a laidback coffee shop, the second an intimate alcove for dates and the third, with its massive windows and a cheery balcony, hinting at a hip rooftop party that only you and your friends are invited to.
[Images via Zhazha Bistro]