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To Boldly Go: Beyond Yakitori

Before I begin this review, note that everything that was seen and eaten was a preview version of the restaurant and may not be entirely representative of the final product, but based on the strength of our first tasting, I strongly urge all foodies to make Beyond Yakitori a priority visit once now that it has soft opened (they plan to officially open mid-July).

Located in the Topwin Centre (same building as the Mercedes Me project), Beyond Yakitori is on the 3rd floor alongside a bunch of other restaurants which also seem to be just opened or in the process of opening very soon. It specializes, as you might have guessed, in Yakitori; aka Japanese chuanr.

Having had the privilege and honor of an advanced preview (the best kind of invite), there was no official menu but rather a Chef’s Menu with selected dishes and drinks that were all still in development. The drinks were promising with inspiration from classic cocktails (like your standard mojito or martini), but with their own “Beyond” twist – delicately balanced and refreshing cocktail recipes and an extra bonus is the draft of cold Kirin on tap, which really is one of the best thirst-quenchers when you’re stuffing your face with a whole lot of grilled meats and vegetables.

While the starting appetizers were nice and classic, the yakitori is what really shines and blew me away. Beijing has a few dedicated Yakitori joints and none of them compare to what you experience in Japan but Beyond might just be the next best thing and it’ll save you the flight cost. Whilst the yakitori here is not necessarily all “authentic” – they want to go beyond and that is what makes this spot stand above the rest.

On our visit, we tasted pretty much everything chicken and it was glorious. Every bite, every morsel was tender, succulent and made us wonder how they do it. According to Chris, the secrets lie in the grills, the charcoal and the quality of the raw ingredients.

The Grills: We flew two sets of 200kg grills from Japan. The grills can sustain a super high temperate which is a result of the special charcoal that we use.

The Charcoal: Called “Binchotan”, this is the highest grade of charcoal for grilling as it can reach over 1000 degrees Celsius. Local yakitori joints or any “kaochuan” places are unable to use such quality charcoal, because the high temperate will simply destroy normal grills in mater of weeks but we believe that the high temperature of this charcoal is the secret to super juicy products and locks the flavors inside instantly.

The Meat: We only use chickens that have been killed the same day and the freshness of the meat is key to both flavor and texture. After visiting at least 20 yakitori places in Beijing, I believe more than 90% of the restaurants are using frozen meat, which can be quite dry after grilling.

LDS: Raised in Beijing and after moving to Vancouver at the age of 15, when were you inspired to go into the restaurant business?

CN: “Life is short; do what’s in your heart” – Steve Larson, a serial entrepreneur told me this when I asked him what made him do everything he did. Ever since the decision was made, I never looked back. My entire second year MBA shifted to the concentration of entrepreneurship (after global management).

My family was in shock when later on they found out starting a restaurant business in Beijing would be my option upon graduation. My dad was quite upset and told me that financial support from family would be impossible. Strangely enough, with more questions and doubts thrown at me the more confident I felt about my decision. I wanted to take the road less traveled and felt that would make all the difference.

With only 1-year experience with McDonald’s in high school, I could not claim myself having enough knowledge to start an F&B business. Luckily, I found a perfect place to work and learn – Hatsune, a fusion Californian Japanese Restaurant Company opened its arms. Over the one-year I’ve spent with Hatsune helped me gain valuable insights of operating an F&B business, direct access to study the local Beijing restaurant scene, and all around knowledge while spending time working along side with the owner entrepreneur Alan Wong and core team members from the company.

I have never lived in Japan (long-term), but started studying Japanese during my second year MBA. I did not know exactly why I started but through 3 years of studying, I was able to communicate with Japanese and obtain a few opportunities to intern/study/work in a few Japanese restaurants in this past year.

LDS: What’s the story behind Beyond Yakitori’s name and concept? 

CN: The “Beyond” project really started when I was in the US. Upon completing final year of my MBA program, I started to look for opportunities in Chinese F&B industry. Luckily, I found Hatsune and was able to work closely with the owner for over one year. Since 2014 October, I left Hatsune and the Beyond project has started then. While busy looking for suitable locations and candidates and pushing the project moving forward, I was able to travel to a lot of places – trained in a friend’s izkaya restaurant in Tokyo for over one month, studied with the head chef of a big yakitori chain restaurant called Tori-Tetsu, then completed an accelerated culinary program focusing on modern western cuisine in London.

After over one month of serious training and 3 rounds of yakitori tests in two different restaurants in Tokyo, my final apprenticeship was completed with our current consulting partner, Kuuraku Group which happens to own over 30 yakitori and Izakaya style of restaurants in Japan and runs more than 10 restaurants globally in countries such as Canada, Indonesia and even India.

My encounter with Kuuraku Group in Japan happened totally by chance. While training at my friend’s Izakaya last summer, I wondered into this little place called “Fukumimi” in Shinjuku, Tokyo. When using the bathroom, I saw a world map showing all international stores with one of my favorite restaurants – Vancouver’s Zakkushi listed on it. I was very surprised and told to the people there. The next day, I went on to their website and left a message explaining my project and my intention to share. After a few days, I was able to meet with their international business development manager and then their company president Mr. Fukuhara and we shared quite a lot of common beliefs, things beyond how to offer good food but how to create an all around experience, which builds upon hospitality. A few weeks after that, we finalized our consulting relationship which is their first consulting project as they normally only do franchises overseas).

Beyond means to provide extraordinary experience beyond one’s expectations. The “one” here not only means our guests, but also staff or even suppliers.

LDS: Why Yakitori? 

CN: Ever since I lived in Vancouver, I often frequented a small local Japanese yakitori place called Zakkushi. That was my first yakitori experience and I was in love. Vancouver is such a unique place with many Asian immigrants. The dining scene thrived with such diverse customer base. Asian cuisine such as Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Thai, Malaysian are combining with local North America style of cooking where many freshly caught or cultivated west coast ingredients are being used. Yakitori really stands out from many eating styles around the world.

LDS: Where did you have the best yakitori of your life?

CN: In Kyoto at a place called Wabiya Korekido, located in the heart of beautiful Gion area. The place is beautifully decorated and offers carefully prepared chicken skewers. The dishware and drink-ware are also with very high quality. The entire dining experience is so enjoyable – relaxing, fun with super tasty food.

LDS: Other than yakitori, what other specialty dishes are you most proud to serve? 

CN: We just finished 4 days of very intense food creating/testing with my Japanese friend who owns 5 izakaya/bistro style restaurants in Tokyo. I’m excited to introduce fun dishes like Ebi Mayo, filling but tasty yaki udon with fish roe, shredded seaweed and bonito flakes, and super tasty seafood miso soup.

Later on, we will start using our teppanyaki as well. We will also re-create many dishes that I have had around the world in places such as London and Hong Kong.

Raw fish and other seafood will be available depends on the season and presented in a modern fashion such as salmon carpaccio.

LDS: When you’re not eating yakitori, what is your preferred choice food?

CN: I like to eat Izakaya style food. As for western cuisine, Spanish tapas would be my top choice. To me, the dining experience can be enhanced when more variety of food is available rather than eating just few big sized dishes. That’s also why nowadays most fine dining restaurants offer “tasting menu”, smaller size but wider selections to create more enjoyable experience.

LDS: Favorite things about Beijing? 

CN:

  1. To experience a one-of-a-kind city with such deep history. I like to walk along side “Tongzihe” as the Beijingers would call it. It is the river that surrounds the Forbidden City. When doing that, I feel I am part of Beijing and Beijing is part of me. Nowhere in the world will offer such deep Eastern historical yet mysterious feeling.
  2. To explore the dining scene in Beijing. Unlike Shanghai full of choices, Beijing is still quite far behind in my opinion. Therefore, that is actually possible to explore all the good dining spots here and watch the entire market evolve.
  3. Nothing beats staying close to the family. You know no matter what happens or what you do, they will always be there.

LDS: Top places for eating/drinking in Beijing: 

CN:

  1. Hatsune of course! They always take such good care of me!
  2. Lei Garden for Dim Sum
  3. Mio at Four Seasons – I really love it and the level of cooking is phenomenal.
  4. Ding Tai Feng’s steamed dumplings are the best in town!
  5. Horizon at Kerry Center – Best Peking Duck, but other dishes are below average given their price.
  6. Okra – I visit quite often, but the décor is a bit cold with green as main color.
  7. Who doesn’t love the Taco Bar?? Needless to say more.
  8. Agua – The pig is heavy, but we all need to pig out once in a while.
  9. Karaiya Spice House has the best flavors in Sanlitun
  10. Zen Sushi in Qianlianghutong has the best quality sushi in China, quality and the entire dining experience is no less than a Michelin 3 star sushi place from Japan. Their Parkview Green location offers a very cheap business lunch set as well!
  11. Recently found this new tea/bar/lounge Long Jing. Very interesting concept and fun open space.

Saturday, July 2nd, Beyond Yakitori will be in soft opening, offering a set menu for about 4 weeks before they fully develop their a la carte menu. From July 1st to July 14th, they will offer a half price set menu at only RMB 100 per person. During these two weeks, two different yakitori masters – Hiroki Okubo and Kota Kato, from their Japanese partner Kuuraku Group and will be manning the grill team.

The set menu will include 9 different skewers, a salad, a couple of starters, their signature scotch egg, clam miso soup and a dessert.