In the last 10 years, Beijing’s 798 art district has been progressively transforming from a quiet epicenter of Chinese contemporary art into a mainstream leisure and tourist spot. In a city where development doesn’t often make aesthetics a top priority, the area has managed to keep its identity as an art- and design-oriented hub and, beside the flocks of tourists coming to 798 during the weekends, a crowd of tasteful consumers still enjoys the artistic vibe of the district. Despite an increasing demand to combine art and fine dining, many eateries in the area—once visitors pass the fancy façade—fail to meet the expectations.
Liang Shi, however, is a coffee shop and restaurant (which opened a few months ago in March) near UCCA, one of hottest spots for contemporary art in the capital, and it seems to fill this gap successfully. Opened by creative mastermind Nathan Liu and his team at F+L Design, Liang Shi aims to be one of the most mature expression of Chinese interior design.
Recently, Nathan Liu has defined Liang Shi as an epicenter of Chinese contemporary lifestyle and compared his concept to what Muji did in Japan: the Japanese brand transcended the idea of product to offer a whole lifestyle experience which could embody Japanese contemporary identity—and Liang Shi's goal is to be a landmark of Chinese contemporary taste.
Beyond the huge glass door that divides the dining space from the large patio, the unfinished concrete blocks of a big warehouse host a few wooden tables, divided by a screen of man-sized bamboo birdcages. Carefully designed spotlights and drapes of metal chains suspended from the ceiling create a feeling of intimacy in this large dark space. A long bar facing the dining hall revisits the aesthetics of a socialist canteen.
The food comes mainly from the Cantonese traditions, including dim sum, cha-shao pork and many light soups, and focuses on quality ingredients and simple recipes. While the mainstream trend in China sees a continuous quest for the biggest and the most impressive, the name itself "Liang Shi" ("food" and "provision" in Chinese), means simply good and comfortable, as a key to happiness which echoes traditional wisdom as well as the feeling of coming home.
Liang Shi is open from 11AM to midnight, but the kitchen closes at 9:30PM. The restaurant is located at 4 Jiuxianqiao Lu (next to UCCA), 798 Art District.
Photos by Alessandro de Toni