Food is a universal language – it speaks of culture, of heritage, and of the places we call home. People everywhere have a deeply rooted longing for the nostalgic flavors of their hometown. It’s this same longing that motivated Zuo Taiming and his partners to open The Southern Fish. In the vastness that is China, flavors from region to region will of course differ from one another. Generally though, Chinese cuisine has been categorized into dishes from eight provinces, but within every province there are still variances to flavors from city to city. In that regard, rather than classifying The Southern Fish as simply a Hunan restaurant, their dishes should be more appropriately considered as Hengyang cuisine.
The Southern Fish is located in Beijing’s Qianmen district off of Yangmeizhuxie Street. This Hunan-Hengyang restaurant is tucked away in a traditional hutong alley, inside of a renovated two-story residential building. Zuo Taiming and his wife designed the entire space, working side by side from the conceptual stage all the way up to completion. With a mentality of wanting to preserve the authenticity of their dishes, they source many of their ingredients from Hengyang. But besides the genuine Hengyang food they provide, the creative energy that the restaurant embodies has also been a much-welcomed addition to this hutong alleyway.
The first and second floor of The Southern Fish adds up to a total of 65 square meters; the interior consists of long, narrow spaces with a width of three meters – yet it doesn’t feel cramped. The first floor is able to accommodate around twenty people, while the second floor is able to accommodate between eight and ten. The designers used multiple vertical, wood-framed windows of varying height for the facade. On one hand, the design of the facade is used to maximize the amount of natural light; on the other hand, it’s to maintain a consistent visual aesthetic with the long and narrow interior space. The challenge of using the long and narrow spaces inside the building is actually what attracted Zuo Taiming to choose this location. Through his clean, simple, and space-effective design, he successfully made the location work for him.
渔芙南整间餐厅上下两层楼加起来也不过65平方米，内部空间狭长，宽仅为3米，却不见局促压迫感。一层空间大致能容纳 20 人左右，二层包间则能容纳 8－10 人。设计师运用许多木质框架的小窗高低错落地排布在沿街一侧的外立面上，一方面给自然采光创造最大的可能，一方面和内部狭长的空间形成一致的视觉印象。初见这座老宅时，左太明正是被它的狭长在空间利用上的挑战所吸引，这个挑战最终被简洁合理有效的空间设计所战胜。
Continuing with the idea of optimizing natural light, the second floor ceiling has been replaced by a see-through skylight. The skylight extends the original space upwards without actually altering it, this eliminates any sense of claustrophobia one might have. Overhead, the dangling branches outside, framed like artwork on a canvas by the skylight, seems to possess an artistic, almost painter-like quality. They have also installed latticed shelves on the same floor, which holds a variety of Hengyang delicacies in large pickling jars, including but not limited to: dried fish, sausages, long beans, and radish skins. These are also some of the most genuine Hengyang dishes you can order in the restaurant, and exemplifies their slogan xiang shi ben wei, which is their goal of producing quality local dishes one can find in Hunan.
Besides the labor poured into designing the space, The Southern Fish also places importance on the aesthetics of other visual elements. The logo uses black as the primary color of choice, and is designed as the shape of a fish’s head. In order to maintain a visual consistency for customers, every piece of furniture and even the material used for the first floor ceiling has been carefully selected to ensure the wood color is one in the same. Indoor lighting comes from hanging pendant lights; the cascading lines creates an illusion of spaciousness, the seemingly methodic curvature of the cords further emphasizes the degree of design discipline in play. Even their business cards, napkins, plates adorning the walls, glasses, curtains, uniforms, door handles, and menu all seem to be exercises in meticulousness. In addition to all of these details, they have even designed a font that’s exclusively used for the restaurant. So far, their design team has already created hundreds of Chinese characters.
Creatives in the hutong are already regulars of this restaurant, and word of mouth has been attracting even more customers. Currently, Mr. and Mrs. Zuo are running this restaurant together but are also working on their brand consultant company. Taiming focuses more on the restaurant side, and his wife focuses more on the brand consultant side. This restaurant has been the definitive case study to show their clients, and is a great representation of the amount of thought they put into their designs. The popularity and success of The Southern Fish is undoubtedly a persuasive showcase on the importance of well-crafted branding and design for other local businesses.
166 Yangmeizhuxie Street, Dashilan
Xicheng District, Beijing
People’s Republic of China
Lunch 11:00 – 14:30
Dinner 17:00 – 20:30
Contributors: Banny Wang, Eric Zhang
Images Courtesy of The Southern Fish