1479 Robson St
T: 604 689 4272
Brief Description: A sophisticated and glamourous izakaya offering innovative Japanese tapas at modest prices.
Having never travelled to Japan and being completely clueless about Japanese culture, my first izakaya experience was actually here in Vancouver. I didn’t even know that these kind of establishments existed until after I arrived. For those unfamiliar with izakaya they are primarily a Japanese drinking establishment but to provide some much-needed nourishment to their tipsy patrons, they also serve Japanese tapas. As the food portions are small and the prices are reasonably cheap, izakayas offer a fairly inexpensive, yet varied, dining experience.
With two locations, one on Robson Street and one on Yew Street in Kitsilano, Hapa Izakya (or known simply as Hapa) is one of the more upscale, sophisticated izakayas in Vancouver. The owners have obviously put a lot of effort in to making sure that everything is looking good. This includes the staff, the food and the restaurant decor. The Robson Street location is dimly lit with simple modern decor. Everything is sleek and dark and with its sexy atmosphere it makes for a great place to take a date.
As you walk through the door, you are greeted with an enthusiastic “Irasshaimase!” (“Welcome!”) and although there is a energetic vibe, it is definitely not as hectic as the Guu izakayas (another izakaya chain in Vancouver). The staff are more mellow and on the times that I’ve been, so are the clientele. It appears to be a slightly more grown-up version of izakaya. That can either appeal to regular izakaya go-ers or be seen as pretentious. Personally, I welcome it.
On the few visits that I’ve had to Hapa on Robson, the service has been flawless. The staff have been attentive, fast and very welcoming. On the night that we were there recently, there were so many staff working that I think it would be almost impossible to be ignored.
My favourite thing about Hapa is the presentation of the food – everything just looks so damn good! Unique food presentation seems to be something that the restaurant prides itself in and so it is not unusual to see one of the waitresses using a blow-torch to crisp the skin of a mackerel at a fellow diner’s table. All of the dishes that we ordered were served on different styles of plates; some glass, some ceramic, and all added a little something different to the presentation of the food. We went a little crazy when we were there and ordered too many dishes but with all of them under $10 each, we weren’t too concerned.
We started off with the Goma-ae (green beans, tuna sashimi, and feta cheese in a goma-ae (sesame) dressing). I personally didn’t like this dish as much as B did – the appeal of sesame-flavoured cold beans was kinda lost on me.
I was more impressed with the delicate Tuna Carpaccio (fresh, thinly sliced ahi tuna served with a slightly spicy yuzu dressing). The thin slices of fresh tuna were delectable with the dressing. I could have quite happily eaten a whole plate of this on my own.
Beautifully presented in what looked like a little ceramic boat, the Sushi Croquette (deep fried sushi ball with BBQ eel, cheese cucumber) were fabulous. I was much too eager to scoff them and, as a result, I burnt my mouth on them but it was worth it; they were one of my favourite dishes of the meal.
The Bintoro Tataki (seared albacore tuna sashimi with citrus vinaigrette sauce) was delightful. The generous bite-sized pieces of fresh tuna were as light as the accompanying tangy sauce.
Considering that they are in season, I could not say no to the Spot Prawns. The three large prawns were simply served cold, with a light garlic and lime dressing. That was really all that they needed as the prawn meat is so sweet that anything more would have been unnecessary.
The Tortilla Wrap 2 Ways (soy braised pork shoulder, prawns & fried bean curd with habanero mayo & 3 kinds of Japanese salsa) was the dish that we were the least taken with but, obviously, tortilla’s aren’t a dish that the Japanese are renowned for and so that was probably an ordering error on our behalf. Although I loved the presentation of the dish, there just wasn’t a lot of flavour going on amongst the doughy wrappings of the tortilla bread.
And finally, dessert. Disappointingly, the chocolate cheesecake was also not a highlight for me. It was a little too dense and a tad dull.
Looking back over the dishes that I had, I enjoyed the seafood dishes the most. Thankfully, nothing that we ordered was terrible but some dishes were considerably better than others.
Final Thoughts: I have a great time at all the izakayas, regardless of the decor or the price, but what I like about Hapa Izakaya is that it feels more mature than some of the other more casual izakayas in town. Don’t get me wrong - I absolutely love the fun and chaotic vibe of the Guu’s but if you want a quieter, more intimate izakaya experience then you can’t go wrong with Hapa Izakaya.