Restaurant: Aki Japanese Restaurant
Last visited: January 6, 2011
Location: Vancouver, BC (Downtown/Robson Street/West End)
745 Thurlow Street **New location! 1368 W Pender St.
Price Range: $10-20 (lunch) $20-30, $30-50 (dinner)
1: Poor 2: OK 3: Good 4: Very good 5: Excellent 6: Tres Excellent!!
Food: 5 (Based on lunch/what I tried)
- Since 1963
- Authentic/traditional Japanese food
- Japanese owned/operated
- Very popular for Japanese people
- Attracts business clientele for lunch
- Line ups/Very busy for lunch
- Popular for robata
- Hidden/Discrete location
- Affordable lunch sets/specials
- Moderately priced for dinner
- Japanese and English menu
- Reservations recommended
- Credit card accepted
- 15% service charge for 8+
- Lunch: Mon-Fri 11:30-2pm
- Dinner: Mon-Thurs 5:30-10:30pm
- Dinner: Fri-Sat 5:30-11pm
- Dinner: Sun 5:30-10pm
**Recommendations: Robata/Charcoal grilled items. Grilled Black Cod (Sable Fish), Nabeyaki Udon, Tamago
Unless you live in the area or work nearby, or you are Japanese, or you were recommended by a Japanese person to come here, or you are 48+ years of age, or you are a crazy “foodie”/food blogger who does research, it is unlikely you will discover this place on your own. Even when you’re looking for it it’s hard to find and easy to miss. I qualify in one, or a couple of the categories listed, but I’ll let you guess which one(s).
This is almost the only signage you will see from the outside, and even this is hidden. It’s tucked away near the Samba Brazilian Steak House and you can’t really see the sign until you’re heading down towards the stairs that lead to the restaurant.
Aki Restaurant is a real hidden gem in downtown Vancouver serving authentic and traditional Japanese food. It’s very popular to Japanese people and attracts wealthy Japanese people who don’t need to work, and also a business crowd at lunch time. I’m stereotyping, but it’s a bit obvious. It’s not ritzy or fine dining, but just authentic and delicious. I highly recommend making reservations because they were completely full with a line up and not taking anymore customers, but I was lucky enough to get a seat at the bar within 10 minutes. *Phew* I have been highly anticipating this restaurant for ages so I would have possibly cried if I didn’t get in.
The inside is actually quite nice and traditional in decor. The lunch is only until 2pm and I stayed and chatted a while so we were last to leave, otherwise this place was a full house. The chefs took their lunch break after the rush and I was so tempted to invite myself to eat with them… chef meals always look so good!
This is THE man. He mans the robata grill for lunch and he’s responsible for robata-gasms. Aki Japanese Restaurant is famous for robata (Japanese BBQ or charcoal grilled meats and seafood). The sashimi was good, and I haven’t tried the sushi, but people come here for the robata so those are the recommended items. My intentions were to listen and stick to robata items, but I wasn’t expecting them to have separate lunch and dinner menus, so unfortunately a lot of what I planned to order wasn’t on the lunch menu. Instead I was limited to lunch specials and set boxes, which were actually very affordable to my surprise. There is a wide selection offered for lunch, but the items I wanted just weren’t on there. I will definitely come back for dinner… or lunch again!
I saw tons of orders for black cod being made and since I was sitting right at the bar I was in front of all the robata-action. I really wanted to try some of the grilled meats, but I decided to try a bit of each category since my robata selection was limited for lunch anyways. I did get a better representation and I must say that their non-robata items are actually very good, but the robata item I had was amazing. It really is the closest to authentic Japanese food I’ve had in downtown, Vancouver and one of the best I’ve had. In Richmond, there is also Seto Sushi Japanese Restaurant which is also quite authentic.
I’m a huge fan of Japanese fusion and Izakaya places, and most of you know I love places like Miku, but I also have a great appreciate for authentic cuisine. It’s so rare to come across and almost nothing is ever “authentic” unless you fly to the country of that particular cuisine, so nonetheless I settle for fusion, which still works for me. What can I say? I’m a Gemini. I like the best of both worlds. From what I tried just from their lunch menu, I thoroughly enjoyed my experience at Aki Japanese Restaurant and I can’t wait to go back, definitely highly recommended and must try on my list.
On the table:
- Prawn tempura, chicken, fish cake, vegetable & egg in noodle soup $8.50
- The Nabeyaki Udon is pretty much the won ton noodle of Japanese food, but I’ve actually never ordered it. If I have Japanese noodles I usually go for ramen, more often than udon. Even if I order udon, it isn’t the Nabeyaki, however this one was recommended so I decided to give it a try.
- Delicious and authentic!
- It’s a very simple dish, but the broth or dashi (Japanese stock) is what matters to me. This was fabulous dashi and it tasted like a savoury milky broth that’s just as flavourful as the pork ones you get at Ramen places. It doesn’t have a pork flavour necessarily and it’s not greasy, but it does have a well infused savoury flavour that comes across as chicken stock with seafood flavours that aren’t fishy tasting.
- A raw egg is cracked on top before serving and you break the yolk and mix it altogether before indulging. The extremely hot broth just cooks the egg and it becomes a semi-scrambled fried egg throughout the soup, adding a slight richness and silkiness. It’s the best part! I do this when cooking noodles at home too.
- The toppings are authentic with a crunchy panko prawn tempura, Shiitake mushroom, spinach, nori and kamaboko (fish cake). The only thing is that the tempura batter was very bland, but the prawn was crunchy despite the part that got soggy in the soup.
- The udon noodles are chewy and very good, but not as amazing as the ones from Gyo-O Kaisen Shokudo Japanese Restaurant.
- Japanese sweet egg omelet $4.25
- This is one of the items to order when you want to gauge what a Japanese restaurant can really do.
- It’s offered on their dinner menu, but they let me order it for lunch.
- It’s quite a labour intensive dish although it seems very simple. I love it and this is the best I’ve had to date. I feel like I’ve never tried tamago, until I’ve tried it here.
- It was a pretty big portion of 6 omelette cubes that is almost like layered sponges that hold a lot of juice.
- It’s a very well marinated omelet and the flavour is locked in a liquid between each sheet of egg.
- Each layer is made from smooth and soft egg crepe (no flour) and has the texture of soft tofu skins.
- It was very fluffy, which it authentically should not be, but I didn’t care because it was so delicious.
- It was moist and the perfect balance of sweet and savoury.
- In between each thin layer of the omelet was a layer of savoury sweet juice that was made from sugar, mirin, soy sauce and dashi broth.
- I love that I could taste the dashi broth which I think was made from sweet shiitake mushrooms this time.
- Not all places will bother to use this and every bite of this tamago just oozed delicious broth.
- Marinated black cod with special sauce. Served with rice, house pickles, potato salad and Miso soup. $11.50
- The house made pickles were delicious. There were crunchy sweet and tart oshinko carrots (yellow pieces) as well as cucumber pickles that were saltier and sweeter than regular Western pickles. They were actually very aromatic and the flavour was acquired because they taste almost very herby and a bit like pickled salty sweet licorice. It’s definitely infused with Au-Shiso, or Green perilla leaves, which have a licorice herb taste.
- The potato salad was actually also very good. It tasted like a creamy cold mashed potato salad and was nice and savoury as well as a bit tangy.
- I really couldn’t care for the rice, which was plain white rice, and I had no sauce to eat it with and the sable fish was good alone.
- The miso soup was standard and not too salty.
- This is definitely one of the best, if not the best, robata style Sable Fish I’ve had at a Japanese restaurant. I’ve tried grilled sable fish from Kingyo, Hapa Izakaya, Zest Japanese Cuisine, Toratatsu Japanese Tapas & Bistro and Manzo Japanese Restaurant and this will be where I remember it the most.
- It was so well marinated and the special sauce was completely absorbed into the fish. The natural flavours of the sable fish were only enhanced and not masked at all! It was delicious!
- The smoky charcoal flavours were infused throughout every crevice of this smooth, buttery, and flaky sable fish.
- The initial bite is sweet with a slightly crispy caramelized exterior, and then after a couple more bites the sweet exterior tastes like crispy charcoal and it’s just incredibly smoky throughout. The flavours just get richer and bolder as you eat it.
- Every bite was a juicy squirt of fish oils, natural BBQ flavours and sweet rice wine flavour. This was super juicy, even for a sable fish that is already naturally juicy and oily to start with.
- Assorted raw fish, prawn & baked egg on bowl of seasoned rice $14.95
- It’s pretty much a giant deconstructed sushi bowl without the seaweed.
- Sushi and sashimi isn’t what Aki Japanese is popular for, but it wasn’t bad at the same time. The sashimi varieties don’t stretch very far and I’m curious on how often they import them since it’s not their main focus.
- This bowl was loaded with rice, and enough for two big bowls. The rice was sushi rice and it was very well flavoured, tangy and sweet with a nice sticky texture.
- The sashimi covered the basics: salmon, couple varieties of tuna, prawn, squid, surf clam and octopus. There was also salmon roe and tobiko and a slice of tamago.
- The sahsimi wasn’t anything to rave about, but the chirashi was still good for what it was.
- The only thing I was really disappointed in was the wasabi paste which wasn’t that strong and not very fresh.
- A funky modern version of the Chirashi Sushi would be the Chirashi Tart offered at at Miku Restaurant. I prefer the modern Miku one, but they’re different.
- It was unexpected, but the chirashi sushi bowl actually came with complimentary miso soup. Ordered separately is $1.80.
- Again it was standard, but not too salty and with little cubes of tofu.