Hapa Izakaya (Kitsilano)

Restaurant: Hapa Izakaya
Cuisine: Japanese/Izakaya/Fusion
Last visited: March 23, 2011
Location: Vancouver, BC (Kitsilano)
Address: 1516 Yew Street
Price Range: $20-30+

1: Poor 2: OK 3: Good 4: Very good 5: Excellent 6: Tres Excellent!!

Food: 4-4.5
Service: n/a
Ambiance: 5
Overall: 4.5
Additional comments:

  • Since 2003
  • 3 locations in Vancouver
  • Hapa Izakaya – Yaletown post
  • Hapa Izakaya – Robson post
  • Hapa Umi
  • Creative Japanese fusion tapas
  • Japanese chefs
  • One of Vancouver’s 1st Izakaya restaurants
  • Voted best Japanese
  • Local favourite
  • Busy/Very popular to locals/tourists
  • Casual, but trendy & posh
  • Restaurant/Bar/Lounge
  • Daily fresh sheets/Seasonal menu
  • Omakase menu available
  • Special Sushi Saturday menus
  • Great for drinks & tapas
  • Imported beer/wine
  • Heated patio
  • Ocean Wise

Business Hours

  • Sun-Thurs. 5pm-12am
  • Fri-Sat. 5pm-1am

**Recommendations: Plum wine, Tuna Avo Salsa Dip, Sashimi Salad, Gindara, Cho Wagyu, Gindara, Green Tea Mille-Feuille with Mango Ice Cream

Yay! Happy for Hapa! I always get excited when I know I’m going for dinner at Hapa Izakaya! But then again I get excited if I’m going for izakaya period. It’s one of my favourite cuisines, and I’m a huge fan of fusion when it comes to Japanese food. I just think the concept works the best with Japanese food out of all the Asian cuisines.

Hapa Izakaya is definitely one of the most popular and even one of the first Japanese izakaya restaurants to open in Metro Vancouver, BC. Along with Guu, the two dominate the Vancouver izakaya scene and they seem to be unstoppable. It’s one of the “higher end” izakaya places and it’s still a major hot spot for any occasion. With modern fusion Japanese tapas, pretty staff, and an ultra sexy feel, it’s no doubt that it’s a formula for success and late night dining.

There are 3 Hapa Izakaya locations in Vancouver, and although I’ve been to this one on a few occasions it has taken me a while to finally blog about it. All 3 locations are unique to the area they’re located in and offer the standard menu as well as a daily fresh sheet that varies at each one. The original Hapa Izakaya on Robson is the biggest one and I think it’s probably my favourite, followed by the very posh Hapa Izakaya in Yaletown, and then this discrete neighbourhood Hapa Izakaya in Kitsilano. The menus change so frequently that’s it’s not really fair to compare, but I just find the fresh sheets at the Robson and Yaletown locations have impressed me more than this one.

This photo was near the end of the night, otherwise the place is always packed.

On this occasion Sherman and I were invited for a menu sampling that was to determine what we wanted to feature at Vancouver’s 1st Foodie Feast. By the way, thank you so much to all who attended the foodie fundraiser for The Greater Vancouver Food Bank! Sherman and I did hand select Hapa Izakaya to be one of our featured restaurants of the evening and we’re happy to support establishments with food we believe in. After all, there’s no difference from giving them a positive post on our blogs, and of course, our opinions will always be honest with our intentions disclosed. There are no expectations from Hapa Izakaya and photos are thanks to Sherman.

For two people, we made a more than respectable dent in the menu and I can’t wait to share with you what’s…

On the table:

**Plum Wine (Umeshu) – 6/6

  • Dangerous. SO dangerous.
  • I’ve had Umeshu before, but maybe I just forgot how good it was. It’s incredibly smooth and light like Soju and it tastes like candy!
  • It’s sweet, crisp, fruity and refreshing, but not as sweet as dessert wine or ice wine at all. It’s an anytime drink… I’d wake up to one.
  • I could even use some shiso leaves and a squeeze of lime for fun and “sophisticated” flavour.

Salmon Shooter – 5/6

  • This was a chef’s special. I think it’s available on the omakase menu.
  • You mix it up with a chopstick before shooting it.
  • This was delicious! It was a savoury shot of salmon sashimi with green onions, seaweed, sushi rice, dashi (Japanese squid broth) topped with salmon roe and micro shiso.
  • It was a liquid form of deconstructed sushi and it reminded me of a cold Japanese style sashimi congee.
  • It was fresh and the broth was savoury, tangy and intense in flavour.
  • It was almost silky going down (sounds so bad) and then there were bursts of salty cod roe that enhanced the savoury seafood flavour of the dashi.

Scallop Tartar – 3.5/6

  • Fresh Qualicum Bay scallops with homemade bacon bits in a Japanese mustard mayo sauce. Served with wonton chips.
  • This was a sample for us to try, but it’s $8.50 on the regular menu.
  • The scallops were tender and it was nice and creamy with smoky and salty bites of bacon and a nice spicy mustardy mayo sauce that was almost like Dijon or horseradish.
  • I loved the creamy topping and crispy won ton chip contrast, and it was good, but a bit forgettable.

Goma-ae – 4/6

  • Green beans and spinach topped with feta cheese with house made sesame sauce $4.95
  • This goma-ae came in 2 portions: green bean goma-ae with feta and then the standard spinach goma-ae.
  • The sesame sauce actually tasted like there was hoisin sauce in it and it was quite bold for a sesame sauce. It reminded me of the hoisin and peanut sauce used for fresh Vietnamese salad spring rolls.
  • It wasn’t very granular in texture but I did see some freshly ground sesame seeds.
  • I was hoping for more of a ground sesame flavour and it wasn’t my favourite goma-ae, although well sauced.
  • The green beans were cooked perfectly and super crunchy! I loved the salty bites of feta which was topped off with the Hoisin like sesame goma-ae sauce, so it was a new idea.
  • The green beans worked really well and it tasted like a contemporary Asian salad with the sweet nutty sauce and salty feta cheese, except it was a bit hard to eat since the sauce was at the bottom and the cheese was sprinkled on top.

Aburi Gindara Sashimi – 3/6

  • Seared Sable fish sashimi $8.95
  • This was my first time trying sable fish sashimi. It doesn’t show up on a menu often, but luckily it was being offered on their daily fresh sheet.
  • Hapa does the aburi searing at your table side, but my favourite place for aburi sushi is Miku Restaurant which actually specializes in the technique.
  • The aburi technique is lightly searing the sashimi and it’s usually topped with creative sauces if it’s being served as sushi. However in this case it was aburi sashimi so there was no sauce and the focus was on the fish.
  • Usually when used for aburi, the sashimi won’t be as fresh and that’s why it’s usually torched and topped with sauce.

  • I actually wasn’t a fan of sable fish sashimi. I found it to be a waste of the fish and in theory it already didn’t make too much sense.
  • Sable fish is such a fatty fish that it requires cooking in order to appreciate all its natural juices and oils, which are limited when it’s only being seared.
  • It was still buttery, but the flavours are so much more developed when it’s cooked. The searing gave it a very mild smoky flavour and warmth, but it didn’t do much else.
  • It came with a ponzu citrus dipping sauce, but the sable fish flavour was actually lost in the context of sashimi.

**Tuna Avo Salsa Dip – 5/6

  • Ahi tuna, avocado, tomato, onion with plantain chip $7.95
  • This is one of the items we chose to feature at Vancouver Foodie Feast. The cooking methods were limited at the selected venue, so we wanted to feature something practical, tasty, yet representable of Hapa Izakaya.
  • This was Japanese meets Mexican meets West Coast meets Jamaican and it was fantastic in concept and flavour!
  • You mix it altogether into a dip before enjoying.

  • It was a sweet, savoury and tangy guacamole with salty crispy seaweed, fresh ahi tuna, crunchy onions, juicy tomato and a lovely honey-like tangy sesame oil soy sauce. It was actually a Korean sauce and I think it was Kochujang, and it was delicious giving it the savoury flavour it needed.
  • It was creamy, yet fresh from the veggies, had texture from the ahi tuna which was well balanced with a tangy zing to brighten all the flavours up.
  • I just wanted to top it with mango and lay it over a bed of sushi rice! On the other hand the plantain chips were even better!
  • I loved the crunchiness of the plantain chips (not sweet), and it’s so much better than tortilla or wonton chips.
  • The creamy and crunchy contrast was delicious and it was fusion done perfectly.

Fish & Chips Roll – 2.5/6

  • Halibut tempura, greens, crispy potato, tartar sauce $7.95
  • Not known for sushi although they offer a lot of rolls at this location. I like to try something from each section of the menu and originally I had ordered the Dungeness crab roll, but they had ran out. This seemed like the next most “different” sushi roll.
  • It didn’t taste like fish and chips to me and it was pretty dry and required more sauce. The execution wasn’t great and a bit sloppy.
  • Hearing fish and chips I expected a very crispy crunch, but there was not much crunch and the halibut got lost and a bit dried out even given its naturally dry characteristics.
  • I loved the crispiness of the crispy potato shreds on top and the tartar sauce was tangy with a slight heat, but as a unit it didn’t do much.
  • There was slightly too much rice that was a bit dry and sticky as well and that didn’t help the dry halibut.
  • There was a little bit of Japanese pickle in the roll, but it did fall flat overall and it sounded more exciting than it was. I wouldn’t have guessed it was a “fish & chips roll”.

**Sashimi Salad – 5/6

  • Mixed sashimi with a soy herb dressing on a bed of organic greens $11.80
  • This is my favourite sashimi salad to date.
  • It’s fresh with a nice variety of sashimi with 2 pieces of everything and it’s quite big, and not only because of the massive salad bowl it came in.
  • What makes it so much better than anywhere else is the deep fried prawn heads, which are amazing. You can eat the full thing and it’s crunchy from head to toe… err neck?
  • Deep friend prawn heads taste like deep fried shrimp meat balls and they’re delicious. The brains and guts just cook and taste like pureed prawn ball stuffing. It’s nice and savoury and lightly battered and well seasoned with a pungent shrimpy flavour.
  • The sashimi included salmon, seared tuna, hamachi, scallop and prawn tails.
  • The dressing was a tangy soy vinaigrette with a hint of ponzu, but I actually like the sashimi plum vinaigrette at Guu better – see Guu’s Sashimi Salad.

Salmon Croquette – 2/6

  • Sockeye salmon, shiitake mushrooms in a dashi risotto topped with oba mayo $6.95
  • I love croquettes and I loved Hapa Robson’s Crab Croquette, but unfortunately this did not deliver as well.

  • I couldn’t taste any Shiitake mushrooms and the couple I saw were the tiniest little specs.
  • They were quite mushy rather than creamy and the rice didn’t taste like arborio rice and the texture was just lost.
  • I could taste some salmon and the outside was lightly breaded and crispy, but I lost the Parmesan flavour and it just seemed sticky rather than velvety.
  • The dipping sauce tasted like a tangy aioli, and it was home made, but still didn’t do much for the croquette.

**Gindara – 4.5/6

  • Miso-sake marinated sablefish baked to perfection $10.50
  • This is one of the favourites, but being that it’s sable fish, it’ll almost always a favourite for me anywhere.
  • I admit, it’s done very well here and I order sable fish almost anytime it’s offered on a Japanese menu.
  • The miso mayo dressing served on the side is a modern thing, but the best authentic Miso Gindara I’ve had is from Aki Japanese – see here.
  • I ordered this at Hapa Robson before (see here), but I actually enjoyed it more here and found the miso mayo less salty, although still pretty salty.
  • The skin was crispy, smoky and well charred and the meat was juicy, flaky in chunks, moist and well marinated with miso and sake, but not too salty or overwhelming.
  • I enjoyed this much more than the sable fish sashimi, although a bit incomparable. I just find the superior qualities of sable fish are showcased much better in the context of it being grilled.

Hapa Antipasto – 3.5/6

  • House made duck ham, pork ham & smoked cheese $8.95
  • They forgot the smoked cheese and I didn’t realize until after.
  • The house made duck ham was smoked and served with pink peppercorn. The fat was somewhat tender and a bit chewy at times without a crispy skin, but I did like the infused smoky flavour in contrast with the somewhat fruity aromatic pink peppercorn that delivers a sweet berry heat.
  • The cured pork loin ham was quite good with a hint of black pepper in the nose more so than in the taste. It was served with hot mustard wasabi, which was a nice contrast with the saltiness of the ham.
  • Overall the dish took a decent amount of time to prepare, but I found it fell short as an “antipasto”. The slices were quite thin and small although moist and tender, but it just seemed a bit boring losing its “wow” factor.

Renkon Gyoza3.5/6

  • Minced pork sandwiched between slices of lotus root $8.95
  • These gyoza are originally a Taiwanese thing, but Hapa Izakaya has made them popular to the mass market and now some people often associate it as a Japanese invention.
  • I tried the eggplant gyoza at Hapa Robson, and the zucchini gyoza at the Hapa Yaletown location and the zucchini ones are my favourite thus far.
  • I find these vary a lot depending on who’s preparing them.
  • These ones were well executed, lightly battered, very crispy with flavourful moist meat stuffing that was slightly gingery with minced chives. It tastes exactly like gyoza stuffing, but instead it’s sandwiched between 2 thin slices of lotus root.
  • I really love lotus root, but in this case it didn’t do much for flavour. It added an extra fibrous crunch, similar to a raw potato, and the juicier zucchini version just worked better.
  • It was served with tangy malted vinegar for dipping, and they were good, but the lotus root just didn’t work as well as I was expecting.

**Cho Wagyu5/6

  • Self seared Japanese premium beef with garlic chips, green onion and ponzu sauce $10.95
  • Was it pricey? Yes, but the quality of ingredients were there. Was it delicious? Absolutely!
  • It comes with a side of garlic chips and green onions and I ate it like a taco by searing the beef for 2 seconds on each side, folding the ingredients into it and then dipping it in the ponzu sauce.

  • You do the searing yourself on the hot stone provided. You could eat it raw, but it does require some searing to activate those fat enzymes and flavour they contain.
  • After filling the slices with the nutty crunchy garlic chips and fresh green onions and dipping it into the tangy sauce, it was simply amazing.
  • Alone the beef was already tender and buttery, but the garlic chips, onions and sauce did make it taste better in my opinion. It gave it added texture and dimension and it was like a bite of really strong flavours when eaten altogether, yet it didn’t overpower the Wagyu beef.

**Duck Potato5/6

  • Panfried fingerling potato with duck leg confit $7.95
  • One whiff of this dish going by and you won’t be able to resist ordering one. That’s what happened to me. Not to mention “duck confit” is music to my ears.
  • There’s a lot of roasted, baked and pan-fried fingerling and nugget potatoes, but about 6 slices of duck which was the fantastic part.
  • I was a bit surprised to see the duck come pre sliced though and there wasn’t any skin.
  • The duck just melted in your mouth with barely any chewing and the texture was almost like tofu it was so tender.
  • It was cooked in soy sauce and olive oil and served on a hot plate, but the iron plate itself was coated with a layer of oil and it got too oily and a bit overwhelming.
  • I loved the crispy garlic chips and added savoury seaweed and fresh green onions with the duck.
  • The crispy shredded seaweed acted as salt to the cured duck confit and I loved the different levels of savouriness.
  • The flavour tasted much more complex than what it actually was, and I can’t get over how fork tender, or even spoon tender, the duck meat was.

Chiffon Roll Cake – 3.5/6

  • Chestnut Chocolate cream on top of Earl Gray roll cake $5.50
  • This cake was extremely light, soft and fluffy and not that sweet at all.
  • I couldn’t taste the chocolate at all, but I could definitely taste the aromatic Earl Gray which was delicious.
  • I love the Chinese chestnut cake and I actually like that chestnut puree better, as this one lacked comparable flavour and texture.
  • I did get the Earl Gray flavour the most out of everything, and I could taste the chestnut when I ate it separately.
  • Overall it was just the standard chiffon roll cake that you would find at a Chinese bakery though, except again I like the Chinese chestnut fruit cakes better.
  • Miku Restaurant has a wonderful Chocolate Chestnut Slice that’s a lot more sweet and Westernized, and Saint Germain Bakery does a very good Chinese version chestnut cake – see here, and Janice Bakery, Pine House, La Patisserie and others do good ones as well.

Chocolate Lava – 4/6

  • Melted chocolate inside of the warm chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream $6
  • It was good, but as good as a lava cake would usually be.
  • It wasn’t too sweet and it wasn’t chewy or brownie like, but soft and fluffy like a standard chocolate cake meets chiffon cake.
  • It was moist with a semi crispy outside, but still not like a brownie.
  • The inside was filled with molten chocolate that was almost fudge like, and it didn’t really come oozing out like some of the ones I’ve had before.

House made Ice Cream – 4/6

  • Ask for flavours & availability $5
  • The ice cream is quite good, but the best ice cream from a Japanese restaurant I’ve had thus far is from Zest Japanese Cuisine – see here.
  • Mango – the mango was delicious and made with real mangoes. It was like frozen fruit puree in ice cream form. I strongly recommend ordering this with the green tea mille-feuille.
  • Chocolate & Rum Raisin – this was good, not necessarily creamy, but also quite a standard chocolate rum raisin ice cream. The raisins were plump which were nice and it wasn’t overly sweet. I could taste a hint of rum and I think they soaked the raisins in it.

**Green Tea Mille-Feuille – 5/6

  • Green tea custard $5.50
  • This was my favourite dessert from the platter. It’s bigger if you order it separately.
  • The green tea was nice and sweet, thick and creamy and just full of flavour.
  • It tasted like there was white chocolate melted into it to give it that smooth sweet texture and flavour and there actually was no bitterness from the matcha powder.
  • It was richer and better than the green tea creme brulee custards I’ve had. This was almost a green tea pastry cream. Amazing.
  • The sheets of flaky pastry were crispy and it was great contrast with the creamy thick custard.
  • Tasty Twist: I strongly recommend eating this with the home made mango ice cream. The green tea mille-feuille, as good as it was, can be a bit subtle at times and that mango ice cream just added that something extra… which was freaking delicious.

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