Kingyo Izakaya (Japanese) 金魚居酒屋

Restaurant: Kingyo Izakaya
Cuisine: Japanese/Izakaya/Fusion/Eclectic/Tapas
Last visited: August 26, 2012
Location: Vancouver, BC (Robson Street/West End/Downtown)
Address: 871 Denman Street
Transit: NB Denman St FS Haro St
Price Range: $20-30+ (Closer to $30+)

1Poor 2OK 3Good 4Very good 5Excellent 6FMF Must Try!

Food: 4-4.5
Service: 3.5
Ambiance: 4.5
Overall: 4.5

Additional comments:

  • Japanese owned/operated
  • Funky Japanese tapas
  • Sister restaurant Suika
  • Award winning
  • Very popular/busy
  • Named “Best Casual Japanese”
  • Modern/posh/lively atmosphere
  • Daily fresh sheet
  • Sushi/sashimi bar
  • Good for drinks/snacks
  • Good for sharing
  • Vegetarian friendly
  • Gluten free friendly
  • Dairy free friendly
  • Extensive drink list
  • Higher priced
  • Reservations highly recommended
  • Mon-Sun Lunch 11:30am-3pm
  • Mon-Sun Dinner 5:30pm-11:30pm
  • Fri.-Sat. – 5:30pm-1am

**Recommendations: Yellowtail and Avocado Carpaccio, Lightly Seared Toro Pressed Sushi, Braised Beef Short Rib

I think I’ve had a change of heart. I still really like Kingyo, but I actually prefer their sister restaurant Suika even more which opened last year. I forgot the two were related until I opened the menu and saw some overlap with the popular dishes. Suika is their more casual and affordable restaurant, but I find the quality on par and the menu even more exciting at Suika.

Kingyo used to be my go-to spot for izakaya and I’ve been here many times over the years. It wasn’t the one to start the izakaya craze, but I would say it was the one to set such a high standard for it. Guu and Hapa Izakaya came before, but Kingyo really brought it to the next level. It’s no wonder they are constantly named “Best Casual Japanese” by local media. It is one of the priciest izakaya restaurants in town though, which I don’t mind if it delivers in flavour, ambiance and service.

That being said times have changed. I haven’t been to Kingyo in a while and my experience this time wasn’t how I remembered it. It’s still as busy as ever and recommendations are highly recommended, but there is more options for izakaya now. Everyone is bringing their A-game and improving their menus and constantly bringing new ideas which just raises the standard and expectations. I think it’s a great thing, but it does make you a bit more picky.

It’s kind of funny because izakaya is supposed to be casual. I mentioned it in my Zakkushi post how Vancouver’s idea of izakaya tends to be a posh and trendy place, but in Japan izakayas are typically casual watering holes. They are places you visit after work for affordable drinks and tapas. They are not that fancy. Of course every city will adapt ideas to suit the regional culture and clientele, as to why izakayas are what they are in Vancouver.

I’ve always enjoyed the ambiance at Kingyo. It’s modern, posh, lively and sophisticated and the service has always been rather consistent. The service and atmosphere rivals Hapa Izakaya, but the style of the food is very different even though they both specialize in izakaya.

The menu at Kingyo hasn’t changed too much over the years. It’s funky but still more traditional to Japanese izakaya compared to Hapa Izakaya, which is more inspired by West Coast flavours and style. Kingyo draws its inspiration from Chinese and Korean cuisine more so than it does West Coast, so I consider it more “Asian fusion”, than say Pacific Northwest influenced.

There is always a fresh sheet and new things to try, but I think it could deliver even more than it does for upscale Japanese izakaya. I just feel like it has gotten a bit comfortable and works to keep up with the business. I used to consider it more of a leader and I missed the inspiration. The menu isn’t necessarily played out, and it’s great that they keep the house favourites, but the execution and presentation seem to have gotten more casual. For this reason is why I feel more satisfied at Suika.

I have more confidence when an upscale restaurant decides to open a more casual restaurant, but when it’s the other way around I think it’s harder to impress. In this case, they have a strong chef and kitchen team which easily translated to Suika success. I feel like you’re getting more or less the same thing at both restaurants, except Suika is more affordable and casual, but still very nice.

Although I was pleased and satisfied with my experience at Kingyo, I didn’t come out as awe’d as I usually am about it. I’m not sure if my standards or the restaurant has changed, or perhaps it’s a bit of both, but I wanted more of a difference between Kingyo and Suika. Since Kingyo is meant to be their higher end option I naturally have higher expectations that go beyond higher prices and a classier setting. I was by no means disappointed and I still support the restaurant and enjoy it very much, but I think Kingyo can fall slightly short of expectations while Suika exceeds them.

On the table:

**Yellowtail and Avocado Carpaccio4/6 (Very good)

  • Thinly sliced yellowtail and avocado over organic greens topped with Kaiware radish, garlic chips, wasabi mayo, and soy based sesame dressing $9.80
  • I used to always order this dish and maybe it was because I haven’t had it in a while, but I remembered it being better.
  • It used to come with lotus root chips and the carrots used to be cut into flowers instead of being julienne.
  • The flower shaped carrots I can let go, but I liked the lotus root chips for texture and presentation.
  • The tuna was fatty, but a bit fishy tasting and it wasn’t the freshest hence why it was being used for carpaccio.
  • This is typical of many Japanese restaurants though. It would be a waste to cover up premium cuts with sauces and toppings and it was likely day old tuna.
  • The tuna was cut quite thin being a carpaccio and the avocado was almost shaved and placed underneath so it wasn’t very much of either.
  • It was almost like a salad and there were a lot of flavours and textures going on which I loved.
  • It was creamy, buttery and fatty Yellowtail sashimi and avocado with a refreshing crunch of shredded vegetables.
  • It was acidic, bright and savoury from the dressing which contrasted the richness of the tuna and avocado.
  • It was also aromatic and nutty with the crispy garlic chips which really made a difference in the initial and after taste.
  • There was a bit of wasabi mayo on top for some heat and it was a very saucy and juicy citrus appetizer bursting with flavours.

Deep Fried Satsumaage2.5/6 (Okay-Good)

  • Takoyaki style mixed seafood pâté, mixed seafood with blue cheese, cabbage, red ginger, deep fried then topped with okonomi sauce & bonito (smoked fish) flake $7.40
  • I missed the “Takoyaki” part of the description and just started reading at “seafood pâté… bonito flake”, so I wasn’t quite expecting this.
  • It was more or less true to its description, but the description sounded better to me.
  • It simplest terms this was basically a fried seafood meatball.
  • I like traditional takoyaki which is very light, creamy, pillowy and fluffy and made with pancake batter with a little octopus tentacle and pickled ginger inside.

  • This one was a modern take on takoyaki and it was very heavy and dense.
  • It wasn’t as tender and the seafood was quite compact as a pâté and it ended up being a tough seafood ball.
  • It was very crispy with a chewy inside and the octopus tentacle had overcooked as well.
  • The fish paste pâté was made from likely their older/leftover sashimi, so it was fully cooked fresh fish.
  • I liked that it was fresh fish, but not that it was overcooked and it ended up tasting like flaky and chunky canned tuna (but not bad canned tuna).
  • There was a bit of pickled ginger inside and it was drizzled with Okonomi sauce which is a sweet and tangy sauce that tastes like a Japanese BBQ sauce with a Worcestershire kick.
  • I didn’t taste any blue cheese and forgot there was any in there until I read the description.
  • I think it would be better with a creamy texture and tender stuffing because it was quite hard and chewy.

Grilled Pork Cheek3.5/6 (Good-Very good)

  • Our original miso marinated pork cheek served with home made blended spice $7.80
  • I’m a fan of pork cheek, but I prefer them braised and melt in your mouth tender than grilled.
  • For a grilled pork cheek this was done quite well though with nice looking grill marks.
  • This would be more typical for traditional Japanese izakaya and they were sliced quite thick.
  • Pork cheeks are very cheap cuts and naturally very fatty so they can be tough and chewy if not executed well.
  • I prefer them cooked slow and low to break down their proteins, fibres and collagen that make them so chewy.
  • The fat in pork cheeks are layered and not marbleized, but these weren’t gelatinous and blubbery or anything.
  • In this case the texture was resistant and snappy as it often is when it’s grilled at a Japanese restaurant.
  • They previously brined it so it was less chewy, but I prefer mine more tender and less snappy.
  • It was like brined in salt, sake, miso and mirin before being grilled so it was savoury with natural pork flavour without being overwhelmed with sauce.
  • I appreciated the simplicity of this, but I wish it was crispier and I missed that smoky charred flavour I would get at a specialized robata place.
  • My favourite part was the potent Shisito pepper seasoning they served it with.
  • I’ve had Shisito pepper seasoning many times, but this home made version was amazing! I’d buy it in a jar.
  • It was the small dark clump on the plate and it was paste like in texture and almost like black bean paste.
  • It was made with 7 kinds of spices and it was incredibly aromatic. A little dab went a long way.
  • It was very perfume like (not floral, but fragrant) and lemony and also a bit bitter, smoky, spicy and tangy.
  • It was a very flavourful seasoning and a lick of it would have my taste buds going like crazy trying to figure out what everything was.
  • The sharp lemony tang, intense aromatics and hint of bitterness was perfect to counter the fattiness of the pork cheek and create a well balanced dish.
  • Although this grilled pork cheek was more refined, I actually prefer the grilled pork cheeks at Zakkushi Charcoal Grill – see P-Toro.

**Lightly Seared Toro Pressed Sushi4.5/6 (Very good-Excellent)

  • Lightly seared tuna toro pressed avocado sushi topped with plum seaweed and sesame sauce $13
  • I really enjoyed this and there was enough sauces that it required no additional soy sauce or wasabi.
  • The rice was a bit on the wet side especially with the additional sauces, but it had good flavour and vinegar.
  • The toro was again a bit fishy and I couldn’t taste the smokiness of the aburi (searing), but it was still good.
  • The melted down seaweed sauce had a nice tang to it from the Japanese sour plum juice or wine used to reduce it.
  • The tangy ponzu and sesame sauce was sweet and aromatic and almost like a goma-ae (Japanese sesame dressing), but with more acidity.
  • Both sauces were different types of savoury and there were a lot of flavours going on which made the sushi.
  • Aburi is more about the searing and the sauces than it is about the fish.
  • Personally I would have liked each piece to be drizzled with the sauce rather than just drizzled over the whole thing. It’s an extra step, but it’s how I prefer aburi.
  • It’s always even better when the sauce is one that can be baked or torched for more intense flavours.
  • It had a very dominant seafood flavour with the fish, seaweed and tobiko, so you have to really like seafood to appreciate this.
  • I also really enjoyed the Negitoro Battera and Aburi “Shime-Saba” Sushi at Suika.
  • I would recommend Miku Restaurant for an aburi sushi specialized restaurant, but I would still order this dish at Kingyo again.

Grilled Mackerel Spicy-Miso Sauce4/6 (Very good)

  • Grilled juicy mackerel with sweet and spicy miso-based sauce. Served with seasonal vegetables. $8.80
  • This was a generous portion and it was present nicely and very good, but it wasn’t necessarily unique or memorable.
  • Mackerel is a naturally fishy tasting fish so you have to like stronger fish flavours to like this.
  • It was boneless with a crispy skin which I loved and the meat was flaky, very moist, tender and almost juicy.
  • It was well marinated and sauced in a sweet miso and onion like glaze, but it wasn’t spicy at all.
  • It just seemed like miso paste mixed with sweet onion sauce or teriyaki sauce with grilled veggies so I wasn’t too awe’d although I still enjoyed it.
  • There were lots of onions and a few bell peppers, but that’s about it.
  • I would have liked it with some crispy garlic chips or perhaps more inspiring seasonal vegetables like corn, zucchini, or just something less predictable.

**Chinese Sweetened Balsamico Sauteed Dynamic Jumbo Beef Rib6/6 (FMF Must Try)

  • Sweet balsasmic vinaigrette sauteed super tender beef rib, with baby carrot, snap pea, and original cilantro sauce $16
  • I didn’t realize that this was going to be the same Jumbo Beef Rib I had ordered at Suika before – see here.
  • Braised beef short rib is one of my favourite dishes so I always order it. This one did not disappoint.
  • I fell in love with the one at Suika and this one was just as good as I had remembered it at Suika except it comes with two jumbo beef ribs!
  • It was a generous portion which was appreciated considering the price.
  • It was crispy sticky ribs that I could cut with a fork, but ended up eating with my hands. It’s just more fun sometimes!

  • I think it was brined and then braised very slowly for a few hours before being fried or grilled because the outside was crispy with charred bark (my favourite).
  • It was falling off the bone tender and the membrane slipped right off so it could have been boiled first. The membrane wasn’t tender yet though.
  • Pre-boiled ribs do not actually bother me that much though and it didn’t lose any of its natural flavour. Well naturally it might have lost a bit, but it was still delicious and I didn’t care.
  • It wasn’t too fatty and it was sweet, sticky, syrupy and saucy and lick your fingers delicious!
  • The meat was flavourful and moist and it was almost like sweet and sour pork sauce meets a Western style sweet balsamic glaze.
  • The sauce was really strong like an Asian BBQ sauce.
  • It was very tangy and acidic from the reduced balsamic vinegar and there was also a kick from perhaps Okonomiyaki or Tonkatsu sauce (Japanese BBQ-like sauces with Worcestershire flavour).
  • There was a little drizzle of cilantro oil sauce, but I could hardly taste it under the reduced sweet balsamic vinaigrette. It didn’t matter if it was there or not.
  • Give me a fried egg and a bowl of Japanese rice and I would call this dinner!

Stone Grilled “Kakuni Bibimbap4/6 (Very good)

  • Slowly steamed tender pork belly “kakuni” and Korean style pickles on “Koshihikari” rice in a sizzling stone bowl. Do not touch the bowl. $ 9.20
  • It’s inspired by the Korean bibimbap.
  • It came with green onions, nori, pork belly, Chinese pickled radish, Shiitake mushrooms and I think some Okonomiyaki or Tonkatsu sauce (Japanese BBQ-like sauces with Worcestershire flavour) on top.
  • They called them “Korean style pickles”, but I know them as Chinese pickled radish.
  • These pickles and crunchy sweet, savoury and tangy and I love them!
  • The crunch is a bit different than an American pickle and it’s almost like a radish meets a cabbage.
  • It has a much milder flavour than an American radish and it’s not spicy.
  • It was a big bowl of bibimbap, but I could use more ingredients especially the pork belly.
  • I actually ordered it at Suika and I felt the same way about it there. It is considered a house favourite though.
  • Guu with Garlic makes one as well – see here, but I prefer the one here.

  • They mix it all up at your table and press the rice around the sizzling hot stone bowl.
  • It’s best to sit and wait 7-10 minutes so the rice has time to crisp up. It won’t get cold because the bowl is hot.
  • I really appreciated the premium Koshihikari rice they used.
  • It’s a chewy short grain Japanese sushi rice with a sweet flavour and it’s good even plain.
  • It didn’t have a lot of pork belly or mushrooms though so I wanted more of that for texture and flavour.
  • The pork belly it had was very moist and well braised so the fat and meat were melt in your mouth, but I just wanted more of it.
  • There was a nice crunch of tangy sweet pickles, sweet and tangy sauce, sweet mushrooms and savoury sweet pork belly, so it made for a dynamic mixture of ingredients.
  • Luckily the rice was very good on its own but more ingredients like bean sprouts, cucumber, or an egg would have made this even better.

Complimentary frozen grapes.

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3 Comments

  • Bow says:

    The grilled pork belly should have been blanched first to soften the tough belly, marinated and then grilled. The beef ribs look great, as the Bibimbap, however ain’t a fan of miso mackerel; mackrel is a strong, heavy, oily fish and adding strong tasting miso makes the dish too heavy for me…want more balance or a counterpoint. Thanks for the review.
    ps. strong tasting tuna is old fish, tsk, tsk.

  • Linda says:

    i like how suika and kingyo have similar items like the bibimbap and of course the aburi pressed sushi 🙂 i still prefer suika over kingyo but i will definitely need to try the grilled pork cheek next time i’m there 🙂 have you had their bento boxes for lunch? i heard they’re a big hit!

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