My food travels brought me to Kingsway for sushi. Recommend by my guests as an authentic Japanese restaurant. They were proud to advertise that they were Japanese owned and operated with a hand written sign, visible right on the door as you entered.
By looks alone, this wouldn’t be a typical restaurant I would choose at random, or would it even stop me as I walked by. It didn’t have some of the bell and whistles other Japanese and sushi restaurants in Vancouver did. There was nothing visually to set them apart. What they did have was a sign painted red and scraped for a distressed look. A traditional Japanese post that marked its location and lit the way at night. And a wooden sandwich board enticing you with colour photos of their specials and a full written description.
Walking in, the place was equally simple in design. One wall was painted beige and sanded for a spiral textured pattern. The opposite wall was dark brown and streaked and matted with beige and rust orange paint. The same colour as the opposite wall and store’s sign out front.
There weren’t many tables seated: 4 for their 8. However the restaurant felt promising with tables occupied by Japanese speaking diners and a revolving door of all ethnicities picking up take out orders. It was just a shame that the dance pop music playing quietly in the kitchen broke the illusion of authenticity.
The menu was a simple bounded listing. The first page tempted with a beautifully designed dragon roll. I had to get it. Although the photo differed slightly from what was delivered. Our shrimp tempura and cucumber filled dynamite roll, topped with avocado and grilled eel looked like a dragon, but was missing some of the detailing the photo showed. Instead of cute sprouts for the dragon’s antenna, ours had two fried noodle strands sticking out from its “head”. But at least it had the same tempura-ed shrimp tail sticking out like a tongue. The very animated looking roll had the avocado and eel placed across its “back” like scales on a snake and finished with dollops of mayo. Each piece was placed gingerly to make it look like it was snaking across the plate in movement. The rest of the empty space was filled with the Japanese character for “dragon” using a sticky soy based sauce. This sauce also functioned as a dipping element for each piece. Though throughout the meal, I did as my Japanese guest did and refrained from the use of soy sauce. For authentic experience, and because the rolls were plenty flavourful as they were.
The rest of the menu too offered a beautifully taken teaser photo for the section it introduced. Sashimi, nigri, rolls, etc. Not only did they specialize in the traditional, but they also incorporated the more modern takes on North American sushi like pressed box sushi and a deconstructed roll in a rice bowl.
The “Hyoga sashimi carpaccio” was a unique twist on thinly sliced cuts of raw meat served in an acidic vinaigrette. But instead of beef they used salmon and yellowtail. And instead of lemon they introduced the Japanese citrus, yuzu. Yuzu juice was mixed into a creamy mayonnaise, giving the dish a oily and milky pool to sit in. A tuff of greens centred the dish. All together it tasted more like a spring seafood salad, but deconstructed. Especially with the vinaigrette that reminded me of a tangy thousand island dressing. This was defiantly a unique interpretation.
Equally interesting is the very delicate flavours of the “Saba shiso ume roll”. It is mackerel and Japanese basil wrapped in rice and seaweed, and topped with a dollop of sour plum. Not only did it look beautiful in its simplicity, but it tasted like it to. Especially beautiful with the perfectly chosen vessel to display it on: this red wood pedestal bowl. And taken in with the use of lightweight wooden chopsticks: it made the meal all the more delicate.
As for the taste it was more fragrant than flavourful. The combination is nothing that I have had, not that I have had much exposure to Japanese basil and sour plum, let alone together in this contrasting pairing of strong flavours. You definitely didn’t want to dip this morsel into any wasabi or soy sauce. It was plenty sour and plenty herbaceous, it didn’t need the flavour of salt also battling it out. Nothing I would crave again, but a great palette cleaner in between more pungent tastes.
The dish ware used to present the “Nasu dengaku” is what made it stand out. This was baked eggplant cooked in dark miso and spooned into a porcelain dish shaped like a lettuce leaf. You could tell they were made to order given the heat of each right through to its softened centre. Each chunk had a nice firm yet squishy texture, and was tasty with the sweetness of the miso sauce. I would have liked more of the sauce on the side for dipping, it was that good. The sauce would have been nice on anything from meat to sushi rolls.
Their specialty were pressed rolls so we had to try one. The pressed hamachi (yellowtail) had tender fish over tender rice, both furthered soften by a creamy mayo. It had a nice smokey finish to it, thanks to the torched green onions.
For dessert we had one of each of their in house churned ice creams. Red bean with actual chunks of bean. “Kinako” which is
roasted and ground soy bean powder, that reminded me of mild peanuts. And matcha with a bold flavour. They were delicious and complementary in their no so sweet flavour.
And the meal finally ended with a hand written bill and a dish of jelly belly beans to share.
Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – No.
Coming back from Toronto recently, with its over priced and not as nice sushi, I could taste the difference and appreciate our accessibility to fresh seafood at prices where you can afford to eat until you are full of fish on rice. And no better a representation of the accessibility of sushi then here. “Hyoga”, a hidden gem of sorts. Tucked away and here for those in the know. Recommended for fresh fish and authentic Japanese dishes served and made by Japanese chefs and Japanese servers. Enjoyed in a relaxed environment with attentive staff, your plate leaves empty and your cup stays full. Don’t deny your cravings.