A new Japanese fusion tapas place, a first in the area. Located the hub of Gastown, this was formerly home to “Boneta”. How quick things change in this city. “Shirakawa” prides themselves on offering a true and complete Japanese dining experience. They are focused on serving the highest quality proteins and organic produce without sacraficing traditional Japanese culinary methods. They do so by utilizing local purveyors and products to specialize in Japanese kappo, sushi, and teppan grill. Even going so far as to import high-end Kuroge Wagyu Beef from Japan.
I really like the location and the space, clean and simple. The room was dark with black walls and black tables and chairs. The lighting made the darkness romantic. Paper lanterns hovered close to the ceiling, they hung above you like orbs of gold. And delicate votives housing lit tea lights, with their creases they looked like paper cups made out of ceramic. Each seat was set with a dressing that included wooden chopsticks resting on its own matching stand; and a usable napkin, neatly folded with crisp lines like in origami.
Most impressive was their kitchen. Surrounding its window was a mural. It almost looked undone, a sketch and outline painted in silver. Fluffy clouds and a sky of streaks. Two characters popped in black and either red or green. Friendly faced creatures with a smile and a cheeky grin. With the window open, it allowed for a full view of their operation: stainless steel and a wooden counter. And four chefs in white smocks. With their heads down and their arms moving, they dedicated to dressing each plate like a work of art. Though as I sat facing this scene, alone, waiting for my guests, to arrive, I found it intimidating. It was a them versus me feel. But as soon as my table was full and I was allowed to peer past my guests, I found the ability to watch plates come to pass a real treat.
Our server was friendly and bubbly. Attentively, she was talkative, only speaking highly of her place of work. I could not sing her praises more, her energy was infectious and it had me as excited as herself after each encounter. This was truly some of the best service I have had. She offered us a spiel because it was our first time here. The restaurant is well known for their teppan grill work. With this shift in focus there isn’t much sushi on the menu. Our server also explaining that this was because their head chef preferred not the style, and he just didn’t enjoy preparing regular sushi in roll form. She explained how they served tapas style small plates, and suggested that two dishes per person to share would be a good amount of food. She went over each of their daily cocktail and food specials, selling us on each one. We were appreciative of her including the price of each without asking, something not often done or considered. Each option was spoken with much energy and her full enthusiasm, they sounded delicious, she made us want it. Even stewed beef tongue and soften daikon sounded amazing coming from her. Most impressive was how she enunciated her Japanese, listing each menu item by its traditional name before explaining its modern recipe.
As expected the menu was filled with creative twists and unique add-on, it created a very distinctive fusion offering starting from cocktails. Cocktails with ume shu and egg whites, a spiked jasmine tea, and even one that uses Thai chilies and wasabi. For the dishes: a panko-breaded pork cutlet with harvarti cheese and black miso, sakura chip smoked black cod with sundried tomato, and a chicken seasoned with a maple syrup infused “New Style teriyaki”. The whole saltwater eel was interesting, but not enough for me to try, I couldn’t commit to a whole eel; just thinking of its slithering shape creeps me out.
The cocktail special of the night was “Tea 4 two”. This was a grown up tea party. A cocktail served like tea with peach tea, gin, and peach schnapps. Described as being similar to a whiskey sour with its egg white foam on top. I was sold on the mention of its presentation, the tea pot and its matching cups and sauces, all served on a silver platter. Their bartender delivered it to us at our table. He explained the set up, pointing out the bonus serving of the grenadine infused foam he included. It was to be used for an added sweetness of our own choosing. The pot held exactly enough tea for two. With a little spoon to dole out the foam that remained on the bottom of the pot. Because of the tea set up you expect the first sip to be warm. None-the-less the beverage was delicious, easy to drink I could have finished the severing for two on my one.
“Cal-pine” made with vodka, calpico, with either pineapple or orange. Your choice of fruit determined the name “cal-pine” for pineapple or “cal-ore” for orange. Light and refreshing it was more like pop and fizzy soda.
“The White River Fishbowl” made with gin, peach schnapps, falernum, lime, and a lit grapefruit. I found out from my guests that legally you cannot have a fishbowl to yourself, with the amount of alcohol in one serving you must confirm your intention to share it. Shame you can’t tell, but the ice inside is shaped like koi fish. Two fish swimming, it explains the name. Tropical in look and taste. I wished I had asked what a “lit grapefruit” was, my guess is the grapefruit juice included was from a charred or burnt grapefruit for an added smokey flavour.
“Ebi Abo”. Not what we expected. Blanched prawns, avocado, creamy wasabi and tobiko. The menu didn’t mentioned that our prawns would be blanched so we were surprised that they weren’t fried, and even disappointed until we tasted it. It was extra creamy with tender pieces of shrimp, plenty of mayo drizzled heavily in a criss cross pattern, and cubes of ripen avocado. They kindly portioned it out for two full prawns per our three persons.
“Kani cream croquette”, cream croquette filled with crab and béchamel. Fried to a nice browned crisp, the texture was a wonderful combination of crunchy on the outside and chewy on the inside. It reminded me of deep fried milk, but savoury. (Its a thing, if you haven’t tried it, do so at the Richmond night market next year.) Though the crab cakes needed more flavour, the soy and cabbage they sat on gave not enough salt. A sauce for dipping would have been nice, luckily we had extra mayo leftover from the dish above and were content with using that.
“Gindara”, sakura chip smoked black cod, sautéed mushrooms and sundried tomato. As hard as I tried I could not make out the flavour of the sakura wood in the fish. Though I imagine it would be more for its scent, as smell affects taste. The fish was prepared light and delicate. Very moist and thoroughly tender, it easily flaked apart. As per our server’s suggestion we ate it with the vegetables, and they were very complimentary. The tomatoes and mushrooms added additional flavour profiles and additional textures. And I enjoyed the variety of mushrooms included. Overall a good dish, but no where near a filling one.
One of their specials of the night, a pork chop. A 16oz bone in, cut up and plated for easy sharing and consuming. Served with a side of gai lan and a smear of apple sauce. This is the kind of dish that makes me crave more pork after eating it, fully knowing any that I have after would not be as good. Succulent pieces marinated in a sweet and salty jus. Definitely the best dish of the night. Like all the others, there was not enough of it.
“Buta Rice”, pork belly fried rice. So flavourful. Oily, but the good kind. A good meal ender to ensure we left fuller, in fact we had ordered it for that very reason.
The washrooms were three unisex rooms. Smaller fixtures gave each more space. Comically the lock inside the room had a sticker above it that read, “use me please”. My guest learned first hand the importance of this. In her attempt to choose a facility she opened the door on a man already engaged in bodily movements.
Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
The food was amazing, but because of the portion and the price it’s one of those places you eat first before going to or make plans for a second meal after. I definitely left wanting more food and wishing I could afford to double up on all that we had. I would definitely come back for and recommended this place for a drink or two. The cocktails are fun and inventive, the space is comfortable and relaxing, and none of the staff hurried us out. Don’t deny your cravings.