What better way to be greeted upon entering a restaurant then to have the entire staff chant “Welcome” at you in Japanese. This is what patrons can expect upon entering any ‘Izakaya” style establishment. Traditionally, izakaya is a Japanese style pub which focuses primarily on drinking first and food second in an informal environment.
Amongst the plethora of Italian dining options on College street lies one of their newest additions, Hapa Izakaya. Hapa first popped up in 2003 in Vancouver and then headed over across the country to Toronto winning a handful of awards along the way. For our monthly supper club we decided to try it out and I won’t lie, it worked to my advantage to be working across the street!
The space is actually quite large thanks to the real estate available on College Street with a dark intimate vibe on the inside. Upon entering there is a bar with single seats and then an elevated dining area at the back with an open kitchen. The menu is mainly comprised of cold tapas, hot tapas and sushi. The world of options was at our hands and we were excited to get started!
After some debate we ordered a few dishes to start and then added on to our order until we were stuffed. First up were the Crispy Tuna Bites (Crispy sushi rice, spicy tuna tartare, nori and soy sauce). One of my go to rolls whenever I go for sushi is the spicy tuna roll so imagine that but deep fried. They were the perfect sized bites with a fresh slice of jalapeno on top for a kick of heat.
Next up, the Polenta Fries (Polenta tempura, soy-balsamic reduction, arugula gel). I’m not the biggest fan of polenta but these were not as overwhelming for me as other dishes I’ve had. They were battered in tempura and the combination of the tart reduction and cool, sweet arugula gel made us literally wipe the plate clean.
These were quickly followed by the Halibut Tacos (BC Halibut tempura, house made bacon bits, shoestring potatoes, roasted jalapeño tartar sauce wrapped in a flour tortilla). I feel like I’m noticing now that everything we ordered was deep fried in some way or another. Lets just say that we ate these tacos so quickly that we didn’t even notice the tartar sauce that was sitting in separate dish for our dipping pleasure.
No visit to a Japanese restaurant would be complete without an order of some kind of traditional sushi. We couldn’t say no to the Firecracker Roll (Spicy Tuna, flying fish roe with spicy miso sauce toasted lightly). And by toasted lightly they mean that the dish comes to your table and they light it up with a blow torch for a few seconds before serving. Basically amazing. Also when they mean spicy, they mean spicy – just look at that sauce!
Nope, we weren’t full yet. We decided on one more dish which was probably our least favourite of the night, the Menataiko Kimchi Udon Noodles (Thick udon noodles, creamy cod roe sauce, kimchi). This was best described as a Japanese style mac and cheese and we just weren’t feeling it. Might also have been because we had reached our limit.
Do I even need to give a conclusion? Our experience was great. If your’e looking for a place where you can try a bunch of different things in one sitting then this is the place to be. The menu goes on and on with more sushi rolls, adventurous fish and meat options and drinks that we didn’t even indulge in. Since this visit I ended up there again for their Hapa Hour which happens every evening from 5:30-6:30PM featuring a menu of lower priced items along with their full menu.
Till next time!
602 College Street