Hapa Umi: growing up

A few months ago I attended the soft launch of Justin and Lea Ault’s newest venture, Hapa Umi.

While the dishes were a solid selection of modern Japanese fusion fare I walked away from the experience feeling like the new restaurant didn’t really know who it was.  Some of the dishes were brilliant, like the sushi and sashimi, yet others were in an awkward infancy – somewhere between birth and first steps – I was disappointed.

As a Foodists contributor I seldom write a post if I’m unhappy with a restaurant or dish, unless it truly deserves it, so I decided to save my comments and try Hapa Umi another time…after they were “out of the weeds” so to speak.

That opportunity came last week when I was invited to an intimate media tasting dinner to sample some of the prize menu items from both the lunch and dinner menu.

Our table of four started with the Halibut Ceviche, followed by the Pemberton Meadows Beef Tataki. Both were solid in flavour, but the real show stopper “starter” was the Edamame Ravioli. Picture puréed edamame and ricotta-stuffed homemade ravioli soaking in a yuzu brown butter sauce with just the perfect influence of truffle oil. Paired with a 2009 Desert Hills Gewurztraminer, it was a decidedly brilliant dish! I suggested to the staff that Hapa Umi consider making this a main.  It was fresh, spicy, velvety in texture, and the pasta was done to a perfect al dente. It’s an excellent example of what I truly think Hapa Umi fare should be: common dishes with that perfect Japanese element. It’s something you wouldn’t get at Hapa Izakaya, but is presented with the same passion and parental brand of the Hapa name. I will come back for this.

Our table was also introduced to the Bento Box normally served at lunch. The upscale box was artistically presented and included sashimi, sushi, interesting unconventional rolls, and the most amazing pork belly that I have ever had. It was melt in my mouth perfection with just a hint of sauce that never upstaged the flavour of the meat. I’m craving this now too.

But the real “stop me in my tracks” dish was the BC Wild Spring Salmon.  If you want to impress the boss or that special someone this is the dish to do it with. Set against the backdrop of the minimalist yet cozy space at Hapa Umi, the salmon was art on a dinner plate. Done to perfection with crispy salmon skin it was like nothing I have ever had.  The delicate fish was pan-seared, and accompanied by homemade gnocchi, roasted cauliflower, which added a nutty and complex quality to the dish, a cauliflower puree, grilled root vegetables elegantly arranged, and then topped with a beautiful miso hollandaise foam that I wanted to drink – it was that good.

After truly enjoying seven courses and a selection of desserts I’m pleased to report that Hapa Umi has grown up. The restaurant is beginning to understand who it is, and maybe in the process who it isn’t.  And that’s what coming of age looks like. It’s not perfect, yet I strongly believe that Hapa Umi will continue to grow, change and adapt as it learns how to not be Hapa Izakaya, yet still meets the demand of it’s loyal customer following.

However I would like to suggest one thing Justin and Lea – can you please put the Ebi Mayo on the Umi menu? It’s my go-to dish at all the other Hapa restaurants and it’s sorely missed. This one exception would make this foodist and friends just that much “Hapa-ier”!

Hapa Umi is located at 909 West Cordova St. It is open for lunch weekdays, and dinner from Monday to Saturday.


3 Responses to “Hapa Umi: growing up”

  1. Posted on May 28th, 2011

    I haven’t been yet, but I notice that Hapa Umi is getting hammered by poor reviews. This one from the Globe & Mail is a good example:

    And this one on Yelp doesn’t bode well:

    I wonder if this is just growing pains or an indication of a deeper problem. Given the prices, and these reviews, I’m still waffling on whether or not to try Hapa Umi.

  2. Posted on May 28th, 2011

    Wow, Gill’s review is super harsh man. In fact, it is surprising and inconsistent with all my experiences at Hapa Umi.

    There will always be differing opinions on restaurants, like this one from Mia Stainsby of the Vancouver Sun , who apparently loved it.

    So who’s opinion do you take? Your own. Take the opinions of web writers and restaurant reviewers’ with a grain of salt and check it out for yourself.

    Does that mean restaurants like Hapa Umi should disregard Gill’s (and others’) reviews? Absolutely not. But when a successful restaurant group like Hapa Izakaya tries something new, it takes time to fine tune their offering and experience. Let’s hope Gill goes back after they’ve had a few more months to work things out and shares a more positive experience with her readers.

  3. Posted on May 29th, 2011

    Yup. That’s what I usually do. I always take glowing reviews with a grain of salt. In this case, knowing the connection between Foodists & Hapa, I wasn’t going to rely on what was said here. No offense. ;) I tend to look closer at negative reviews. Those who obviously have a chip on their shoulder, I ignore. What was telling in the two reviews I posted was the lack of desire to improve or even to acknowledge the problem. Hopefully that will get fixed sooner than later.

Leave a Reply

If so desired you may use HTML in your comments. Links, bold/strong and emphasis/italics tags are all accepted! However more than one link will flag you as spam so write carefully!

Our Sponsors

These are our friends, neighbours and some of the best food resources around. They support us. We support them. You should too.