Update: May 2017 – Shirakawa is now closed. It currently holds a thriving vegetarian restaurant called Meet!
It seems that our list of things to do and things to eat in Vancouver increased exponentially this Fall. Restaurant staples like Chambar and Cafe Medina came out roaring with new digs and new menus, and another of Miku’s highly-anticipated sister restaurants, Gyoza Bar, finally opened its doors. Foodies in the city flocked (and still flock) to have a taste of the hype, and don’t get us wrong; we were right there drooling with the rest of them. Though you have my word that reviews of each of these restaurants is will come in due time, I wanted to take this opportunity to highlight a hidden gem in Gastown that has none of pretence but all of the sincerity of a top-quality Vancouver’s restaurant. Of all the places I visited to eat this Fall in Vancouver, it was Shirakawa in Gastown that left me with the most memorable dining experience.
I made my way to Shirakawa on a classic Raincouver kind of day. Rain slipped over Gastown’s infamous cobblestone roads, turning the brick & limestone buildings to dark shades of brown. I was first struck by the simple beauty of Shirakawa that is distinct from the rest of its neighbourhood; floor-to-ceiling windows, natural lighting, wooden interiors, and Japanese art. Tucked away in a quiet courtyard, the restaurant is distanced from the hustle & bustle of the street. Perhaps it was the weather, or perhaps it was all the other foodie activity going on in the city, but we had the whole restaurant to ourselves that afternoon. And hey, everyone else was missing out…but, you won’t.
Shirakawa has been referred to by its two owners as a “Japanese Brasserie.” Menu items include Japanese curries, salads, prepared meats, sashimi, noodle soups, and their signature item: teppan-grilled kuroge waygu beef. They are currently Vancouver’s only restaurant to serve this premium cut of ultra-tender, ultra buttery beef. Apparently, the cows literally get massaged for optimal marbling. Yes, that’s right. Did you think you’re the only one that loves the spa? Moooooove on over, cows coming through!
The premium kuroge waygu beef comes with an appropriate price-tag ($100/4 oz.) so it was, unfortunately, not on my plate that afternoon. But, I was blown away by each item that I did try, from the Ginger Soy Chicken Wings to the Slow-Cooked Pork Belly. I was most impressed by the daily feature – a rich, Pork-Katsu Curry that had 12-hours of love to its name. I found each dish to be well-balanced and simple in composition, but complex in flavour.
I’m an avid proponent for “a little sweet something” at the end of each meal and I was curious how the restaurant would execute on their dessert items. Though the menu is limited to two choices, I ordered the cheesecake – an unbaked vanilla cheesecake, served with chocolate truffles and matcha powder. It took me a moment to appreciate the smooth and tofu-like texture of an unbaked cheesecake, but the true stars of the dish were the milk chocolate truffles. They are bite-sized, deceivingly decadent, and moderated with just a hint of green tea flavour.
Shirawaka opened in May 2014 and my foodie senses tingle with excitement at its potential. The restaurant is actually the first Itoh Dining project in North America – you may have heard of Itoh Dining by Nobu in Japan – it’s a restaurant project collaboration with the world-renowned Japanese chef, Nobu Matsuhisa. A little known fact is that Takuya Motohashi, head chef at Shirakawa, was also the executive chef at the original Miku on Thurlow St. The coveted Aburi-Oshi Sushi came to life under his knife. If you’re looking for an refined dining room in Vancouver that has elevated food, modern decor, and top-quality service make your way to Shirawaka – I’m sure it won’t be this quiet for long!