BonQuLa Fusion Restaurant and Café
Olympia Center, #165-8460 Alexandra Road
(604) 214 0027
Lately, I’ve been giving more thought to and being more patient in checking out some places that I’d been following through word of mouth and online sources – especially those that have recently opened or are rumored to be still working out the finer details of their operations. This does clash with the need for frequent and new reviews on Foodosophy however, so my balancing act is indeed a difficult one. And lastly, my time and ability to venture to some of these places that are further away from my home base, also comes into play (the city of Richmond being one such example).
One uniquely positioned restaurant that I’ve been aware of for over a year and was following comments on through Japanese message boards has been Richmond’s BonQuLa Fusion Restaurant and Café. When it comes to Japanese home-style cooking and yoshoku ryori (Japanese interpretations of Western food) in Vancouver, I find getting the thoughts and opinions of ex-pats and foreign exchange students yearning for a taste of home, is the best method of pre-dining reconnaissance that one can do.
For those who have only been exposed to the North American classics such as sushi, tempura and chicken teriyaki, yoshoku is at times difficult to convey to those less familiar as they just simply refer to in their minds the western equivalents. As such, I hope that places like BonQuLa continue to flourish and help spread the word that there is a lot more to Japanese cuisine that what is commonly portrayed in the media and the countless imitation Japanese restaurants that abound in greater Vancouver.
Early sentiments after it initially opened in June 2007 that I’ve heard were a mixed bag. Most of the negative impressions that were left were based on the speed of service (both of food coming out of the kitchen and the waiters). A lot of these complaints were from lunchtime customers, which I know are more demanding given the limited amount of time they have to grab something to eat. On this visit, I think there are still some remnants with the service aspect, in particular the middle-aged Chinese woman who was lacking some knowledge of the menu and struggling with explaining some things and generally not “all there” (as well, a bit of an English language issue). The other server on hand, a young Japanese man, was interesting to observe when he came to our table, as we picked up on those little Japanese service nuances that you get when dining out in Japan.
More recent commentary has been a lot more positive, with many highlighting their satisfaction with being able to get such cuisine and at such a good quality, in Canada. Even in published interviews, the female Japanese chef (a 2001 immigrant to Canada, graduate of the prestigious Osaka Music College, former piano instructor and graduate of Vancouver Community College’s Culinary Program) herself mentioned that they had some growing pains in their early days, adjusting to operating a business in Canada, with all the uncertainly that comes with entering the restaurant game. With plenty of time having passed, I decided it was time to give this place a visit, as frankly I’ve not been over enthused by other yoshoku offerings in the city to this point.
Immediately upon being seated, I knew this place was indeed trying something different. The interesting set menu booklet that featured a group of complete meals (appetizer through to dessert) were handmade, and utilized some recycled Japanese children’s books! The background music pipped over the speakers was a mixture of slow and uptempo jazz, which fit into my image of the more old school yoshoku restaurants in Tokyo that I frequented. BonQuLa was more modern in style but at the same time, very relaxed and homey.
With it being January and the start of a new year, mochi (Japanese rice cake) was a welcome sight on the appetizer listings in the main menu, only this had been incorporated with shrimp, and done in an agedashi-style (complete with a flavorful soy-based broth).
Our dining group was split into those who ordered from the main a la carte choices, and one who decided on taking a much more robust set menu selection. With the latter, which was had the New York Steak as a main, one of the appetizers (the other was a trio of tasting items pictured earlier in this post – the homemade sesame tofu was divine! - as well as a uniquely plated tuna salad – no image available) was this tray of Assorted Tempura. Coming with a finely ground mix of matcha and a touch of salt, rather than the more stereotypical bowl of tentsuyu (dipping sauce), it really accentuated the crispy tempura and reminded me of this flavor combination one sees in Western Japan. Given that the chef is originally from Kobe, its clear she has retained the tastes of the region.
The Ground Beef Steak with Teriyaki Sauce was my main target on this night, knowing its a great example of yoshoku and being at the top of their menu, I figured they had confidence in doing it well. It came with a bowl of steamed rice, miso soup (light and not overly salty at all), some marinated pieces of konnyaku, simple green salad, and a deep fried shrimp and some onion rings.
The ground beef steak made from AAA Sirloin was beautifully done, a light and juicy ground meat patty, without any excess filler. Topped with some slivers of deep fried potato and served with some bean sprouts and cabbage on a hot circular plate.
Pictured above is the Omurice Curry with Pork Tenderloin Cutlet. The curry itself was spicy but a touch on the fruity, sweeter side, and was packed with flavor. You could tell a load of vegetables had been cooked for many hours to generate that much flavor in each spoonful. The cutlet was again much like the beef patty, the right level of heat making the interior meat tender and not dried out from overcooking. Even for a hungry person, the amount of rice in the omurice was more than plenty.
Perhaps this dish, the main component of the New York Steak set was the only letdown on the night. I think our fried who had ordered it was expecting a more teppan-style, cooked and cubed, whereas this one was more almost steam-cooked making the meat more moist. As a result, perhaps it was overdone and the meat itself wasn’t that great to begin with, thus there were some tough parts among the cuts in the hotplate.
Lastly, the dessert that was part of the New York Steak set menu was a homemade Matcha Purin (pudding). It had a solid creamy texture without an overpowering sweetness (that you find too often in those instant packs to make purin), and was topped with vanilla ice cream. The rest of us were given a choice of a mango, matcha or coffee flavored jelly, that was served in a mini wine glass, and topped with some vanilla ice cream, corn flakes and whipped cream.
The adage of “good things come to those who wait” certainly held true in my opinion by finally making the decision to dine here. Our whole table enjoyed the outing and everyone remarked how happy they were with their food. Luckily we were all in the mood for sharing and thus each of us had the chance to sample a bit of every dish that was at our table. The balance of flavors really stood out for us, when they needed to be bolder they were, and the dishes that have flavorings requiring a more subtle level were similarly accurate. The completeness, heart felt effort put into the food put out by the skilled chef was clearly felt by us all, whenever we found a new ingredient appearing or sensed by our palates. In my research, it did not entirely surprise me that the chef had an non-food related artistic background – whenever I come across such a dedicated “artsy” person, it always seems to be that if you are talented in one creative area, that can easily translate to another.
Despite the name of the restaurant being derived from the Japanese characters contained in the words heibon (hence the ‘bon’) which means ordinary, kuu (hence the ‘qu’) which means eat, and lastly raku (hence the ‘ra’) which means enjoy; there is nothing ‘ordinary’ about BonQuLa. For outstanding yoshoku, and I still have yet to check out the well heralded lunch items (e.g katsu sandwich), BonQuLa is an excellent location to fulfil your cravings for this often overlooked segment of modern day Japanese cuisine.