Justin and Lea Ault of Hapa Izakaya have secured the old Metro restaurant location next to the Pan Pacific. The pair, with three cool Hapas already in their stable (Kits, Robson, Yaletown), aim to open a new Japanese concept that is “a couple notches up” from the free-wheeling casualness that their brand is known for. “I don’t want to say it will be fine dining,” says Justin, “but it will be more sophisticated.”
The name is Hapa Umi, umi being the Japanese word for “ocean”. I imagine that means that we can expect lots of seafood, especially manifested in quality, “full-on” sushi. Justin assures me that Hapa Umi will still serve plenty of the familiar small plates and izakaya favourites, too, so I’m not imagining a second coming of Tojo’s. That said, the company’s chefs are more than capable of doing more than just basic izakaya fare (witness the always inventive, hand-written special lists at each location), so it’ll certainly be interesting to see them go farther off the reservation than they have before (with presumably high food costs, too). Executing the elevated theme will be head chef Tomoki Yamasaki (from the Robson location), who is joined by the formally trained Tetsuya Shimizu, lately of the raw bar at Yaletown’s Blue Water Cafe. I trust service will get a lift as well (the GM is Kevin Banno, a managerial veteran of the Cactus empire).
Metro was left largely intact when it shuttered in the early summer of 2009 (pretty much everything is still there, down to the silverware and linen). It was an ideal get for the right concept, and I can’t think of a tighter one than this. For those unfamiliar with the space, it sports an open kitchen that connects to a bar in a huge U-shape, a 30 seat lounge, 35 seat patio, 12 seat private room and 100 seat floor. Local design house M Studios will give it a makeover – replacing carpets, upholstery, banquettes and so forth – but we can expect a quick turnaround. It could be open as early as the middle of February, but March is more realistic.