Big taste in a little shop
We’re suckers for Japanese food. Just like pretty much everyone in Nanaimo, we love sushi, but there is so, so much more to Japanese cuisine than just that. We got to explore some of that on our visit to Bistro Taiyo a few months back, and we were thrilled to do the same again with the well-regarded Wa-Ku Japanese Restaurant. In particular, we wanted to try their ramen as it’s something they’re clearly quite proud of.
Wa-Ku is a tiny shop located on Bowen, a few doors up from the Quarterway Pub, sandwiched between a pot shop and a pizza place. It’s an inauspicious location, which belies the quality offered inside. Check their hours before going as they have a short shutdown between lunch and dinner, and they’re not open every day.
Once inside on this particular visit, we were promptly greeted by a friendly hostess who took us to our seats. It’s a narrow little shop (perhaps not unlike ramen shops in Japan) and the seating goes all the way to the back. The front of house is well decorated and cute, but gives way to plainer décor as you head back. It’s not particularly cozy, but that tracks with the noodle shop ethos, so we were ok with it.
We ordered a couple of drinks to get us started. There’s plenty on offer and we were particularly delighted to see Japanese shochu on the menu. We’ve never seen that anywhere in Nanaimo before. Shochu is not the same thing as Korean soju, as we mistakenly believed for ages. Where soju is sweet rice sprit, shochu is distilled… pretty much anything else (or rice, lol). Our shochu was served in a pleasant mix of soda and grapefruit. The flavour was slightly malty but fresh, almost like the halfway point between whisky and vodka. Perhaps this was barley shochu? Interesting.
Naturally, we wanted the takoyaki to eat first. We love street food of any stripe. We also ordered for dinner the chicken katsu yakisoba and the aburi chashu ramen.
The takoyaki came out first, piping hot. As usual, we couldn’t be patient and instead just ripped right into it, burning all the flesh in our mouths. It happens every time. Are we dumb? Yes.
Takoyaki is deep fried balls of battered octopus (tako) and onion, dressed with bonito (fish) flakes, mayo, and sauce. These takoyaki balls were rather generous with the meat and were just as nicely dressed as any we’ve had. Delicious. Just, give it a minute before you eat them. These suckers were fresh out of the fryer.
Then our mains arrived. You can see the chicken yakisoba pictured up above. This was a generous plate of stir-fry veg and noodles with katsu-style (breaded) chicken. The chicken was fresh and very crispy and the flavours in the stir fry were engaging. Was that okonomiyaki sauce…?
The ramen came with a bit of a story. As it turned out, the restaurant was all out of aburi chashu. What’s aburi chashu? Well, chashu is just braised pork. Aburi means that its been blow-torched (kind of like that aburi sushi we loved at that other place).
No sweat as we were happy to try the one of the other ramen bowls instead, and opted for the shoyu ramen. Shoyu is a soy-seasoned broth. We also ordered a soft-boiled egg, because that’s what you do when you’re hungry.
Here it is:
The first thing to do after being served a bowl like this (after picking up your jaw and optionally taking a picture) is to try the broth. If you’ve never had good ramen broth before, you are in for a treat. This broth was rich. So rich it was almost creamy, but with a savoury soy flavour. It could almost have been a meal on its own.
Moments after tasting the broth, our server arrived with some good news: there were a couple pieces of the aburi chashu left and we could have them! Into the broth they went too, and they added some smokiness to the dish.
Wa-ku isn’t kidding around with their ramen. This is a killer dish. That incredible broth soaks into each of the ingredients in the bowl, which on their own are also delicious. Especially that egg. OMG if you ever loved an egg you just have to try this. Once you excavate them, the noodles are waiting for you too. Not only are they flavourful and perfectly cooked, but they are also fun to eat. Slurp slurp.
The giant plate of chicken yakisoba and the ultra-filling ramen bowl were too much for our bellies for dessert to be an option so we decided to pack it in. Our meal, including drinks and a modest tip came to $71, which we consider to be good value, especially considering how full we were.
Wa-ku is an easy recommendation for people who prioritize taste. The premises aren’t particularly special and it’s not necessarily a great place to lounge out in (nor particularly good for kids or groups of 5+). The service is friendly, sure, and the prices are good. But the taste of the food is so astounding that any minor failings are forgiven. We left after our visit completely stuffed and raving to each other all the way home. (That egg!) We can’t wait to go back for more. Check them out and let them know we sent you!