On another “excursion” for Japanese food for dinner – solely for the sake of satisfying my craving for sushi, again, of course – Emme and I tried out “Hi-Nippon”. We’d actually been there before, over a year ago, and while Emme said it hadn’t been particularly noteworthy on that occasion, I insisted we try it again. After all, some restaurants improve over time – whether it’s their food, service, or décor. (That said, however, some restaurants can also get worse over time in either or all three of those points… and just in general.) Unfortunately, Hi-Nippon didn’t really get better. It didn’t get worse either. But before I even proceed, I’ll just throw it out there that no, we probably won’t go back.
We were seated after standing awkwardly at the entrance for a minute or two, as the waitresses chatted in the back and only took notice of us when one accidentally glanced over. The booths are nicely separated, so you have your own little area to yourself while you dine, although you have to take off your shoes to get in one. I have to agree with Emme on the point that it doesn’t seem there is a good reason to do this… You end up having to have your feet on the same floor that you entered on anyway – and if you’re not wearing socks, it’s not the most comfortable nor pleasant experience. Nevertheless, I like the fact that you get your own booth with little “walls” around it, and the ambiance is pretty good in general as well. The only thing I might change is the way that they have random menu items plastered on the walls in equally random places. Perhaps one specials board that people can see would be more useful, rather than having the takoyaki special posted on one side of the restaurant (where some, but not all, customers can see it) and the okonomiyaki option posted on the other side. Some traditional artwork in place of those pieces of paper might be more eye-catching, though just taking those posters down would be nice enough. (Bare walls would be better than having messily written specials posted up.)
The service after we were seated was pretty mediocre. Even though we were close to where the waitresses were hanging out for most of the time, it was difficult to catch their attention to make menu orders, ask for water or tea refills, etc. They weren’t keen on explaining any menu items that were asked about and were a bit impatient taking orders. In any case, Emme and I received all of the dishes we asked for, so I can’t complain about that, at least.
Emme ordered her typical dish, Beef Teriyaki Meal, which came with a cute little side salad called the Oriental Salad, some miso soup, and also a bowl of rice. The short of it is that the salad was good, as the veggies were fresh and the dressing gave a nice tart flavour and slight hint of spice to it, and the miso soup was sub-par, with only some lonely green onion bits floating on top, one piece wakame seaweed, and no tofu whatsoever. The rice was just plain steamed rice – not sushi rice… which is fine, I suppose, as the menu didn’t give us any false pretense about it anyway.
The beef teriyaki dish itself was okay. At the very least, it was well cooked, if a little overdone and a bit too chewy. The sauce was not teriyaki sauce, but something much more pungent and not very sweet. In my opinion, the dish didn’t look very appetizing, and the sauce was too thick. In Emme’s opinion, it was too sour, and the bean sprouts had evidently been way overcooked; it would have been nice if they had maintained even a little bit of crunch, but in turn they were super soggy, along with the other scarce veggies (two little broccoli florets and a few slices of overcooked carrot, I believe). One thing that was nice was that the dish was actually steaming hot, so it was at least fresh, although there were numerous inedible pieces of fat mixed in with the beef. I thought the sesame seeds on top added a nice touch, since they gave a little bit of crunch to what was otherwise a rather soggy and “floppy” meal.
I decided to take a chance and order some sashimi: Sockeye Salmon Sashimi. Usually sashimi is a pretty way to gauge how good a Japanese restaurant is, I think? It is raw fish, so it boils down to the chef’s technique and the quality of the ingredients, really – two things that are pretty crucial in making delicious food. The presentation was very nice. But that is literally the only good thing I can say about it. It. Was. The. Worst. Sashimi. I. Had. Ever. Eaten. I have had a lot of sashimi, but this was so poorly done that it was just… ugh! I don’t want to use any stronger words of disgust in fear of being too offensive, but it was like eating slabs of flavourless, rubber tire. There was absolutely no taste. At all. This is the first time that I’ve so direly needed to use soy sauce to accompany my sashimi. I think I was doubly disappointed because sockeye salmon is one of my favourite types of fish – if not my number one favourite, next to scallops. Moving on…
I got a Shiitake Mushroom Roll on the side. I love mushrooms, and this isn’t a traditional roll (I think?) so I thought it’d be fun to try. To be to the point, it was bad. Poorly formed – amateur-ish, almost. Bland rice. Unusually soggy nori. Artificially coloured pickled ginger on the side. It was disappointment #2, for me.
Obviously this meal would be too scarce in terms of veggies for a veggie-lover such as myself, so I also ordered Vegetable Soba in Soup. Another disappointment. At first glance, it may seem as though there were lots of veggies… Let me dispel that illusion and say that was not the case at all. There was a thin layer of veggies on the top — spread across the surface so as to conceal the unbelievable and unnecessarily large amount of noodles underneath. The vegetables were okay – fresh enough, and the bowl was not so hot as to overcook them immediately – but the broth had no flavour. Flavourless meals do not appeal to me. Especially when the vegetables need some sort of tasty accompaniment. I could only sadly reminisce about the fantastic-tasting broth at Ichiro.
Hi-Nippon may have seemed promising with its decent décor and extensive menu, but the food itself is miserable and the service is no better. On this particular occasion, the food was almost below average. It’s very standard, sub-par Japanese fare, in my and Emme’s opinions. I honestly don’t get why there is so much praise for this place. Maybe because the décor seems semi-authentic? Or because the menu seems quite extensive? Or perhaps even because it’s not that expensive? Whatever the case, it gets a thumbs down by me. Despite my initial excitement upon looking at the menu (“Ooh, I’ll have to come back to try all the more exotic-sounding dishes!“), I was quite sorely disappointed. There are far better Japanese restaurants in the vicinity for me to dine at, if I want quality – even if those other places have more limited menus.
Value: 3 [Low prices for low quality.]