NOTE: As part of the ChineseBites media event, all food was free, but all opinions are based on my own experience.
A few weeks ago, I was invited by ChineseBites to try out the food at VanVan Izakaya along with a few other food bloggers.
It took over the old Benkei Ramen location not long ago, and I have passed by it many times. Something about their name just threw me off a bit, so I never ended up giving it a try.
The interior has many wooden accents and gives you that Japanese izakaya feel.
Raw Octopus with Wasabi
We started off with the Raw Octopus with Wasabi, which is really Tako Wasa. If you love wasabi and raw octopus, this is a great dish for you. I really enjoyed this as the octopus was fresh and you got that kick of spicy wasabi. It comes with seaweed so you can wrap the octopus.
The Beef Carpaccio came with mayo, balsamic vinegar, and cheese. The cheese was a stronger cheese and I think it might’ve been gorgonzola. The beef was sliced so thinly, that I couldn’t really taste it. I found this dish to be underwhelming.
Russian Roulette Octopus Balls
Next up was the Russian Roulette, which is a must order at VanVan. Not really because they are the best takoyakis, but more because of how it’s a fun dish to order with friends. One of these octopus balls are filled with a super spicy wasabi paste. Luckily, I didn’t get it, but apparently it was a very strong kick.
Beef Short Rib
The Beef Short Ribs were probably one of my favourites of the night. When it arrived, I thought that the beef was cooked rather medium rare compared to other restaurants, but it turned out to be perfect since it was very tender. Short ribs can be easily overcooked to dry, but this kept its moisture. The marinade was also very tasty.
The Pork Jowl was also another favourite of mine. They seem to be doing something right with their grilled dishes! It came with a Japanese citrus sauce, and the meat was extremely tender with that nice chew.
Next up was Ebi Mayo, which was topped with a garlic chili mayo. These were only average as the batter slipped right out and the prawns were a bit mushy. I also didn’t really like that chili mayo seasoning they used.
Octopus and Marinated Mackerel Sashimi
Next up, we ordered every type of sashimi they had, which isn’t a lot since they focus more on their izakaya food. We started off with the Octopus and Marinated Mackerel. I really enjoyed the Octopus as it was tender with a slight chew. The Marinated Mackerel was also very fresh and surprisingly wasn’t too fishy for me. I’m usually note a huge fan of saba.
Albacore Tuna, Atlantic Salmon, Scallop Sashimi
Next were your typical Albacore Tuna and Atlantic Salmon. I found the tuna to be rather mushy and wasn’t as fresh as I’ve had. However, my favourite had got to be the Scallops. They were very fresh and had a great texture.
Chicken Thigh Karage
Chicken Thigh Karage followed and I found it to be average. It was crispy, but nothing that wowed me.
Marinated Jellyfish tasted quite like your typical, which you can find at Chinese restaurants.
Curry Poutine was an odd dish, but actually tasted pretty good. The fries were crispy and topped generously with a Japanese curry sauce and some cheese.
Chopped Raw Salmon
The Chopped Raw Salmon came nicely presented in a box form along with some seaweed to wrap it in. The salmon was seasoned with a sweet garlic sauce.
Dried Squid Snack Tempura
We had originally wanted to order the Squid Tentacles Karage, but apparently they were sold out. Instead, we got the Dried Squid Snack Tempura, which was probably our least favourite at my table. It was literally the dried squid you would get in packs as a snack, but deep fried. I would’ve much rather ate the dried squid unbattered.
One of my favourites of the night was the Whole Squid, which was essentially grilled squid. The squid was tender and had a nice char on top. The only issue was why do they put mayo on every dish! This really didn’t need any mayo since it was already very flavourful.
Japanese Old Style Omelette
The Japanese Old Style Omelette was again drizzled with an overload of mayo. There is supposed to be some pork in it, but it was quite little. My portion ended up having mostly cabbage and it had this odd sour taste to it. Not a fan.
BBQ Eel Rice in Hot Bowl
Onto some rice and noodle dishes. First up was the BBQ Eel Rice in Hot Bowl. This was pretty good with the eel being very flavourful. However, I wish the rice had that nice char from the hot bowl.
Pork Fried Noodle
The Pork Fried Noodle was alright. Sort of like a yakisoba. But again, I’m not sure why there’s a huge blob of mayo on the side. You really don’t need to mix that in, since the noodles are already flavoured well.
BBQ Pork Rice Bowl
Our last savoury dish was the BBQ Pork Rice Bowl, which I quite enjoyed. The BBQ pork was really tender and I enjoyed the light marinade.
Rice Cake Wrapped Strawberry
We then sampled one of each item on their dessert menu. The Rice Cake Wrapped Strawberry is a mochi ball filled with red bean paste and a whole strawberry. I love mochi and red bean paste, so I quite enjoyed this. However, I found that the strawberry threw things off a bit. It was a bit sour and the texture is much harder, so it didn’t work too well. Although it’s a nice concept, I would’ve preferred it without the strawberry.
Green Tea Soy Milk Pudding
Although the Green Tea Soy Milk Pudding had a weird texture when you scooped it, it was probably one of my favourite desserts. The pudding is in a very liquid form, but you get a good taste of the soy milk with just the right amount of green tea flavour.
Green Tea Ice Cream
We also had the Green Tea Ice Cream, which comes with whipped cream and some red bean paste. Nothing too special.
Black Sesame Ice Cream
And last but not least, we also had the Black Sesame Ice Cream, which is strong in black sesame flavour. Again, it comes with some whipped cream and red bean paste.
Overall, VanVan Izakaya has both hits and misses. I really enjoyed their grilled dishes, especially the short ribs, pork jowl, and squid. They only do sushi rolls during lunch time, but for dinner, you can still enjoy some of their sashimi dishes.