This is certainly an unusual place, unique in my experience in Vancouver. It’s a tiny hole in the wall on one of the west end’s one-block pedestrian-only streets, just off Davie, and presents itself credibly as the “real” sushi restaurant in a city where there must be 100 restaurants purporting to serve sushi.
Reservations are hard to come by and we got one a week in advance, arriving right on time at one of the two seatings to find all of the 10 seats at the bar occupied. There ensued an inquisition of one of the couples, who turned out not to have made their reservation properly online, were therefore unable to confirm, and had to unceremoniously depart the premises to make room for us.
There is a somewhat intimidating set of rules on the website (any party over four that surreptitiously books as a separate party from others at the same time will be asked to leave and charged $75, for example), and the atmosphere is definitely regimented. The hostess (the chef’s wife?) is polite and deferential in what we understand is the traditional Japanese way, but there’s no question that the star of the show, front and centre in the shallow U-shaped bar, is the chef.
He is a stout Japanese man with a bandanna around his head. We certainly never saw him smile. Full disclosure, we have been in Tokyo and Kyoto and eaten between us in maybe four high-end sushi places and other fancy (and expensive!) restaurants in those fascinating cities, and have experienced “real” sushi, at one place in particular, where the chef looked after six of us, occupying the only seats in the place. We can vouch for Maumi Omakase as being a credible version of The Real Thing a la Japan.
It’s a set menu (omakase means chef’s choice), consisting of about ten pieces of nigiri sushi (fish on a sausage-shaped mound of rice), prepared in front of us one piece at a time and served in turn to each of the ten diners with the name of the fish announced in Japanese and English. I recall mackerel, bluefin tuna, cooked eel, jackfish, cooked large prawn, bass, sea urchin, other whitefish. About halfway through there was a bowl of hot miso soup which one simply drank: delicious. Some of the diners ordered more sushi off the à la carte menu. Everything as far as our ability to distinguish could tell was perfect. Perfect temperature of the fish (not too cold) and absolutely fresh, perfect rice (just the right balance of sweet and sourness), perfect hint of wasabi, brushed with a lovely soy. I suspect connoisseurs would find little fault as well. And we were quite satisfied with the quantity at the end. My favourites were the tuna, cooked eel, and mackerel.
The serving lady brought steel sphere kettles which filled me with hope that warm sake was about to be served. Unfortunately the kettles contained tea and (far worse) the restaurant is too small to be licensed for alcohol under Vancouver’s 19th-century liquor laws. We didn’t feel like questioning whether one could bring one’s own. This would be a significant drawback for many (like us), but might not matter to many others.
$75 each with no alcohol is pretty steep, but European tasting menus can cost at least that much, the fish is all purportedly imported from Japan, and the preparation was quite a show and as far as we could tell flawless.
Give it a try if you want a different Japanese dining experience, or are a real sushi enthusiast tired of tempura and California rolls. At the price it’s not for a casual night out. I doubt that you will find the sushi Nazi approach to diner discipline particularly offensive, and no question Sushi Bar Maumi Omakase is a significant addition to Vancouver’s dining scene. We hope it survives.
Food 9.3, service 9.1, ambience 8.0, value 7.8, peace and quiet 8.5.