Aside from the fact that everything inside Basho Café is handmade—and we mean everything, not just the food—this adorable little family-run spot stands out for another reason: it’s a happy place.
Tucked in along East Hastings Street near Victoria Drive in the so-called East Village, Basho is bright, welcoming, and incredibly cute. It’s the latest venture by Japanese natives Miju Kawai and Hiroshi Kawai, who are local restaurant veterans. The couple ran North Vancouver’s Kokoro Japanese Restaurant and Hiroshi’s Sushi Creations on Oak Street before teaming up with their daughter, Moeno Kawai, to launch Basho. The word means “place” in Japanese, and there’s no place like it in Vancouver.
The three designed the interior themselves, painting it white and decorating it with their own craftiness. Miju knitted the colourful cozies that wrap around tiny flowerpots on the tables and stitched the bunting: colourful banners of vintage fabric that hang from the ceiling. A potter, she made many of the cups, bowls, and plates the restaurant uses and that rest on simple wooden shelves. She also sewed the pretty fabric coasters, cushions, and brooches that are on display at the back (and for sale). She even made the paper that the café uses for business cards.
Hiroshi, meanwhile, put his handyman skills to work, building a display case that houses treats like matcha-and-black-sesame cupcakes and matcha cookies. He also constructed the tables and did the woodwork surrounding the kitchen area, complete with beautiful stained glass. Together with Moeno, the Kawais made some of the funky ceiling fixtures themselves out of old bowls and picked up others at nearby thrift shops.
The positively pleasant surroundings make you want to linger and savour the menu items, which are limited. Although there are a few Japanese lunch dishes to choose from, the focus here is on sweet treats to accompany all the different types of espresso drinks that Moeno, who’s worked as a barista in the past, serves up. She uses beans from Handworks Coffee Studio in Strathcona. There’s also a handful of loose-leaf teas and a house-made spicy vanilla chai.
Miju and Moeno make all the baked goods in-house. The selections change regularly but on any given day may include mochi-mochi brownies (made with glutinous rice flour), matcha-and-white-chocolate brownies, goma-miso cookies, mini apricot cakes, matcha madeleines, and matcha sandwich cookies with white chocolate in the middle. A standout is the giant matcha-coconut-chocolate-chip cookie: not overly sweet and coloured the distinct shade of the powdered green tea, it’s a perfect accompaniment for a latte that would impress anyone at Lavazza. Given the purported health benefits of matcha, could you get away with nibbling these treats daily?
For those who prefer savoury treats, there are jumbo baking-powder biscuits that would thrill Aunt Jemima, in both a plain and a Cheddar cheese and green onion version.
There’s also a breakfast biscuit with egg, cheese, and tomato, and any of the three heartier lunch items make a fine precursor to dessert. Tuna tataki, teriyaki pulled pork, and mixed vegetables can all be ordered as a rice bowl or as a topping for mixed green salad with a miso vinaigrette.
The tuna tataki features slices of tuna that are seared perfectly just around the edges and topped with lively ponzu sauce, sitting atop a bed of Koshihikari rice that’s drizzled with sushi vinegar. The dish is adorned with slender pieces of nori and surrounded by pickled and julienned carrots, cucumber, and daikon.
The veggie bowl features tender roasted carrots, ripe avocado slices, crisp broccoli, a melon-ball-size scoop of kabocha, or Japanese pumpkin, and those pickled veggies. The dish’s bright colours make it as pretty as it is wholesome.
The soup changes daily but is always vegetarian—some recent batches have included smooth spinach, corn, and broccoli.
Mains run from $7.50 to $9.50, while treats are priced from 50 cents apiece for smaller cookies to $1.75 for that giant chocolate-chip cookie. You can also add a bowl of soup, small sweet, and cup of tea to your meal for $3. The joy that comes from supporting a local business and a talented family in such a happy place, of course, is just the icing on the matcha cake.