We are often asked: "Where can we find authentic Japanese cuisine in Halifax?" There are a few places, for sure...like Sushi Shige, Daruma Sushi and Ko-Doraku. Let us let you in on a secret about the latter one, Ko-Doraku...right next to the "fast food" area, a new space has been created meant for finer Japanese dining...and it is not just sushi!
Shuji Manabe, who runs Ko-Doraku, has been in the restaurant business since 1985. After completing training at "sushi school" in Japan, he was hired by the Suisha Gardens in Ottawa. A young man looking for adventure but not really knowing much about the world outside Japan, Shuji-san hopped on a plane to Ottawa without really knowing where it was...not to mention that it was the capital of Canada! But after that, there was no looking back. Shuji-san was hooked on the restaurant business. His expertise of course is Japanese cuisine.
He settled in Halifax in 1992 and went on to set up a number of Japanese restaurants through the years--Daruma Sushi, Momoya Restaurant, Doraku (now re-named Suzuki Restaurant). Each time he sold a business, he found himself setting up another one later on.
"Ko-Doraku" means "child of Doraku". When Shuji-san sold the old Doraku Restaurant on Dresden Row to the current owner, he envisioned a less hectic pace with Ko-Doraku, settling on serving the lunch time crowd at his current location at the basement of Spring Garden Place.
But soon, his passion for Japanese cuisine could not be stopped. He took over the space beside Ko-Doraku and created a full service dining area where people can relax and enjoy Japanese food...not just sushi...and not just what you can find in the regular Ko-Doraku menu. And therein lies the secret! More on that later...
The restaurant is called "Dora-Q"....a little play on "Doraku". In Japanese, "Doraku"「道楽」means "hobby or something one does for fun". When applied to a culinary setting, it takes on an epicurean nuance, which is very apt. Shuji-san describes Dora-Q as his "hobby", not conceived for its business potential but more as an outlet for his love for Japanese cooking.
The interior is gorgeous, beautiful obi are draped all over and there is an elegant display of samurai armour and uchikake kimono. The photo on the left below is the waiting lounge where you can enjoy a drink or two whilst waiting for your table to be ready. The actual dining area is on the other side of the white curtain.
Shuji-san now runs the restaurant with his young business partner, Erika Tokuyama. Together, they keep the place humming! Shuji-san plays the mentor and has this to say about Erika-san: "One of the happiest moments of being a teacher is when we see that the student has the potential of one day surpassing the teacher. I see that in Erika-san."
This night, we had a sukiyaki dinner...which is not on the menu!
If you must know, sukiyaki is a Japanese meal where thinly sliced beef is simmered in soy sauce, mirin and sugar, along with vegetables, tofu, shirataki (stringy konnyaku jelly), etc. When cooked, diners take what they want from the pot into their own bowls to eat. Some people like to dip the sukiyaki in raw egg (optional!)
What a joy to eat there! Great surroundings and good food on exquisite Japanese tableware. (Shameless plug: Some of the pottery came from our shop! ^_^)
So is the food authentic? We ask Shuji-san if he guarantees that the food they serve will be exactly like it is in Japan. His answer: an honest "no".
"It is absurd to think that you can find all the original Japanese ingredients here in Atlantic Canada. Sometimes it is simply not possible; sometimes it is too expensive to make any sense. What Erika-san and I could offer is the fact that we 'know' Japanese food. We know it with our minds, our hearts and our bodies. We don't need to 'copy' anything. We know how the food should taste like and how it should be presented. We may lack some ingredients but we prepare our food in the Japanese way...so we are proud to call it Japanese cuisine, even if it won't be exactly like what you will find in Japan."
Indeed, the sukiyaki was as authentic as it could get!
So, how does one go about it? The secret is to call a few days ahead and tell them what you want. A certain familiarity with Japanese food would definitely help but is not necessary. Dora-Q will help and offer suggestions. So would you like a yaki-zakana teishoku (grilled fish meal), shabu-shabu or perhaps a proper tempura meal? Let them know in advance and they will prepare everything with utmost care. Why are they doing it this way? The kitchen is not very big enough to accommodate a full-blown menu....for now. We don't know how long this system will continue but we suspect that when clear favourites are identified, a regular menu would not be far behind. The key is to first let customers know that there is more to Japanese food than sushi!
Dora-Q is located at the basement of Spring Garden Place (5640 Spring Garden Road). They also have a direct entrance on Brenton Street. Contact them at (902) 423-8787.