Just east of Victoria Drive, Hastings is a whizz of cars, heavy trucks and exhaust fumes. But that’s all forgotten the second I step into Basho Café. Yes, it serves coffee and food, but it feels like more than a café. It feels like home — if only home involved teeny mochi cakes, handmade cloth pennants dangling from the ceiling and fresh flowers at every table.
“Basho means place. My mom had a vision of this café being a place where people can meet friends, come in a read a book,” says Mitsumi Kawai. “Different places mean different things for people. My parents liked the idea of people determining what kind of place Basho would be.”
Mitsumi’s parents, Hiroshi and Miju Kawai, are longtime restaurant veterans. After leaving their last restaurant, they took a few years off to travel, and in their semi-retirement dreamed up a coffee shop: Basho.
Hiroshi handles the savoury side of things with three main offerings: tuna tataki, teri pulled pork and a vegetable bowl, served on either rice or salad. For another $3, you get soup, vegetables and three miniature desserts. He only makes 20 of each per day, and they almost always sell out.
Miju and daughter Moeno make the Japanese-style sweets, which incorporate traditional ingredients like matcha, miso and sesame.
“It’s a fun twist to match matcha with other flavours,” says Moeno. “Me and my mom love baking so much and try to make the baking more Japanese.” Think: matcha white chocolate brownies, black sesame and miso cookies and, for the ultimate pick-me-up, an espresso-green tea cookie.
And there is mochi in several flavours. The matcha mocha looks like a two-bite-brownie in St. Patrick’s Day garb, but the first bite offers the sticky, chewy texture characteristic of desserts made from glutinous rice flour.
“Our sweets are sweet, but we do keep the sugar down for a lot of it,” says Moeno. “And everything is a little smaller.”
Most of Basho’s desserts are one- or two-bite affairs, which is a bonus for people with commitment issues.
It’s not just the food that’s homemade — much of the interior was built by Hiroshi, including the cabinet that houses the miniature sweets.
“My dad’s really handy. He did all the work inside,” says Mitsumi. “The interior is my mom’s vision. My parents have been in the restaurant industry a long time, and this is a café where they’re able to be more playful.”
The esthetic is playful and crafty — DIY with polish, if you like. Miju made some of the café’s pottery, as well as the fabric coasters that come with hot drinks, knitted and crocheted tea cozies that hug each teapot and the large quilt that hangs in the back of the café.
Being a family-run business has its perks. When Moeno took a year’s hiatus, her sister Mitsumi stepped in to help. It seems restaurants are in the family’s blood: Mitsumi runs Bowen Island’s Shika Provisions and Tofino’s Kuma. Moeno is now back — as is the café’s record player, with selections chosen by Muji and Moeno.
“For the year I was away they didn’t use the record player,” says Moeno. “It’s an assortment — classic rock, Beatles, Wings, Earth Wind and Fire.”
At the moment, Basho is open only on weekdays. That may be inconvenient for 9-to-5-ers, but the café is as busy as ever. Miju greets everyone with a smile and seems especially delighted to see babies. If Basho means place, Basho Café is a happy place.
2007 East Hastings,
604 428 6276