Benkei Ramen Noodle Shop on Robson, Vancouver

I don’t think many people see it turning out this way. All the restaurants in Metro Vancouver were all bracing themselves for the expected onslaught of customers during the Vancouver 2010 Olympics. It did not turn out that way.

Instead, everyone were clustered around the Robson Square area where the Olympics actions are. Not only that the expected increase of customers did not materialized, the number of customers actually decreased.

Suanne and I spent last Friday in downtown. We decided to go to Benkei for ramen. We had always see that this part of the city is teeming with people on Friday evenings. But that day was eerily quiet.

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Which was good for us anyway. There were no lines when we went there and got a table straight away. Benkei Ramen had always ran second fiddle to Kintaro Ramen just around the corner. I am not sure why though because I don’t find a lot of difference between the ramens of these two places. Food aside, there are a lot more I like about Benkei than Kintaro.

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The interior is way better than the bare basic interior of Kintaro. We were kind of surprised how spacious it is inside. From the outside it does look deceptively small and narrow.

There is this casualness about Benkei I like too. We thought that the box chairs were a great idea because they also act as a bag holder. We also like the fact that their offer to hang up our jackets.

Service wise, there are no shortcoming we could point out. They are friendly, genuine and even anticipative. I am saying this because …

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… Suanne and I was just sitting there and was reading a sign on the wall saying that minced raw garlic and chili sauce is available for the asking. The waitress who walked past saw us pointing to the sign, stopped in her track and then said, “I’ll get you some”.

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The menu is just a simple two-pager. You just order out of the five soup offerings and then decide if you wanted extra toppings and sides to go with it.

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We got a side order of Chashu Plate ($3.75). Thinking that it would just be a small plate given that price, we were quite pleased it was quite a serving despite it sitting on a bed of beansprouts.

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The Japanese name Chashu sounded a lot like Char Siu in Chinese. I am surprised if they have the same root words. We love this. It has a softer and moister texture compared to the Chinese Char Siu with quite a bit of fat too.

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I had the Akaoni (Spicy Miso) which is $7.80.

It had a rich flavour from the … garlic oil, sesame seed and spices used here. I added the raw garlic into this for that extra kick. The broth was lightly spicy but very rich.

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Suanne’s choice was the Shio ramen which is $6.95. I think Suanne got this because the menu says that eating this will result in beautiful skin and string bones and is also particularly popular with women. 🙂

The yellowish broth was heavy and cloudy rich.

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Those were hearty bowls of ramen and fully satisfying. There is little that anyone would not like about ramen — OK, other than the debate over how healthy or nutritious it is. This is never an issue with us at all.

We drank every single drop of the broth.

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Between Kintaro and Benkei, I like eating in Benkei better. While Kintaro has its charm in the chaos, steamed windows and long(er) lines, Benkei has that calmer ambiance that suits Suanne and I better.

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  1. Yup, it’s been slow, slow, slow. It’s quite unfortunate that the Olympics have not been translating to sales and revenue for small businesses and restaurants around the city. Sure, it’s been good to the big corporations, and they sure could use more money.

      1. Thanks for the link, Joe. The article generally is saying that sales are up but was quiet about the impact on the restaurants outside of the Olympic zones (like Denman and such).

        1. I suspect that they were selective when choosing their stats. All the positive news had hard numbers (ie 44% increase in Whistler, 128% downtown, etc). But in the suburbs, “sales were down slightly”. No numbers quoted (perhaps deliberately) which is a big red flag.

          The “Broadway Corridor” dropped by a mere 0.2% which surprises me because the folks I know in the biz who have locations there are telling me that business has dropped over 50% (one person told me 80%).

          My own experiences in my own neighbourhood a couple places certainly validate that. It is dead dead dead everywhere.

          In other words, this news report has absolutely no credibility and actually reads almost verbatim like the press release that the BCRFSA published on the same day that this news was published in the Sun.

          Suspiciously, that Press Release has now disappeared from the BCRFSA website.

    1. Another win for Canada hockey team, another lose for restaurant and business! I work at West Broadway near Canada Line and VGH and our restaurant was very slow, especially during the hockey game. I just hope it goes back to normal next week when our regular customers return. We just hope this is just an Olympic curse and it leaves with the Olympics!

      1. Hi Doug: I think it is not just the restaurants that is affected by the Olympic curse. Even chowtimes’ traffic had seen a dip ever since Day 1 of the Olympics. Like you, we also just hope this is just an Olympic curse and it leaves with the Olympics. LOL!

  2. Apart from the new Thurlow location, we drove past what seems to be a new Benkei location in the works on 5th Ave around Quebec Street. The exterior looked like it was finished (the signage was up); no idea about the interior.

  3. Ooh, doesn’t sound too good with people leaving to visit the Olympics and not just restaurants! I just watch it on TV and online now, more often these days since there is figure skating and someone from my city is competing.

    Your picture of the charshu is very appetizing :). For 3.75 that is a great deal and could be a full meal with some rice or noodles!

  4. “Chasu” is indeed from the Chinese “Char Siu”. (“Ramen” is reportedly also from the Chinese “la mian”, “lao mian” or “lo mein”.)

  5. Benkei is dope. I usually hit up the other location, though.

    I’ve noticed a pretty serious deadness deep downtown, even at, like, the downtown and Gastown Guu locations, where you’re usually on a hour and a halflong phone list to get a table on a Friday night. Even the Kintaro lineup is decent most nights.

  6. I love Akaoni! Get it everytime!

  7. We are spending our tensing day of 2010 eating out. After watching ‘RamenGirl’ on tv this morning we have headed out to Benkei on Robson. We are eagerly awaiting the food. Line up was at the door at 1 pm. Looks like a lot of prices are the same but the Akaoni is now 8.95 and the chasu is 4.50. It smell wonderful in here.

  8. Lunch was great, The line up when we left at 2:30 was still out the door. We will definately go back. It is nice to get a flavourful soup with out a load of MSG.

    Santouka across the street had about 20 people lined up as well.

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