The restaurant was done in a simple-modern style with fairly clean aesthetics for tables and chairs. There is a small sitting bar in front of the sashimi/sushi chef. The lighting is dim, but bright enough to see clearly. Fun fact: They spell the "Soul" in a away similar to a well-known izakaya chain, so we were a bit confused at first.
The normal menu is a mix of Robata, Appetizers, and various sushi and sashimi. Normal fare for Robata and not a huge list of Appys. However, the gem is in the "special" menu of the day. There was sooooo much the waitress was listing that there was no way I could remember it all. Most of it was of the sashimi kind but some grilled items.
The sashimi got out to us very quickly. We had the live uni, which was extremley fresh and a very good portion. The seafood salad was good and bad. Good in that the various seafood (different varieties of fish) were extremely fresh. Bad in that the sauce was a goma mayo (sesame mayonnaise) that does not go well with seafood. My wife had a botan ebi (a variety of amaebi) nigiri, which was also very fresh.
There was a bit of wait between the sashimi and grill/appys. This was actually an omen of things to come. Where to start? Ok, we originally wanted to start with agedashi tofu but the waitress persuaded us to try a mushroom sauce deep-fried tofu. The sauce was far to strong for tofu and we stopped at a piece each. Next up, yakitori with sea salt. I always try this at every izakaya as it seems to test the skills of the grill chef. Well, to be polite, it was horrible. There was an overabundance of pepper while the salt was virtually non-existent. To top it off, the tori was dried out and definitely not juicy. It went from bad to worse. We ordered the bacon wrapped asparagus (as stated on menu) only to find a trio of bacon wrapped asparagus, onion, and scallop. We only found out after eating them and got confirmation from the waiter "that's how the grill does it". The asparagus used, by the way, was the root end. Items that were passable were deep fried calamari legs and deep fried soft-shell crab. We ordered a few other robata items that would be extremely difficult for any izakaya to screw up and got them as expected.
Service was very good and attentive, although we were the only people in the restaurant. To be fair, we got there pretty early and by the time we left, there was one other table that was seated.
Prices were average for an izakaya.
Soul is located in a new mini-mall that I didn't even know was built, as it's on the "new" side of Alexandra Road rather than the established "foodie" side. There was plenty of parking when we got there but the lot was full when we left. However, knowing this area, I suspect most of the parked cars were frequenting other places.
Soul Izakaya tries hard. The seafood/sashimi is extremely fresh. Probably as fresh as any high end sushi place in Vancouver. Where it falls down is in the experience and skills of its grill chefs. Even with fresh ingredients, the grill station manages to miss on almost all fronts. Would I return again? Considering the competition for izakayas and this being Richmond, I would say "no".
I've tried many, many izakayas in Japan. I've tried all the izakayas in Vancouver. While I know the calibre of Japan, I used the Vancouver izakayas as reference for my review.