By Jason Kwan
With episodes of the 70s Japanese hit, Kamen Rider projected silently above the busy sushi bar and a handful of flashing pachinko machines lining the century brick walls, Kingyo is a welcome addition to the quickly gentrifying, old Cabbagetown neighbourhood.
Since opening only three months ago in January 2013, on the corner of century home-laden Winchester Street and Parliament Street, Kingyo has built up a reputation of being a legitimate contender in the ever-competitive izakaya scene in the GTA.
Decorated in century brick and dark, distressed wood panels throughout the open dining area, Kingyo is a good sized establishment, offering an ambiance that is inviting and unpretentious. Spacious seating won’t cram you elbow to elbow, and both Western style table and booth options are available. Before jumping into the food, two things should be called out. 1. Kingyo takes reservations (two days in advance) – which is very rare in the izakaya scene. 2. Kingyo’s restrooms are accessible only via staircase.
Now, let’s talk about the food.
Upon entering, you’re greeted with the typical staff calling out of “irrashaimase!” The staff are friendly, attentive, and are very open to giving both drink and food recommendations for the first time diner. As with any izakaya experience, bring friends and family. The more people at the table, the better chance you have to try out multiple dishes. And you want to try a lot of them.
The following menu review is based on two visits over a three-week period.
• For a decadent and sinfully buttery starter, definitely try the Uni Shooter ($7.80). A beautiful combination of shiso, sticky yamaimo, sushi rice, sea kelp, yuzu orange, and sea urchin, this appetizer can be enjoyed slowly with a small wooden accompanying spoon, or taken as a shot of delectableness.
• For an equally delicious appetizer, look no further than the Tako Wasabi ($4.20). Baby octopus marinated in fresh wasabi can be served either cooked or raw, with the option to split your order and go half cooked, half raw. Served in a bamboo bowl that resembles a miniature water well, and with nori strips as a paired partner, this dish will certainly get your palate fired up for the rest of your meal.
• With only 10 servings made per day, the Kyoto Style Shojin Assortment ($15) is a vegan, chef’s choice of Buddhist monk recipes – a wonderful assortment of nine small dishes (kobachi) are rotated daily, and served in an endearing stacking box, or jubako. Standouts of the serving that day included the lightly battered and fried sweet corn, and the enoki mushrooms wrapped in baby bok choy.
• With the king of popular pork cuts being the almost magical pork belly, the slowly stewed Cream Buta Kakuni ($10.80) is ravishingly rich with pork fat and heavy cream, and will certainly melt before it hits your tongue. When brought to the table, your mouth will water at the sight of a large chunk of pork belly. This dish can be portioned into large bite-size portions, which was more than enough to share among six friends.
• For a “how’d they do that” experience, order the Tuna Tataki with Garlic Chips and Ponzu Jelly ($8.20). With a delicious combination of citrus, garlic, and gently seared tuna, you’ll spend a good portion of the evening wishing that Jello made a ponzu flavour.
• Made weekly, the Grapefruit Infused Shochu is a citrusy sweet concoction sitting innocently in a clear glass jar on the bar. When I asked the bartender about it, and he indicated that the best way to indulge was on the rocks, I gladly took the osusume. I was not disappointed. You won’t be either.
• As for dessert, I would recommend the 2 Colour Almond Tofu ($5.80), served with a fresh berry and jasmine sauce. The perfect sweet end to any meal. Although I want to be selfish and keep Kingyo all to myself, it’s no secret that izakayas have taken over Toronto, and that is a glorious thing to be able to say out loud – finally.
Kingyo, 51B Winchester Street, Toronto, ON M4X 1R7, 647-748-2121 www.kingyotoronto.ca Hours: Mon-Sun 5:30 pm – 11:30 pm Jason Kwan is a former JET who lived in Aichi Prefecture for two years.