Kinka Izakaya Original, Church & Wellesley, Toronto
Transport yourself to Japan with a night in at Kinka Izakaya. It’s available in two locations of Downtown and Annex. It turned out to be my most memorable dining experience during my time in Toronto. It’s a bustling Japanese experience, full of authenticity and good eating. From the moment you step into the restaurant and get shouted at by all staff, you know you’re in for a proper treat. In true izakaya style, the food is served in sharing style and it arrives at seemingly random increments. The ambience of Kinka is electric and that continues in the dishes. They’re full of flavour and passion, served with a deft hand. All the items we ordered were fantastic with a few standouts. There are plenty of choices to navigate and with a contagious atmosphere it’s impossible to leave Kinka Izakaya without a smile.
My friend Joey and I required some navigation to find our way to Kinka. We were fortunate to a) find it eventually and b) get a table without booking. Service was super sweet and its a relaxed, but very noisy atmosphere. It looks particularly eclectic for a birthday occasion, with a special squid hat and birthday menu options. We negotiated out a decided selection of the non-birthday menu and then we let the magic happen. First to the table was the Ikapiri ($7.90) deep fried calamari with spicy ketchup and mayo. Feedback from us was positive although the sauce was a bit overwhelming on the usually delicate calamari.
We ordered fried potatoes. I can’t recall why we did. It was off the special menu and was cornflour coated for a crispy coating. Soft inside and crunchy outside. And served with the oh-so-guilty Japanese mayo that I dig.
I couldn’t step foot in a Japanese restaurant and not order the chicken karage. At Kinka, the karage is $8.30 and served with lemon and a garlic mayo. The photo may be somewhat deceptive, these are five huge chunks of meat and some of the biggest I’ve seen. And some of the best – the flavour is carried well and the coating is delightful. Each bite serves up a crunch that leads to quality, tender chicken.
The shoga yaki ($8) is pan fried ginger pork, served with garlic mayo and cabbage. It wasn’t the most attractive of the menu items but I thought it tasted much better than it looked. The sauce is a slight sweetness with a delectable richness.
Joey’s favourite dish from the day was the karubi ($8.30). That’s a set of grilled salt and pepper short ribs with scallion sauce. I was a fan of the sauce, although the meat is as tasty without it. There’s an eyecatching char on the ribs and it’s easy to eat off the bone as well. I could have done without the salad or garnish on most of the plates. I suppose if you order less they can help balance out the meal.
Our stomachs were already at breaking point before our final savoury item was here. And we were partial to cancelling it, but felt bad since it was already on the way. And this was the Korean-influenced Kinoko bibimbap ($9.50) with rice, mushrooms, cheese and seaweed sauce. I thought it was a neat trick that the staff swirl it up tableside and a word of warning, it’ll be volcanic-level hot at first. The stone bowl gives the rice that enviable bibimbap crunch, and the mix itself is delightfully savoury.
I know I said our stomachs had practically imploded, but we couldn’t resist the baked matcha cheesecake. It wasn’t quite as strong as the rest of the menu, I can make a better one at home. The presentation was a bit more lackluster compared to the other items we had served, so it made me feel the dessert was an afterthought. Overall, I still had a great time and loved the theme at Kinka Izakaya, it’s a standout experience and a very fun one at that. Make sure to be thanked on the way out!