In light of the recent changes at Guu Izakaya and its transition to Kinka Izakaya instead, the management of this lovely establishment invited a group of bloggers to feast on their sampling menu. Last time we were at Guu was about two years ago, so our memory was a bit hazy in terms of every little detail that might have changed. Jumping ahead, we can state that Kinka is still a very solid option for an authentic Japanese fare with a twist.
As far as the interior went, it did not look like a lot changed since the last time we visited. Reclaimed wooden walls and green tiles all over, with warm lighting gave a tradition play on shadows while an all-wooden interior with lighter ceiling provided the needed modern edge. To enhance the ambiance, upbeat lounge music was playing fairly loudly. It was funky and energetic, but not quite what we expected. The event organizers got us covered for our first drink which was very nice of them.
We asked for a Sake Highball and a Three Samurai sake shooters plus a kettle of Sencha tea. In general, the selection of cocktails at Kinka is quite impressive and original. Might be worthwhile to consider coming here for drinks only. Our drinks arrived along with first dish - Gomaae, as we jumped with into it.
Sake Highball came loaded with crushed ice, sake, whisky, Cointreau, soda and garnished with orange. It had an instant appeal and turned out to be a very pleasant drink to spark up your meal. Definitely not intense in it’s flavours. On the other hand, we were somewhat less impressed by the Three Samurai. We expect to have a taste of three different sakes, but instead we got three different flavored and coloured sake shooters. This cocktail was is not to teach one about the subtleties of sake but instead just had sweet liqueur flavours of melon, banana, and curacao added to a light sake. Not our thing, but we did enjoy them for what they were. Our Sen-cha green tea pot was all that we expected from it - a bit bitter, very finely ground green tea. A large pot lasted throughout the meal quite nicely - our waitress top it with hot water later on, at our request.
Back to our first dish - Gomaae. It looked beautifully combined, and quite difficult to eat initially, but the cold blanched spinach ball was easy to unroll and the chilled strips of greens turned out to be a sharable delightful little appetizer. It was that sweet, black sesame paste all around that made this dish.
Maguro Tataki was our second dish and a substantial one. Several larger chunks of seared BC tuna sashimi, lying in a bed of radish. They came topped with green onion, Ponzu (zesty sauce of thin watery consistency) and a sprinkle of garlic chips to accent. Not long after, a Seaweed & Tofu salad materialized on the table as our third appetizer. A vegetarian dish from marinated seaweed, some dry weeds, iceberg lettuce, a few radishes. We found that there was not much of flavor apart for the variety of seaweeds. Plain fresh tofu did not add much here, but volume and tender freshness. This dish turned out to be mostly a mash of green veggies.
Kaarage rolled in without any further ado. As much as the deep fried breaded chicken with garlic mayo on the side sounds simple and fastfood-like, the dish left us in awe. Presented without any notes of pretentiousness, there was just a bit of lettuce on the side, if you heart desired some greens after the heavy dish. The meat was very flavorful and soft which was aided by (presumably) long marination in soy sauce and a dash of sake. It’s surprisingly boneless and tendon-less consistency also made the experience of eating Kaarage very pleasant.
Two beautiful, baked oyster shells filled with spinach, mushroom and garlic mayo came in next. All that goodness was generously bound with melted cheese. Mon Cheri definitely enjoyed the mushrooms and sauce, but stopped short of actually eating the oyster (he has his issues when it comes to shell-fish). The presentation of this dish and the combination of flavours was impeccable. If anyone wants to try an oyster for the first time, eating it in this way might be one of the better ways to break into it.
We were getting full, but Karubi appeared on our table with their magical smell. The grilled, miso marinated beef short ribs, were thinly cut with the bone still handing on each one - we were impressed with the craftsmanship. The meat had some fat left on it and was generally on the heavier side, but still very flavorful and tender. An easy item to share as well.
Kinoko Bibimbap came sizzling in a large stone bowl. Our waitress stirred it in front of us and waned us not to burn ourselves. The dish would make for a great main actually on its own. While a bit oily, the varying texture and taste of ingredients (mushrooms, cheese, rice and seaweed sauce) made this dish an excellent side.
Gindara followed right after with almost no break in between to enjoy the Bibimbap. No worries, the table looked very busy and yummy for some time. Gindara was actually the most expensive item on the menu so we were very excited to try it. There were some long bones in this tender fish piece, but nothing too hard to find. The fish itself was not dry at all. It’s skin was a treat - dark, miso-infused, crispy with a think oily layer. It was served in a pool of sweet miso sauce with a taste of sake on a pointed green banana leaf for presentation…quite a delight.
Lastly, we had Sake Tiramisu for desert. Ma Cherie found the sake taste quite odd, as this dish was not really sweet, but still smooth and creamy. The piece was small, but great to share and enjoy slowly. We wondered if having an actual sake shot with this, would have improved our enjoying. This was definitely a dish one must acquire a taste for.
Tasting menus are an excellent way to fully understand the restaurant’s soul, what the chef wants you to taste and remember from their work. Unfortunately, a lot of places simply do not offer the option of a taste menu, especially at such a reasonable price. We remember coming here last time and not knowing which dish to try from their square grid menu. The taste menu option is certainly a great alternative as an introduction. The experience here is all about the small details and Kinka excels in making these memorable. The Chef came out to introduce himself and share his experience, he remained constant throughout Kinka’s recent transformation. He spoke in Japanese and so did all the staff yelling to greet and thank everyone coming in and leaving. Kinka means Golden Flower we were told, something which bring happiness to everyone. It definitely did to us.
PS: another subtle detail was the Sho Chiko Bai - minty sake in the washroom to refresh you. Yum!