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Restaurants

Swish By Han

Posted by Amanda / Reviewed on March 17, 2010 / review policy

Swish by HanSwish by Han, the brainchild of Leemo and Leeto Han, was conceived back in 2006, but took a while to come to fruition. When the brothers finally managed to buy the establishment in early 2009, it was another seven painful months of one hurdle after another before they could finally open their doors to the public in mid-summer. Since then the hype has only grown, so I decided to go see what all the fuss was about.

Swish by HanWhen I first step inside I'm a little thrown off -- this in no way resembles any Korean restaurant I've ever been to. I shrug it off and chalk it up to Swish specializing in Korean/American fusion. This leaves me pretty surprised when Leeto, the managerial half of the Han duo, lets me know that this is in fact what a restaurant from Seoul looks like: it's the others I've seen that've been Americanized.

Swish by HanLocated a stones-throw away from the St. Lawrence Market, Swish is pretty damn posh. The restaurant's interior is made from reclaimed elmwood and is decorated with personal touches: paintings by their grandfather, a blown up photo from South Korea and chandeliers from their home.

Swish by HanI order the kimchi tuna melt ($9) and Becky, my waitress, suggests I try the yuzu tea ($3). I gladly take her advice. The iced drink comes quickly, and I give it a sip -- sharp citrus bites back at me and quickly fades into a mix of sweet and sour. It's clean and crisp and makes me feel like summer. (Now if only it came with a dash of gin...).

Swish by HanThe melt comes sandwiched between two slices of lightly buttered egg bread (Challah). As I bite in, I'm surprised by the kimchi's pleasant crunch before I begin to register the flavours. The warm spice from the kimchi, the tuna (which is wonderfully fresh and un-fishy), and of course, the melted cheese. I'm certainly impressed, but a part of me wishes there was a little more heat. I taste the coleslaw, noticing the kimchi and miso in the dressing and am happy to find the slaw has a kick to it that's just phenomenal.

When I'm done Leeto tells me I can stay and "chill out" for as long as I like, and Becky and I subsequently chat for much longer than we probably should. Finally, I pay the bill and go.

While I'm pretty much in love, but just to be sure, I go back a few days later to try the dinner menu with a friend. We order the AAA Alberta ribeye BBQ set ($25) and the bibimbap rolls ($7), both to share. The rolls come out first. They're a play on the traditional preparation, and
use rice paper rolls instead of the rice bed. With this dish, I often feel rice gets in the way of flavor, so I'm pretty happy with this intervention. It's juicy and lightly seasoned, though the portion size makes it clear that this really is meant to be ordered tapas style.

Swish by HanThe kimchi trio and ban chan trio (included with the ribeye) arrive and we start sampling. My friend and I try to decide which is the best and find that we can only agree on one of them -- the squid from the ban chan trio, which is phenomenal. A "stew" is brought to our table: the bowl hot enough to make the bubbles leap up in spectacular fashion. It's rich and spicy, though too brothy for me to classify as a stew.

Leeto brings the grill out and brushes it quickly with some oil and instructs us on how to use it, leaving us with the beef, lettuce leaves, rice, and condiments (called a ssäm set) -- we get to work and are making our little wraps within moments. The beef is juicy and our (failed) rolling attempts are accompanied by a lot of laughter. I'm told in Korea it's tradition to try and eat the wraps in one bite: probably to avoid the mess I'm inevitably making. We're both surprised to find that by the end we're completely stuffed.

20100316-Swish-butane.jpgHaving hoped to try the hand-shaven Bingsu dessert, we agree to come back, and soon.

Toronto is known for its multi-cultural richness, a credit that is often heavily reflected in wide diversity of restaurants you can find here. Yet, in a city that thought it'd tasted it all, Swish by Han has managed to bring something new to the table.

Swish Han InteriorThe lunch crowd at Swish is mostly in business-suits but dinner is much more mixed. During the week you can probably just drop in and get a table, but on weekends reservations are recommended. Dinner entrees mostly range around $12, though the special meals are around $27(including "Swish" bowls--Leemo's tribute to their parents' Shabu Shabu restaurants in South Korea).

Lunch items cost around $10, with lunch "Swish-Swish" costing $15 to $20. They're open 12-2 p.m. and 5-10:30pm Monday to Saturday -- plus on Fridays and Saturdays from 10:30 p.m. to 2 a.m. they're open for all you can eat Korean BBQ.

Discussion

33 Comments

nico ono / August 26, 2009 at 01:34 am
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I'm really interested in this place, but a little hesitant.

can someone let me know if its worth it?
Danny / January 31, 2010 at 12:20 am
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Food was amazing. They had this Pork Shoulder Ssam. Bulgogi Tacos, Fried Mandu, Shabu Shabu, and some amazing flavoured Jjook. Totally worth the pricing. ($35 a person taxes and tip)



jlt / March 17, 2010 at 09:50 am
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is the price difference worth the unusual korean food? i guess i just tend to lean towards traditional unless there are big updates and fusions.
the bulgogi tacos seem to be one of the only different things.
Ginkonut / March 17, 2010 at 02:19 pm
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Incredibly overpriced for Korean fusion. Korean food ingredients are very affordable but I guess rent on wellington must be killer.

Did not enjoy the bibimbop (sans stone bowl; served in a clay bowl over a tea light- really lost the spirit bibimbop: flash cooking while being able to enjoy sweet cracked rice at the end of the item) but really liked the jjook (Korean version of congee) and the tacos.

Best order fusion items instead of the pure play Korean items.
nico ono / March 17, 2010 at 03:43 pm
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Final got the chance to check Swish out

I think this is the first korean resto to play "my morning jacket" for lunch. Tried not to go in comparing to bloor-christie and i think that was for the best. Ordered the spicy pork on a bun ($10) and dina had the kimchi-bulgogi dolsot ($14), very unique take on traditional flavors of korea but just as good. Ordered a glass of iced yuza tea($3) and pomegranate punch($3), both were very refreshing on this sunny day.

the prices (about $2 more than the usual) are a little pricier than the usual "bloor-christie" korean spots, but swish shouldn't be compared to those. Little example would be that traditional bibibap has a wide variety of vegetables in it... most k-restos in toronto use about 5, while swish uses about 10 (true to traditional bibimbap. another reason would be their in-house made gochujang (red chili paste). i think the higher price comes into play with all the work these guys put into their dishes... of course bloor-christie is cheaper but you cant compare them to swish. its lik comparing the mcdonald's to gourmet burger company.

fyi ginkonut, korean food ingredients are not all very affordable, especially regarding the amount of labor it takes to prepare.
Caroline replying to a comment from nico ono / March 19, 2010 at 06:16 am
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nico ono, i really wouldn't go so far as to compare them with mcdonald's. that's a bit of a stretch.
Jordan / March 19, 2010 at 01:51 pm
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I believe you were mistaken Caroline.
nico ono was defending Swish by saying it was unfair for others to compare them to other (cheaper) Korean resto's in the city. and then stated that type of comparison would be like staking McDonalds versus the gourmet burger company, McDonalds representing the other Korean restaurants and the Gourmet burger company representing Swish in the analogy.

I am going to check the place out myself next week
Caroline replying to a comment from Jordan / March 19, 2010 at 02:00 pm
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Hi Jordan, I interpreted it as you did. I meant that I thought it was a bit of a strange analogy. I agree that Swish is more gourmet but saying McDonald's is like the Bloor restaurants is belittling and not very accurate.
nico ono replying to a comment from Caroline / March 19, 2010 at 02:28 pm
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fine... arby's versus gourmet burger co.

hehe
Caroline replying to a comment from nico ono / March 19, 2010 at 02:32 pm
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Heh. Maybe I'm taking it too literally.
I'm just annoyed because I find many Koreans (like myself) throw food together at home much like those restaurants on Bloor... so I don't want to think my simple food is as bad as a fast food burger joint.
Matthew / March 19, 2010 at 11:32 pm
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nice nico! get a blog why don't you :)
i've been to swish several times for dinner and have had maybe 1 or 2 minor misses — maybe picky things like portion size or heat but the flavour has always been amazing. I like this time because they are experimenting and adjusting but I love the flavour and atmosphere so much i'm happy to try whatever.

The dinner atmosphere is chill, and i've seen everything from families with small children to large parties to smarmy bay st. types so the crowd is varied. My g/f had a party there and they were very accommodating with their various dietary concerns.

favourite are the spicy pork neck tacos. spicy sweet pork, cooling sour cream and a cruncy tortilla with some lime for acidity. soo good
Karim / March 20, 2010 at 09:41 am
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Do they need bartenders or cooks? :) I'm currently living in Jordan but will hopefully be landing in Toronto in 10 months time.
This is completely off the above subject, sorry.
Amanda replying to a comment from Karim / March 20, 2010 at 09:52 am
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I'd ask them directly... www.swishbyhan.wordpress.com is their site, and im sure you can find contact information there. The phone number is listed above.
karim / March 20, 2010 at 09:58 am
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thanks Amanda!
Jonathan / March 22, 2010 at 09:50 am
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Yes, you may say Korean food ingredients are very affordable but it takes a lot of time and skills if you are willing to cook properly. Considering the time and ingredients required for real authentic Korean food, it is really awkward to be cheap IMO. IMO cheap Korean food only means they are not cooking properly or missing cooking steps with an aid of MSG.

As a Korean-Canadian who lived half of my life in Seoul, Korea and 3 years in England, 4 years in Vancouver, and rest in downtown Toronto , I can assure you that this place is NOT expensive at all. Its just because Korean food pricing in Toronto is a weird exception, which unbelievably cheap. Please check prices of Korean restaurants in other city first before you say a word.

For instance, If you've ever been to Vancouver, you will see what I'm saying. Korean food in Vancouver is not as cheap as in Toronto. Sometimes, depending on the quality of food, it's more expensive than Japanese food and people in Vancouver understand that. I used to have Gam-ja-tang (Pork bone soup) on Robson Street, downtown Vancouver, paying around $14~15/person. In Toronto, you can have it at fast food price but with fast food quality only.

If you've ever been to Seoul, the capital of Korea, you will actually think that SBH is really CHEAP. A decent Korean BBQ in Seoul is normally expensive than you can imagine. Beef Ribeye is 30000~45000 KRW/150g (150g = 5.29 oz) while typical Korean dishes are priced around 5000~15000 KRW (1 CAD$ = about 1100 KRW)

And in our city, Toronto, all money desperate Bloor-Christie Korean restaurants are selling awkwardly cooked food at fast-food price. Most of them are focused on quantity than quality and some of those restaurants do not even have a trained Chef or cooks just for cost reduction. Their main customers are busy Korean U of T students, who cannot cook Korean food themselves and are busy enough to have no time to go uptown for a meal, though they KNOW the food is awkward. Korean Moms and Dads obviously never bring their children to MSG-overdosed Christie restaurants for their family eat-out. That is why all decent Korean restaurants are located at uptown (Yonge-Finch region) where most of Korean families live.

so IMO just thank Swish by finally bringing real, edible, amazingly tasty, Korean food to this city and..
SHUT UP AND EAT..
helen / March 27, 2010 at 03:47 pm
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do they have any vegetarian options?
Amanda / March 27, 2010 at 05:49 pm
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http://swishbyhan.wordpress.com/category/menu/

check out the menu here. They have some tofu options, mushroom noodles (jap chae), mushroom swish, and some salads. To be sure these options are completely vegetarian I advise calling ahead. They're really nice guys, so don't worry! :) Plus, I bet if you let them know ahead of time you'd want a vegetarianized option if you're going with a group, it can be arranged. (Becky, the waitress who served me, is vegan--so I'm sure she'd totally get your requests!)
Gumby / April 12, 2010 at 12:00 am
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flavor's definitely good.
don't mind the price.
just increase the portion size.
i don't go to restaurants to eat kid's meal.
Bee replying to a comment from Gumby / April 21, 2010 at 04:30 pm
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Gumby:

It's called tapas.
John / April 27, 2010 at 02:12 am
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Swish by Han is the exellent Restaurant in Toronto.
I don't forget the taste of Shav Shav.
I think so that Han is the greastest restaurant in Toronto.
It's Really truth.
haha / September 10, 2010 at 05:33 pm
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heheh^^ well said john
sadaybilli / December 25, 2011 at 03:49 pm
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buy and check coupon code available , just clicks away
Kimchi replying to a comment from Jonathan / February 1, 2012 at 09:42 am
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Jonathan:
I agree that Korean food takes a lot of time and skills to cook properly. My family operates one of the bloor-chrisitie Korean restaurants. Our costs are cheaper than Swish but we don't compromise the quality of the food we serve.

We use organic meat from Beretta farms, fresh vegetables from local farmers make hot chilli sauce in our kitchen (for sweetness, which we take seasonal fruit and add), and all of the side dishes (we offer 5-8 everyday) are made that morning (other than kimchi and spicy radishes) that morning. We do not use MSG and state that on our menu. For my parents, who are cooks at the restaurant and work from early hours to midnight six days a week to produce quality food to Korean U of T students who are here studying without their family, and to anyone (including Korean families) looking for authentic and healthy korean food, it is extremely upsetting to have their food be considered fast food quality. Just because the price is cheaper, it doesn't mean that the restaurants compromise the quality or that the food is "awkwardly cooked".

As a Korean-Canadian, who lived half of my life in Seoul as well, please note that the Korean food in Korea that are more expensive are mostly meat dishes. The cost of meat is more expensive there. And that is the main reason meat dishes in Korea are more expensive. You can find vegetarian meal under $10, sometimes under $5, in Korea.

Lastly, if you haven't been to more than one Bloor-Christie restaurant, which it sounds like you haven't, many Korean families eat out at these restaurants. Most Koreans live in Yonge and Finch area starting 13-15 years ago because of the condos in the area and schools for their kids. It has not much to do with restaurants.

Just wanted to bring clarity and shed some light on awkwardly put together entry.


Joy / February 4, 2012 at 01:50 pm
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My overall experience at Swish by Han was 3/5. I blame my frugal Chinese heritage. The rude server and the hidden gratuity had really ruined the our time at Swish by Han. Despite the fact that there were other dishes I am interested in trying on the menu, I will not be returning to this establishment.
Joy replying to a comment from Kimchi / February 4, 2012 at 01:51 pm
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Kimchi,

What is the name of your family's Korean restaurants? I would love to try it someday!

Cheers,
J
Toronto Gal / March 17, 2012 at 10:20 am
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DINER BEWARE .... eat here at your own risk!

I am a regular at Swish by Han - the wait staff know me and greet me. What happened on Friday night when I went to dine with my adult daughter was inexcusable. To be clear - the food is palatable and the music is ear shattering. The wait staff do not like customers, in fact they think being rude and out and out lying is good customer service.

My daughter cannot have spice and there is spice in some of the food. She inquired about the potstickers from a 'new' waitress - the lady who always wears a white top (she is related to the chef and the owner) did not take our order. She was assured there is no spice. This is not something I have ever ordered so I didn't know.

The dish arrives in a sea of soy sauce and chili oil. We call the waitress over - this time we get the 'lady in white' - the one who is always there - the one related to the owner. My daughter explains the problem - she can't have spice, she asked before ordering, this has spice, she cannot eat it - what can be done. Here the comes the unbelievable part - and I am paraphrasing but very close to what is actually said -

1. Oh! - the other waitress should have told you - I will go let her know that she made a mistake. She is new here and doesn't know the menu I guess.

2. It isn't that spicy - you can eat it anyway - NOTE: at this point we told her that chili oil makes my daughter ill -

3. The chef is particular about his food and he makes no allowances for guest allergies, you get it the way he wants it and if it isn't what you can eat that is your problem.

We ate quickly and got the bill. I live next door to this place and am fond of it, so I went back to see this was just some sort of misunderstanding. I get 'lady in white' - I am just a waitress I just work here it isn't my job to deal with upset customers' I ask where is the manager, there is nobody here to talk to. Shortly afterwards another lady appears claiming to be 'the manager'. She listens to me. I ask her isn't the 'lady in white' part of the ownership - yes she assures me she is. She will pass on my comments.

No the bill was not adjusted - yes it was $7 and I paid for the dish, but that wasn't the point.

No-one apologized - the final suggestion as we were leaving - we should 'order' more carefully in the future. If we can't eat something don't order it.

Okay folks - this is not acceptable by any means at any class of restaurant.
Pamela / June 13, 2012 at 12:16 pm
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Came here twice since Dec and was disappointed at both visits.
The food is ok but service is awful. On a Saturday night when the place is not even half full, the waitress kicked us out to accommodate 2 other customers. We have no idea why. There were plenty of seats available, but they HAD to kick us out! We were going to try the dessert as their menu was quite interesting but forget that!

Also tried a bunch of appetizers which were quite good but nothing makes me crave or want to return to Swish .... ever again.
Gembaha / June 13, 2012 at 03:21 pm
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This place seems really culturally dysfunctional. We stay far away.
Cousom George replying to a comment from nico ono / July 25, 2013 at 11:47 pm
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Great place one of my favorite rests. in TO Do not miss
Shia / September 23, 2013 at 01:17 pm
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Overrated and such a rip-off. Price paid was not worth the food. Maybe if the chefs came out to greet us I guess it can compensate.
Sid / March 31, 2014 at 11:58 am
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Completely changed their menu. Food's still top quality but they serve nothing but share plates and appetizers now. Bit of a disappointment.
mike / July 23, 2014 at 10:40 pm
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This shouldn't be ranked 2nd. This korean restaurant it by far down my list of likings. From visiting and eating at a lot of korean places - this is not authentic towards the Korean culture. No authenticity shown in the restaurant nor korean music. Food was not worth the munch, if you want to eat, real good korean food just go uptown to yonge and finch area. Waiters were rude and careless of their customers (they dont even put in the effort in asking how the food is, nor if we needed anything). Paying 17$ for bimbi bap was definitely not worth it, I rather go to song cooks or soon tofu.

I do not recommend going to this place for good korean food. Overpriced and bad customer service.
mike / July 24, 2014 at 06:26 pm
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They should first fix their employees attitude.

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