Kingyo Izakaya is a traditional Japanese restaurant sitting in the basement of the old Winchester Hotel.
The first location of the successful Vancouver-based brand of equally well-known west coast restaurants, Kingyo has built a name for itself in Toronto over the years as one of the go-tos for Japanese bites.
Spacious, albeit dimly lit, save for the neon shimmers from the classic Pachinko gambling machines on the walls, the restaurant can hold about one hundred people at a time.
The interior of the restaurant is woodsy, with a few interesting elements like samurai swords adorning the space, and a large table near the back with a troubling of goldfish swimming inside—kingyo does mean goldfish in Japanese, after all.
Behind the bar, a projector shows Japanese classics on the wall. During the day, it’s usually kid-friendly anime programming like Doraemon; at night, post-war black-and-white classics.
It’s not overflowing every day of the week—Friday and Saturday evenings are definitely the busiest times. Still, you can expect to be greeted by the standard cheerful cries of welcome in Japanese when you enter, even if the place is empty.
With a menu overseen by chef Koji Zenimaru, first with Guu, then Kingyo, and a co-partnered project Ramen Isshin, expect dishes here to be refined and well-presented.The uni sea urchin shooter ($10.80 each) is a complex favourite. This slimy concoction has bonito dashi, quail egg yolk, the ever-prized sea urchin sashimi, sushi rice, and slippery grated yamaimo mountain yam, which you eat all mixed together.
The premium wagyu beef hot stone BBQ ($38) is a great hands-on dish, and comes with a tasty side of grated daikon radish and ponzu, a salty lemon dressing and Kingyo’s signature shichimi seven-spice mix.
Slices of tender beef are served with a scalding hot stone on the side. Place the wagyu onto the stones (you can usually only fit one or two at a time) and flip in about 20 seconds to get a the best sear.
The stone eventually does cool down, but not to worry, staff will come and replace it with a new sizzling hot one if you haven’t finished cooking your meat yet.
The makunouchi bento box ($38) is an absolute must if it’s your first time at Kingyo. Nine small bites come in a beautiful wooden lidded box, with at least one or two dishes switching up on the daily.
There may be more common izakaya items like ebi mayo and karaage in the mix, alongside standout snacks like crispy herring sashimi, dashi maki with ikura and pork belly braised for up to six hours.
A bowl of burdock kakiage (a type of tempura batter) and shabu shabu udon ($14.80) makes for a pleasant surprise when it arrives in an unexpectedly gargantuan bowl.The bowl comes with a whole layer of gobo burdock tempura and rib eye shabu-shabu.
You’ll be treated to the fresh scent of homemade bonito soup being poured into your bowl by a server for the freshest effect.
Being an izakaya, the majority of foods here are meant to go with booze, so you can expect Kingyo’s drinks menu is full of rare and popular sake varieties, Sapporo on tap and bottles of God Speed’s Yuzu brew ($8).
Their selection of fresh ginger cocktails are the real winners though. Made with housemade ginger syrup, you can pick from a handful of deliciously refreshing drinks like the ginger high ball ($8).