Toronto’s first robata bar, SHIBUI, has arrived on Adelaide Street West. Robatayaki, which means fireside-cooking, features delicious delights served on a skewer and slow-grilled over hot charcoal.
Chef Masaki Nakayama, who was born and raised in Yaizu, Japan, has worked alongside Michelin-starred chefs and Manhattan’s elite in restaurants such as Sushi Yasuda, Corton, and Mr. Robata.
The space itself feels like a happening New York hot-spot with delicious cocktails and yummy food to go with. The blue hued walls are a striking contrast against the red hot coals, and the dark lighting makes this subterranean space somewhere you can escape with a group of friends for a night on the town.
Sake-based libations, such as the Kyuri Sake (made with gin, yuzu sour, and cucumber), are a refreshing choice for summer, as is the Ume & Yuzu Mojito. The beer list is an interesting mix of local and imports including Xingu from Brazil.
I love the open kitchen concept where you can spy co-owner Michael Rudan (who also owns Copa Cabana next door) working up a sweat as he mans the charcoal grill, while Nakayama guards the sushi station where he’s meticulously shaping sushi rice with his hands or assembling a sashimi platter. If Jiro Dreams of Sushi has taught me anything, it’s that only the master gets to handle the rice; and for the full duration of my time there, Nakayama is the only one molding the sushi.
Stand-out items include the crispy rice with spicy salmon, which has a nice golden crust that adds both texture and flavour. It is also shaped into a rectangle akin to oshizushi (or pressed sushi). There are also plenty of vegetarian options that aren’t limited to just limp greens drizzled with dressing. The sweet potato robata is grilled to perfection while being amazingly soft on the inside. The Kinoko salad is composed of soba noodles and is surprisingly light; the ponzu clings nicely to the al dente buckwheat noodles and I can easily eat a bowlful without feeling the same guilt of chowing down a bowl of spaghetti and meatballs. On the meatier side of the robata offerings we enjoy the black cod in all its natural sweetness, and a succulent lamb chop.
After having tasted what SHIBUI has to offer, I think I’ll start grilling my food more often. Because of the high heat, you really only need minimal seasoning like salt and pepper; the rest of the flavour comes as a result of cooking at high temperatures which allows for a nice char on the outside while keeping the food perfectly tender and juicy on the inside.
So make your reservation to SHIBUI via OpenTable because everything is, as they say in Japanese, “Oishi!,” or delicious! SHIBUI will also be participating in Summerlicious, which runs from July 4th to 20th.
Will you be dining at Toronto’s first robata bar? Let us know in the comments below or tweet us @ViewtheVibe.