This is a success story about how hard work, persistence, and passion can pay off.
Also, working 4 1/2 years for Toronto’s (if not North America’s) legend and holy grail of sushi restaurants, Sushi Kaji, under the master himself, Mitsuhiro Kaji – didn’t hurt either.
This July, young Chef Ian Robinson (that’s right, he’s not Japanese) opened his tiny jewel of a restaurant, Skippa. Why was it named Skippa, you may ask? His family came from Barbados and the only Japanese person was a skipper of a boat, except they pronounce it, “skippa”, there.
Located at 379 Harbord, just east of Ossington, I went when it was only five days old and there wasn’t even a sign or address out front. I assure you, that is in the works. The casual and sparse restaurant seats a tight 30, with the possibility of another 20 outside in nice weather. That in itself is a challenge, because Chef Ian is the man, and he can only work so fast. He did pick up a couple of young Japanese interns, freshly off the boat, so to speak, and his effervescent sister, Kati, runs the front of the house. For me, the best seat in the place, is at the bar, directly in front of the chef. He must have been a good student, and Chef Kaji must have been a good mentor because Skippa is turning out some stellar and exceedingly good food. Chef Ian wants to make his food more accessible to all. So instead of paying $120-150 for an omakase experience at Sushi Kaji, you can get a smaller omakase for the starting price of $39. We used this as our base which gives you one piece of each sushi plus a hand roll. To this, we added the sweetest edamame I have ever had, which comes from a farm in Innisfil, Ontario. Then we had a maitake mushroom salad in a miso dressing, that was outstanding. We also had some mackerel sashimi in a black garlic and sesame sauce, as well as a sea bream rose sashimi in a light chili sauce.
Of all the sushi we tried, I think I enjoyed the octopus from Morocco the most. It was sweet and tender. His other fish come from Japan, red eye tuna from Hawaii, sea bream from New Zealand, ocean trout from British Columbia, and tuna from Portugal. He selects the best ingredients and doesn’t compromise, whether it is fish or condiments. Everything is ethically sourced. And let me tell you, he demonstrates some serious skills. Each course had a different layering of flavours.
There is a nice selection of saké, beers and a few wines.
You can’t compare the experience to Sushi Kaji, but you don’t have to drive all the way to Etobicoke and you won’t burn a hole in your wallet either. We received highly personalized service and I am proud to see another home grown chef demonstrate his supreme talent.