Koi-Koi Sake Bar brings home style cuisine and choice drinks to Kensington Market.
I’ve been spending more time around Toronto’s Kensington Market recently, and I’ve noticed a change in the composition of the area of late. Still popular among students and musicians, Kensington Market has started to become a sort of Little Tokyo West, with about a half dozen or so Japanese-inspired shops, restaurants and cafés opening over the past year. On a hot September afternoon I happened upon Koi-Koi Sake Bar in the heart of the market, and enjoyed spending a couple of hours tasting a variety of sake while savouring some comforting homestyle Japanese dishes.
Sake bars are synonymous with Japanese nightlife, but they aren’t so widespread in North America. New York has a few, and there are some on the west coast, but Toronto isn’t exactly known as a sake hot spot. Enter Koi-Koi Sake Bar—the destination for sake virtuosos, neophytes and everyone in between. Its extensive sake menu features bottles at a variety of quality and price points, from $6.50 for a glass, up to $300 for a 1.8-L bottle of Yamaguchi’s finest spirit, which can also be saved for future visits. Co-owner Linda Dang has a soft spot for whisky, and has created a number of cocktails that showcase Japan’s fiery Scottish-style brew paired with complexity-building additions like chrysanthemum and lavender syrups, matcha and lychee liquor.
But Koi-Koi brought me back home with its delicious accompaniments. Co-owner and chef Nancy Young has created a seasonal menu that reminds me of dishes that my Japanese homestay mother used to make:salmon ochazuke, a rice bowl served with a sour plum green tea broth and grilled salmon; platefuls of yakisoba stir-fried noodles topped with pork, carrots, cabbage, aonori and mayo; and stacks of crunchy, sweet soy chicken wings. These hearty comfort foods are perfect to consume before, during and after a serious drinking session, and they’re all delicious.
Not content to simply import sake for its guests to sample, just two months afterits August 2018 grand opening, Koi-Koiintroduced its first collaboration with the Distillery District’s Izumi Sake Distillery. The lively bar hosts jazz bands on Tuesday nights and a DJ on Fridays, and with an atmosphere that is equal parts jovial and polished, Koi-Koi is a place you can bring a date or a business client.
Once upon a time, Nina wanted to be an artist. Now she is fulfilling her dreams as a writer and fundraiser working with artists, arts organizations and publications across Canada. In her free time, she enjoys travel, food, supporting local artists, and running with her dog, Dash.