Japanese cuisine in Toronto is unlike any other. It keeps renewing itself. In addition to the traditional Japanese restaurants that have been pillars of the Toronto restaurant scene for years, we have seen successive trends. Now, it’s the third wave of sushi. We’re not interested in the proliferation of “all you can eat” sushi bars that are as authentic as Velveeta cheese. We’re content to leave the izakaya craze for the pub-crawlers. What we want now is simplicity and quality.
Sushi making is an art form, a skill; it requires years of training—and the techniques are constantly being updated. It’s not merely slicing a piece of fish and draping it on a roll of rice. In the theatre of the kappo-style chef, seamlessly performing slender kata-like movements behind the counter to craft beautiful delicacies, we can admire the degree of virtuosity at work.
Shoushin is the most recent addition to the fore. Sometimes ordering the simplest dish is the most revealing of a chef’s abilities. At Shoushin the focus is exact from preparation to presentation. Chef Jackie Lin, epitomizes the adage for success, “do one thing, and do it well”. Formerly of Zen Restaurant, Chef Jackie selects the rice, the vinegar and the fish with method in mind. Seasonality is key, as is purity. There are no Crazy Canuck rolls or con-fusion items on this menu. Only the best fish is selected, and Chef Jackie, like an interlocutor, conveys it to us over the counter with optimal flavour and texture.
In the past, I have dined with people who say all sushi tastes the same. I tell them it’s because the fish is not the highest quality, it has been frozen too long, and it has not been prepared well enough. If you could taste the real thing, I tell them, you would know the difference. Now, I can tell them to go to Shoushin. Each piece of sushi is completely distinct. Blue fin tuna from Nova Scotia is smoked in wheat straw and crowned with a pinch of grated onion. Spot prawn is enlivened with a dab of sea salt. Shrimp envelopes a morsel of shrimp paste. The artistry of Chef Jackie seems to be in figuring out what ingredients pair best with each fish, and which accentuate its unique flavour profile to its full potential.
Chef Jackie wants to bring sushi to a higher level in Toronto. With ten to fifteen different kinds of tuna in his repertoire, each must be treated uniquely, so he is at once true to each type and, at the same time, finds the right ingredients to elicit the right flavours in each of them. The cut of Chu Toro simply melts in my mouth! I am quite happy to say, “omakase”, and leave it to the Chef to decide what is best.
Shoushin’s aesthetic is simple, natural and well lit to highlight the sushi. It is the only sushi bar in Canada made from hinoki (black cypress) wood—pre-felled in Nara, and generally reserved for sacred buildings. The wood is unvarnished and emits a natural aroma reminiscent of rural Japan, and true to the restaurant’s name of Shou (craftsman) shin (heart), combined to mean ingenuity. It seats thirty. There are regular tables, zashiki seating on tatami, and seating at the sushi counter.
Chef Jackie, like an apothecary, discusses with guests what they would like, and what he can offer. He prefers we don’t use chopsticks, because sushi is a finger food and should be enjoyed with our hands. While there is soy sauce in the restaurant, he does not offer it, because he wants us to enjoy each distinct piece on its own, and not have it all taste like soy sauce.
Even the desserts are inventive creations from typically Japanese ingredients like black sesame and matcha. Seated at the counter, with Chef Jackie in front of us, we could be forgiven for thinking we’ve departed Toronto and been transported to Japan.
~Shoushin, 3328 Yonge Street, 416-488-9400~