A truly great dinner is like a Broadway show that resonates long after curtain call. I can still remember that incredible scene when the chef dazzled us with his chilled Australian sandfish and sea cucumber, steamed and splashed with Chinese malt vinegar and Szechuan pepper, and paired with Chinese sake made from sticky rice and red koji. What a performance!
And so it goes, months later I am still awed by Chef Jackie Lin of Shoushin and Chef Stephen Tong of Judy Cuisine collaborating with their distinctive Japanese and Cantonese cuisines for one extraordinary dining experience. An artist loves his art, and when two artists rooted in deep traditions are inspired to collaborate with deference and fascination toward each others rich palettes, the result is a unique and exciting synergy.
Shoushin offers the most refined Japanese dining in Toronto—bar none—and Judy Cuisine is the best traditional Hong Kong style Cantonese cuisine this side of China. Sharing the same philosophy and pride in heritage, both chefs select the best ingredients, and prepare them in their own distinctive method.
Sugar glazed walnuts with spinach soaked in dashi and a touch of soy and vinegar open our palates. Chef Tong’s “XO Sauce” (hugs and kisses) is an elixir of dried shrimp, scallop, sesame oil and chili pepper created in Hong Kong in the 1980’s. He introduced it to Canada, and now lavishes generous strips of eggplant and beans with it to make our taste buds dance with delight. Spotted Garoupa Sashimi, prepared usuzukuri style—thinly sliced—is flown in from Japan alive and swimming. Chef Jackie knows that the wonderful texture of the back end of this fish needs only very fine cuts to elicit such clean and subtle sweetness. Accented with green onions and soaked in ponzu sauce, he pairs it with junmai daiginjo sake from Gifu with notes of pear and white flower to delicately elevate the flavour potential of this sashimi experience. Golden Eye Snapper, salted for one day to extract water, intensify the taste and soften the texture, is smoked over wheat straw and crowns a medley of sesame seed and prickly leaf. In Toronto, no one else is doing this. Chef Jackie has deep respect for process and tradition and yet relishes a creative spirit. While he is head chef, he will always consider himself an apprentice of sushi.
Chef Tong knows that soup is more than nourishment, it is also medicinal, and in Cantonese, medicinal cuisine is very important. His exclusive three-hours double-steamed soup of cordyceps (a medicinal fungus that grows at 3500 metres), fish maw (collagen) and teal duck soup feels like the antidote to everything! I feel purified with each sip. What is truly amazing about this slow cooked soup is that it is not steamed by water; it is steamed by its ingredients, and double boiled for an ethereal balance of their own essence. I am absolutely revitalized.
Chef Tong is renowned for his braised, dried abalone. He brings it in from the north of Japan, soaks it in water for three days; each day changing the water; and then slow cooks it for five days with Chinese ham and spareribs. Chef Jackie’s abalone is flown in fresh from the south of Japan, steamed in sake, and paired with a rich, earthy, full-bodied, two-years aged junmai style sake from Ishikawa. The juxtaposition of these two highly refined techniques shows their creative range and the potential of the abalone. Both are so rich in texture and flavour that each bite is a privilege.
Dish after tantalizing dish is served. Chef Jackie’s fresh water eel, steamed and grilled crisp, is accompanied by an orange salt made from mud crab roe, and is the most luxurious unagi I’ve ever tasted. A vibrant and colourful bowl of spotted garoupa with crab roe in dashi gelee quickly follows. Another feast for the senses: Bincho Charcoal Grilled Wagyu beef. Chef Jackie serves both Hokkaido beef and Kobe A5. There’s that unmistakable sensation of the marbled and robust wagyu, but for the cynic in me, the Chef produces the paperwork to satisfy my doubts of its authenticity. Not only does he offer the best, he knows how to prepare it too. We might well be in a Michelin star restaurant in Tokyo.
While Kung Fu tea is prepared for us, and we are told about its benefits to our blood circulation, my attention is on the elaborate bottle of Remy Martin Louis XIII Cognac. First introduced to Ontario on this evening at Shoushin, it will be officially available this winter. On behalf of Remy Martin, Olivia Tran dons white gloves to show us this rare black crystal canter of cognac. Around the room, esteemed guests including hockey great, PK Suban, are enrapt as Tran shares with us that while the glass is shaped for us to inhale before we sip, we should never go straight for the nose. Like a bouquet of flowers, we should first hold this luxurious jewel to our chest. It took four generations of cellar masters over one hundred years to produce this beautiful, satiny, aromatic cognac that sweetens with each sip.
Where else could a sushi chef have the confidence to pair each dish with the finest sake and the finest cognac for the most discriminating diners? When I’ve asked the most admired chefs in Ontario if they know of Shoushin, they all reply, “Of course, I’ve been there.” Word of Chef Jackie Lin’s talent has traveled quickly. Toronto has never before known a Japanese restaurant quite like this. His star is on the rise.
Shoushin, 3328 Yonge St., 416-488-9400
Judy Cuisine, 550 Highway 7 East, 905-762-1888
Adam Waxman is an award winning travel journalist focusing on food, wine and well being. As well as an actor in film, television and formerly, the Stratford Festival, he is the Associate Publisher and Executive Editor of DINE and Destinations magazine.