CLOSED: Yunaghi (Toronto)

Location: Toronto, Canada
Address: 538 Manning Avenue
Type of Meal: Dinner

Yunaghi serves a wonderful kaiseki inspired menu, offering a collection of dishes with different tastes, textures and temperatures. Each dish is a small presentation of artfully arranged ingredients with vibrant colours and carefully placed garnishes. Having read many kaiseki articles before going to Japan, we tried on various occasions to try it but ended up disappointed as the restaurant was closed, we ran out of time or I fell ill. I only had but a small abbreviated taste of it when we lunched at Hishinuma.

So it was bittersweet when I heard about Yunaghi. In Japan, a traditional kaiseki meal can easily run upwards of $200 a person. But, I was in luck as Yunaghi’s inspired version is only $68 for 7-courses or $80 for the longer 9-course option. During our visit, they were even running a promotion where we received the 9-courses for $68. Trust me, even without the deal, you’ll want to go with the 9-course meal as to miss any of the dishes would be disappointing. Plus, they’re not large so you won’t be stuffed afterwards.

To clarify, Yunaghi’s menu doesn’t follow the traditional series of dishes. Their cuisine is influenced by French ingredients and practices. Items such as foam, pouring sauces (in this case soup) tableside and the desserts are certainly where French elements stood out.

Up first was the sakizuke dish, a small bite to fire up the palate. A slice of hamachi “warm” sashimi, with warm in quotations as it becomes that way once the dashi tea is poured over top. Wrapped inside the delicate fish is a thick sesame sauce giving it an unexpected creamy twist. Delicate masago arare (rice pearls), black sesame seeds and chives are sprinkled on top finishing off the dish.

Afterwards the hussun appetizer platter, a stunning dish filled with tons of little bites – each different and offering a new taste.
  • A small piece of shrimp encased in a ponzu jelly. The tart saltiness of the jelly was refreshing but sadly none of the shrimp’s sweetness stood out, likely on account of it being cold.
  • The saba (mackerel) sushi was tightly wrapped with a smear of wasabi. Mackerel is a stronger tasting fish and I would have liked a thicker glaze on top to balance it out more. Above that was a skewer of cold tender octopus and the flavourful mustard cured cucumber stealing the show. Beside this was a smooth chicken miso pâté wrapped in crunchy lotus root – a great combination of textures.
  • The black sesame tofu was delicious with the silken tofu filled with sesame flavour. Sitting in some sweet soya sauce with a hint of wasabi on top I only wished this was larger.
  • My favourite was the onsen quail egg, where you get a hint of the French sous-vide technique as the egg is slowly heated so that it’s cooked through without being runny. Eggs are so exquisite  prepared like this as you really get to experience the yolk’s smooth creamy texture. On top was some refreshing chive purée, what I believe is steamed gingko nuts and drops of truffle oil.

Following was another lidded dish, which creates suspense as you’re not quite sure what’s inside. In this case, a duck confit dumpling perched on a fennel egg tofu topped with chives, dashi and duck consommé. I love the moment you lift the lid off - while you take in the beauty, you also get a whiff of the duck and truffle oil. The dumpling reminded me of a more flavourful shu mai found at dim sum. The tofu an interesting texture from the addition of the crunchy fennel. After eating everything please pick up the bowl and finish off the lovely fragrant consommé!

The shira-ae, a nicer name for mashed tofu salad, features vegetables with a dressing made from tofu purée. That night the seasonal vegetables consisted of beets poached in a light vinegar so they had an ever so slightly sour taste against its natural sweetness. Crisp peas were great for scooping up the white bacon powder and cheesy grana padano tofu paste on the bottom. On top were sweet almond glass chips, refreshing orange zest and dots of squid ink. I enjoyed the shout-out to Canada with some beets carved to resemble the maple leaf, which we currently find littered on the ground.

Another favourite is the chawanmushi, a delicious savoury steamed egg.  At Yunaghi theirs is infused with squid ink (a popular ingredient) and topped with a variety of mushrooms. There was something added to the mushrooms that tasted like orange peel which I personally would have liked left out. But, the egg itself was silky and comforting.

The fish dish was lovely seared sake and salt cured halibut(?). Around the plate were lotus root, house made ricotta (so light and smooth), wasabi infused sour cream (a little out of place on this dish) and green garlic emulsion.  Every element of the plate was so artfully placed, even the small broccoli like floret on top of the fish.

Following was an upscale take on chicken ramen.  A piece of super tender roasted chicken topped with a shichimi foam. On the side some ibonoito somen noodles, which we were advised by our waitress is a special occasion noodle that’s prized in Japan. With only two spoonfuls of it served I made sure to enjoy every bite of it. Around the plate were also braised leeks, green onions and scallion purée.

It was through this dish our table got a sense that Chef Tetsuya Shimizu wanted each dish presented at its optimal state. As the waitress was holding the soup and explaining it to us, the chef came out and encouraged her to pour it on to ensure everything stayed hot. We lucked out and got to meet and speak to him.

To end the gohan (rice course) of Japanese glutinous rice. Its texture was interesting; although it’s sticky, each grain was still so distinctly formed and creamy. Accompanying it were marinated honey mushrooms, karashi cured celery and dots of chilli ume.

Dessert was the only course where we had to make a decision. Naturally my husband and I got one of each so we could try both. My first choice was the butter milk pannacotta. On top a slightly savoury yuzu miso whipped cream, followed by paillete feuilletine (crunchy cocoa flakes), ending with the rich pannacotta cream layer. It was a salty and sweet, crunchy and smooth parfait.

The chocolate orange mousse would be more appropriately described as a gelatin than mousse.  Most of it consisted of a thick milk chocolate layer, but on top a soy milk then orange layer. The flavours worked well together and my husband thoroughly enjoyed it. Around the plate were pieces of almond brittle, stewed candied oranges and delicious house made marshmallows (the popcorn like clusters). The Chef also added a savoury element to this as well by topping each cube with some unexpected chili flakes.

Indeed, Yunaghi’s atmosphere won’t remind you of a ryokan having taken over the minimalistic space of Ici Bistro. But, the service was reminiscent of Japan where individuals are more than just friendly and attentive – you get the feeling that they truly want to make sure you’re enjoying yourself and appreciate what you’re eating.

For example, my friend recently had to stop eating gluten and dairy products for a short period. As I wasn’t accustomed to these dietary restrictions, no warning was given to the restaurant when I made the reservation.  But, it wasn’t a problem for Yunaghi and they accommodatingly adjusted her dishes (sometimes removing ingredients and at other times substituting them) so that she got the same experience as us.

As a warning, don’t visit starving as you may leave unsatisfied. Each course is small so if you’re looking for hearty portion sizes Yunaghi is not for you. Personally, the meal was not about how much food consumed but rather the overall experience. As each dish arrived I couldn’t wait to see how it’d be presented. It’s the epitome of eating with your eyes first … studying the ingredients and taking in beautiful presentation. It reminds you to be mindful about your food and the chef’s craft in making it. For that, I thank Chef Tetsuya Shimizu for coming to Toronto from Tokyo – my taste buds certainly appreciate your journey.

Overall mark - 9 out of 10

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Gastro World's Grading System

  • Anything under 5 - I really disliked and will never go back
  • - decent restaurant but I likely won't return
  • 7 - decent restaurant and I will likely return
  • 8 - great restaurant that I'd be happy to recommend
  • 9 - fantastic restaurant that I would love to visit regularly and highly recommend
  • 10 - absolute perfection!

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