Hanmoto (Toronto)

Hanmoto Toronto

Hanmoto is laid back and chill with a slight hipster vibe (but not too much plaid). The dining room seats less than 30 and is decorated in a mismatched “I’m not going to be impressive” manner, the service is attentive but not over baring (they’re not rushing you out of the small place) and even the cocktails go down easy. 

The Arisaka sour ($12) a light concoction of citrusy yuzu, refreshing cucumber, green tea, gin and soda. While the North Town Hashi ($12) just a tad sweeter from the Asian pear that’s balanced with bitters having an almost Amaretto and brandy taste.

The menu is small; with a table of four you can likely order it entirely. My favourite was the salmon aburi ($10), a mound of sushi rice wrapped in diced salmon and tobiko before being blow torched – the method du jour in Japanese cooking. Scallions and a bit of teriyaki (?) finish off the dish with a basket of crisp nori on the side so you can make your own hand rolls. I liked the lighter use of condiments, which allowed the melting smokiness of the salmon to become the prominent taste.

Aburi salmon

On the other hand, the hamachi tartare ($12) is more about what comes with it (avocado, sweet chili sauce, ponzu, shiso, cilantro, fried garlic slivers and nori) than the neutral fish itself. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing given the dish was delicious and packed with flavours & textures to start off the meal.

Inevitably, all dishes at Hanmoto is rich and flavourful. The dyno wings ($8), a well-publicized offering, takes de-boned chicken wings and stuffs them with a pork dumpling filling. Thankfully, the chef shows some restraint and doesn’t over salt the filling… although I would have liked some vegetables (chives, bok choy or cabbage) to lighten and add contrast. The deep fried wing was hot, crispy, juicy and delicious; smothered in mayo, green onions, cilantro and chili.

After reading Chris Nuttall-Smith’s review, we didn’t bother asking for a knife to split the katsu bun ($7). Honestly Hanmoto, just invest in some knives! It’s unreasonable to expect diners to want an entire bun to themselves and splitting the thing with chopsticks is a messy endeavor.  

Within this katsu the pork chop was replaced with a thick slab of pork belly, which had its marbled areas but plenty of meat as well. Covered with panko and then deep fried, it’s crispy and tender. With a sweet glaze and sitting on top a mound of Thousand Island/tartar sauce dressed iceberg lettuce, the dish combines the Filet o'fish and Big Mac in one. The pan fried coco bread, thinner and smaller than the pork belly, didn’t stand a chance at keeping the sandwich together.

Even Hanmoto’s vegetables would make a dietician blush. The enoki arrives with a pat of miso butter ($7), once melted leaving the crunchy mushrooms in a pool of oil. Some ponzu is added and its sourness does help cut the greasiness, the fresh scallions even more. Personally, I feel the butter and even the ponzu wasn’t required as these detract from the delicate mushroom; it would have been nice to have a lighter diluted miso sauce to add flavour without drowning it.

The salmon face ($12) is exactly as it sounds: a halved salmon head grilled and then covered with mounds of greenery (lettuce kimchi and a scallion slaw). You need to do some digging, but you’ll eventually find the fish.

Of all the dishes, this one is passable unless you love sucking on fish bones. Perhaps I was thinking of the jowl, which is much meatier, but there was little salmon meat in the dish itself. Moreover, since it was cooked to a medium doneness (something I normally like) it did make it hard to remove from the bone – even the prime cheek was hard to take out, turning into a stringy mess. A touch more time on the flames would help.

Their sole dessert is the miso ice cream ($7) made of a rich sweet base of condensed milk. It’s then balanced with white miso and nori dust to add a savoury element to the dessert. The toasted puffed rice spheres was a great addition, adding a satisfying crunch. As a warning, the dish is rather rich so you’ll want to share it.

Overall, Hanmoto creates inventive dishes not normally found at other izakayas and builds lots of tastes and textures into each one. Despite a small menu, there are many tempting options. It would be nice to have the menu expanded to incorporate a couple of simpler dishes. Everything was so heavy that by the latter half of the meal, I was craving something to help balance it out - the kimchi lettuce with the salmon head was a good start and could easily be sold by itself.

There are bigger problems than having too many strong flavours and lavish dishes. After all, a lackluster menu would be even worse. Lucky for Hanmoto, dull tastes is not a challenge they are plagued with.  

Overall mark - 8 out of 10

How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 2 Lakeview Avenue

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Gastro World's Grading System

  • Anything under 5 - I really disliked and will never go back
  • 6 - 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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