CLOSED: Skippa (Toronto)

How do I know a meal is going to be one of my top picks? It’s a twinge of sadness I feel at the end: signifying the experience is over and I’m uncertain when it’ll happen again. Oh yes, Ian and Kati Robinson’s Skippa is that good. It’s where you go for upscale sushi for under $100 (taxes and gratuities included) and the chef isn’t scary like Jiro.

In fact, Skippa’s vibe is laid back – an open kitchen so you can see what Ian and team are doing, Kati at the pass calling out orders. There’s no military responses of “yes Chef!”, instead the kitchen working as a well-oiled machine, Ian going around to answer questions and have a taste of broth when he’s not busy creating the sushi piece-by-piece.

Right after ordering, a slice of lotus root filled with wasabi infused egg yolk is presented. For something seemingly simple, it’s surprisingly flavourful and perfect for those who liked deviled eggs.

Before getting into the omakase portion of the meal, we couldn’t help but tuck into a couple of appetizers. A freshly made chawanmushi ($7) where the egg is silky and studded with shredded chicken and sliced mushrooms. While the custard was comforting and savoury, it’d be even better if the broth ratio was lowered as the custard broke apart so much that it was difficult to scoop using the small thick wooden spoons.

With two grilled fish specials, we had to try one. The grilled sawara (Spanish mackerel) collar ($5) was fantastic, cooked beautifully with a simple sprinkling of salt. We’re told to add a squeeze of lemon and smear of radish to taste; the citrus was great but I ended up scraping off the too bitter radish. For those who are afraid of bones, there will be a few you need to pick out, but the tender flavourful collar meat is well worth it.

If you’re just getting into “artisanal” sushi, Skippa is a great place to try it. Their omakase ($42) is a manageable seven pieces or you can always order by the piece (prices included below) to make your own menu. Like other upscale restaurants, the sushi is served separately arriving at the optimal hand-warmed temperature. Ian requests us to use our hands; a wet towel is provided to wipe your fingers to remove any rice or sauce residue.  

If you’re not overly hungry, the omakase dinner already includes two smaller starters – a cube of nutty soft sesame tofu with freshly grated wasabi and a sweet broth; and a spoon of soba where the noodle is overdone but the rich kombu broth delicious.  

A taste of sashimi follows, a clean and meaty grouper where I appreciate they include a leaner and fattier cut so you can taste the flavour nuances. Their house made soy sauce pairs nicely given it’s slightly thicker (so coats onto the meat better) and has a slightly sweet finish.

“Each dish is served as it is ready and in no order.” Skippa's menu warns the diner. Indeed, the sushi bounces between lighter and stronger fishes and not necessarily in the order written on the menu. We start with the kinmedai ($4), a goldeneye seabream, which is a light and neutral fish. Aside from the soy, the piece allows you to focus on the sushi rice, wonderfully warm and the optimal sticky consistency, but could use more vinegar.

Chef Ian previously worked at Sushi Kaji, and you can see Chef Kaji’s influences in the Western toppings used on the sushi. The piece of madai ($4.25) reminded me most of Kaji, who also uses lemon, olive oil, and salt a lot as garnishes. At Skippa, the salt is not as powerful and ends with an almost sweet flavour.

Our second sawara ($4.50) takes the Spanish mackerel and smokes it with Japanese hay. It’s very light so the essence lingers in the background and if anything, the most prominent tastes is the kick of radish from the dollop on top. Unlike with the grilled fish starter, the smaller portion of radish works better and nicely rounds out the cool fish.

The sayori ($4.75) is such a beautiful piece of sushi, with the glint of silver skin against the crystal white fish. Also known as half beek, the fish is mild and perfect for introducing someone to raw fish without going the maki route.

I was a little disappointed the maguro ($4) on the menu didn’t arrive. However, the aji or horse mackerel it was replaced with was wonderfully executed, cleaned well so there was no hint of fishiness. Adorned with garlic, instead of the customary green onion, it worked.

Luckily, the tuna did make an appearance in the temaki ($6) handroll. Unlike the other pieces of sushi, these were whisked to each person (rather than by table) and we’re encouraged to eat it right away before the toasted seaweed, sourced from Japan’s Tsukiji Market, got soggy. Undeniably, it was crispy and the flavourful tuna mixed with a spicy sauce so you didn’t even need the soy sauce.

In terms of the use of soy, with each piece Ian either tells you to dip or not. The one flaw of needing to dip is the garnishes make it challenging to fully flip over the sushi so you’re dipping the fish rather than the rice (the preferred method to ensure not too much soy is soaked into the rice). I guess it goes with Skippa’s laid back vibe, but personally think if a chef’s going to be particular about whether sushi gets soy, he should just paint it on for the diner to make sure the optimal amount is on each piece.   

Before the final piece of tamago, we added on the wagyu ($9), the well marbled beef lightly seared so the oil mixes with the sweet glaze and covers the tongue in a rich sauce. Absolutely delicious!  

The final tamago ($2) wasn’t the best interpretation. Perhaps it was due to the thick angular chunk the sweet egg was cut into, but it was too dense and lacks aroma since it doesn’t include the seared portion of the egg on top.

While it’s out of character, I didn’t read any reviews prior to going to Skippa, just a brief “first look” type of article. Therefore, when I heard our dessert options were ice cream and sorbet, I turned it down. It wasn’t until I glanced over at the group beside us and saw them gushing over the ice cream that I flagged down our waitress in a last-ditch effort get the dessert within our two-hour seating window.

Skippa’s roasted green tea ice cream ($5.50) is made in-house and while I’d prefer it harder, the ice cream was very creamy and has the nuttiness of sesame that goes so well with green tea. It’s good, you’ll want it.    

After all that, two hours flew by in no time and our dinner was over. Yes, I felt that twinge of sadness that a delicious meal came to an end, but since Skippa is affordable, it’s also not a once-a-year-only place. I’m already excited to return in the summer. Maybe the space outside will turn into a patio, but I’ll be back at the sushi bar, amid all the action. 
Overall mark - 9 out of 10

How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 379 Harbord Street

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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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