Shunoko (Toronto)

Shunoko reminds me of Shoushin, before it was awarded a Michelin star and their tasting menus now start at $330. The restaurant quietly opened in the spring and was relatively unknown unless you’ve visited their previous location at Yonge and St. Clair. It’s helmed by Chef Jun Kim whose father and uncle both owned sushi restaurants in Korea.

While Shunoko offers an a la carte menu, it’s their omakase that drew my interest. The promise of twelve pieces of sushi, four “tastings”, and a dessert for only $100 seemed too good to be true. I arrived with lowered expectations and was blown away by the experience.

Best yet, there’s also a $30 wine pairing that’s an appealing contrast to the traditional sake pairings. Chef Jun notes that he likes wine, especially natural ones, and prefers its subtle flavours when paired with sushi. He likes to just crack open bottles with friends, while eating sushi, and see what works. Up first, a flute of light dry cava from Barcelona, a classic wine to pair with fish.

The meal started with a cube of cold tofu topped with spot prawn and ikura (salmon fish roe). I’ve never been a fan of the texture of raw shrimp. Shunoko’s was still a bit gummy, although less so than some establishments, but could be even better if it was quickly poached. The combination of briny ikura and soy was also a tad salty, working well with plain tofu but detracts from the shrimp’s sweetness.

Luckily, the following sea bream with ginger dressing was a hit. The sauce reminds me of the concoction used on salads, excepts less vinegary and having a thicker purée consistency. It goes so nicely with the slices of meaty fish, giving it a warm feeling, even though the dish was served cool – you must taste it to understand. The bits of chives rounded it off so nicely.

The first nigiri of the night was fluke wrapped around sisho leaf and topped with a piece of its fin. A lovely fresh start with a bit of interest from the chewy fin piece.

It’s followed by the chicken grunt, which is the strangest tasting fish I’ve ever had. While it looks like it comes from the sea, it has the taste of chicken, especially the chewiness of its skin. There’s a gaminess to the protein that’s mellowed a bit by the chives but could use something stronger like chopped scallions and ginger. While not my favourite bite, it’s nevertheless interesting to try.

Chef Jun simply tops the sea bream with rock salt, which while simplistic changes the taste of the classic fish. It’s savoury and neutral so that you can also enjoy the warm creamy rice, that has a lovely soft consistency but could use a splash more vinegar.

The amber jack was nice and meaty and had a light spicy essence from the pepper leaf topping it. But what made this piece shine was the French cider pairing. The cider must be aged in barrels giving it an olive scent. Yet, when you drink it, there’s a mellow sweetness that finishes off so smoothly, not like the overly fruity and bubbly canned cider you’d find at the LCBO.

One of our favourite pieces of the night was the yellow tail finished with ponzu and chives. It’s perfect for the warm whether, so refreshing and bright.

If Chef Jun didn’t tell me the next piece was striped jack, I’d almost think it’s horse mackerel as there’s such a meatiness to the fish. All while still having a clean neutral finish.

It’s at this point in the meal that the restaurant seemed to be in full swing, the four tables for two and the approximate nine chairs around the sushi bar were almost at capacity. Given Shunoko offers an a la carte and two omakase menus, it’s quite the feat to juggle.

From what we could tell, Chef Jun concentrates on the omakase experience while the other sushi chef focuses on the rest. The sous chef also fills in as the sommelier, explaining what we’re drinking and how many courses it should last.

The biggest flop for me of the evening was the scallop with truffle oil. Oh, truffle oil, such a powerful seasoning that can work with neutral fatty items but overpowers the scallop until it almost tastes bitter. At least it was paired with a gewürztraminer, the wine’s slight sweetness helps to counteract some of the bitterness. It was a lovely version of the German wine, ending with a buttery finish.

Shunoko’s horse mackerel was so refreshingly clean that it’s a testament to Chef Jun’s expertise. He knows how to prepare and neutralize a cut that can sometimes be so overly fishy.

The following Portuguese sardine was a tad gamier, but when paired with onion helped to ensure any fishiness was offset. Surprisingly, the fish was delicate, perhaps it’s because I’m normally familiar with the packed canned variety. This was paired with a French sparkling rosé, a lovely summery wine to finish the tasting.

Oddly, it was the blue fin tuna that had a gaminess, for what is normally a crowd-pleasing piece. I’m wondering if the chef mistakenly called the cherry salmon, which was listed on the board, tuna instead as this really didn’t taste that much like blue fin to us. If it were salmon, it would make more sense, like a concentrated slice of the fish.

I thoroughly enjoyed the bonito that had such a different creamy finish than most establishments. The lightly smoked fish was topped with ponzu and daikon for a bit of freshness.

Another “first taste” of fish for me of the night (aside from the chicken grunt) was the phantom fish. Despite looking like a traditional white fish, it’s rich in taste – almost like a mackerel and bonito morphed into one – so was aptly adorned with shallot to give it a punch. It’s a fascinating fish as it emits a taste that reminded me of the ocean. Let me know if you try this and feel the same.

Finally, something that actually tastes like blue fin tuna, this piece consisting of the belly cut with more chopped tuna on top! Finished with a light floral shisho flower and rock salt, this was another favourite of the evening.

Shunoko’s miso soup must be made with a fish bone broth as there it’s creamy, rich, and has a slight oiliness. Whatever it’s made with, it’s delicious and hearty, even containing some crispy napa cabbage.

Usually, when the soup is served, the meal finishes and turns to dessert. At this point, Chef Jun comes over to ask if we’d still have room for a hand roll. While I was getting full, how do you turn down another taste? He ended up presenting us with a hefty roll filled with sea bream (?), marinated mushrooms, and sisho leaf so there were so many flavours wrapped into one crispy shell.

Imagine our surprise, when the nigiri procession continued with the last piece – a tamago taco. If you’re worried about leaving the restaurant hungry (I’ll admit, my husband and I usually get something from McDonalds after some omakase meals), it won’t happen here. Shunoko’s tamago was three slices wrapped around rice. It was slightly too cold for my taste, but with its sweetness perhaps its meant to be enjoyed like a custard dessert.

Only, we were presented with actual dessert: a rich coconutty taro ice cream. It’s so creamy and delicious that I thought they would have made it in-house, but we’re advised it’s purchased from a third-party. Boy, would I like to get my hands on a take-home pint. There’s a lovely, toasted taste to the ice cream, perhaps it mixes in crispy coconut chips?

If the above sounds like too hefty a meal, Shunoko offers a “Nigiri 10” menu, which consists of ten pieces of sushi (essentially ten of the pieces that is part of their omakase menu), tamago, and miso soup for less ($67 during our dinner). Best yet, this menu doesn’t require pre-ordering with reservations, so if you find yourself walking by Shunoko and have a hankering for good sushi, you can walk-in and enjoy. 

Overall mark - 9 out of 10

How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 3220 Yonge 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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