Following months of anticipation, Kanji Sushi and Sake Bar has finally opened on Parkdale’s most happening block. Taking over a corner lot that once housed a Scotiabank branch, Kanji is the work of young entrepreneur Rob Banton, who is joined by chef James Gao (Nobu, Yuzu). While new restaurants on this block are nothing new—both Chantecler and Grand Electric are within earshot—the Japanese fusion resto-lounge is bringing a slicker vibe to the otherwise rundown hipster block.
Banton, a former consultant and health food chain owner, took a leap of faith on the Queen West space, securing the lease before the arrival of the new wave of Parkdale restaurants. Now, after a year’s worth of renos, the interior has been completely transformed. Emil Teleki of Offcut Studio has outfitted the space in a mix of the old and the new: along one wall, industrial lighting has been matched with swish banquettes and rustic benches; in the main dining area, Edison bulbs hang from hefty ropes, illuminating the simple wooden tables as Lauryn Hill pumps out over the speakers.
The menu is a collaboration between Banton and Gao. “Japanese cuisine pairs amazing skill sets with amazing food,” Banton explains. The fusion part comes into play with the sauces, which Gao has tinged with French and Italian influences. The Crazy Tuna Roll ($13), for example, combines spicy tuna with seared pepper tuna steak, avocado and leeks with a wasabi mayo and cilantro sauce ($13). The Fish ’n’ Chip, meanwhile, features a spicy salmon blend cupped by baked potato chips ($5). When we dropped by, the daily special was a trio of tuna: tataki, tartare, and sashimi ($18) (it was called Tuna, Toona, Twonah, and yes, that’s a nod to Tony! Toni! Toné!). For drinks, there’s Japan-inspired cocktails like the Oyama, featuring Gekkeikan sake, Campari and pear juice ($8), and Japanese and North American beers ($5–$9). The sake list itself currently features only five options, but this being a sake bar, Banton aims to offer about 30; currents picks include Yuki Hotaru “Snow Firefly” sake ($11) and Izumi Nama Nama ($20).