What’s on the menu at Mhel, Bloorcourt’s new spot for Japanese-Korean small plates and sake

What’s on the menu at Mhel, Bloorcourt’s new spot for Japanese-Korean small plates and sake

Mhel means anchovy

A spread of Japanese and Korean small plates at Mhel

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Name: Mhel
Contact: 276 Havelock St., @mhelisanchovy
Neighbourhood: Bloorcourt
Owners: Min Yi and Hoon Ji
Executive chef: Hoon Ji (Pompette, Grey Gardens)
Accessibility: Not fully accessible
 
Before husband-and-wife team Hoon Ji and Min Yi opened Mhel, they spent six months in Korea, immersing themselves in the dining scene. Ji staged at a seafood-heavy izakaya in Seoul called Ichie. Meanwhile, Yi, who used to manage the now-closed Early Bird Coffee, worked the front of house at the two-Michelin-starred Joo-Ok, inside Seoul’s Plaza Hotel.

Min Yi and Hoon Ji, co-owners of Toronto's Mhel
Owners Min Yi (left) and Hoon Ji

It was all leading up to their main culinary mission. “We always knew we wanted to open a space that served what we like to eat and drink at home—Korean and Japanese food and a lot of sake,” says Yi. When they moved back, it took a while to find the right space: an intimate, one-room restaurant where they could rotate the menu as often as possible and build relationships with their regulars.

After a long search, they finally signed a lease this past May and called their restaurant Mhel. This means anchovy in the Jeju dialect, spoken in the Korean city of Dangjin, where Yi’s mother was born and raised. “Many older Koreans from the countryside have memories of sitting down to clean anchovies with their families,” she says. “We wanted to call back to that history. Plus, it’s easy enough for English-speakers to pronounce.”

The door at Mhel, at new snack and sake bar in Toronto's Bloorcourt neighbourhood

The food

A regularly rotating selection of meticulously executed Korean and Japanese small plates, with a strong focus on local producers. In fact, if anyone were to approach Ji and ask what’s on the menu next week, he wouldn’t be able to tell them: the daily selection is structured around what Mhel’s suppliers (Tamarack, Aldergrove and Kuramoto Farms, Affinity and Oroshi Fish, and Linton Pasture Pork) happen to drop off on a given week. Local ingredients are supplemented with high-quality imports, like wild sesame from Korea and koshihikari rice from Japan’s Shimane prefecture.

A selection of Korean-Japanese small plates and a highball cocktail

The selection changes nearly every day, though there are some staple items: there’s always rice, saikyoyaki (miso-marinated fish), napa cabbage kimchi made by Ji’s mother, and something simmered in gorgeous house-made dashi (most recently daikon and tofu). “Most of our dishes are not original endeavours,” says Yi. “We try to stay true to the spirit of what’s typical of bars in Korea and Japan. That’s how we can adapt so quickly to available produce.”

Anju, or Korean drinking snack—a mix of ripe, candy-like persimmons, tofu, sesame, peppery mizuna and wild apples from Tamarack Farms.
Here we have the day’s anju, or Korean drinking snack—a mix of candy-like ripe persimmons, tofu, sesame, peppery mizuna and wild apples from Tamarack Farms. It’s sweet, delicate and tantalizingly moreish. $10

 

A serving of napa cabbage kimchi at Mhel
Classic napa cabbage kimchi with scallions, daikon, gochugaru and fermented shrimp, made by Ji’s mother. “She pays a lot of attention to the salting process so it stays really crisp,” Ji says. This batch is about two weeks old. $8

 

Pressed organic tofu, marinated in miso and served with iburigakko, a smoked daikon pickle
This is pressed organic tofu, which is marinated in a house miso blend for five to 10 days and served with iburigakko, a delicious smoked daikon pickle from Japan’s Akita prefecture. Iburigakko is often served with cream cheese in Japanese izakayas—here, the aged tofu takes on a creamy, spreadable texture to mimic the effect. $8

 

The week's dashi-based dish at Mhel, a new restaurant in Toronto for Korean and Japanese small plates
The week’s dashi-based dish features Kuramoto Farms daikon cooked in rice water to remove any bitterness and soaked in delicate, umami-rich dashi for four to six hours. It’s served with tofu that’s been salted and pressed overnight, grilled over charcoal and also soaked in dashi, then topped with yuzu miso and fresh yuzu zest. It arrives in a pool of that very same house-made ichiban dashi, which means the “first stock”—as opposed to niban dashi, a mellower type made from the spent ingredients of ichiban. $17

 

A closeup of Mhel's daily dashi dish
Here’s a closer look

 

Mhel chef Hoon Ji grates mazuma wasabi
Here, Ji is pictured grating mazuma wasabi from Shizuoka prefecture, Japan’s top wasabi-producing region

 

Local lake trout from Affinity Fish cooking over the charcoal grill at Mhel in Toronto
Local lake trout from Affinity Fish cooking over the charcoal grill

 

Lake trout from Affinity Fish, marinated in miso, grilled over charcoal and brushed with mirin
The trout is marinated in a two-miso blend for about seven days, grilled over charcoal and brushed with mirin for sweetness and gloss. The aging process concentrates the flavour of the fish without making it “fishier”—instead, it tastes clean, buttery and perfectly seasoned. It’s served with freshly grated mazuma wasabi and crunchy, slightly sweet pickled mustard greens from the summer. $28

 

Mhel's onigiri ochazuke, koshihikari rice stuffed with black garlic and caramelized onions
Here we have onigiri ochazuke, where koshihikari rice from Shimane prefecture is stuffed with deeply savoury black garlic and caramelized onions, shaped into a ball and grilled to a pleasant crisp. It’s served in a pool of umami-heavy ichiban dashi with scallions and a generous pile of grated pecorino romano. $15

 

A closeup shot of Mhel's onigiri ochazuke
And here’s the finished dish

 

The dashimaki tamago at Mhel, a snack and sake bar in Toronto
Pictured in the middle is dashimaki tamago. It’s a tender, pillowy rolled omelette made using eggs from Clover Croft Farms of Linton Pasture Pork and seasoned with white soy and dashi. It’s served with shichimi, a flavourful, aromatic blend of spices including chili, orange peel and sesame. $15

 

A bite of Mhel's rolled omelette dipped in shichimi
A bite of the rolled omelette dipped in shichimi
The drinks

These dishes go beautifully with sake, which makes up the bulk of the drink list and is available in a wide array of styles and varieties. Mhel’s selection includes dozens of bottles, and Yi and Ji will happily suggest pairings. There’s also Asahi, a couple of highballs and, for a non-alcoholic option, refreshing sparkling teas from Nippon Sake.

A selection of sake available at Mhel in Toronto
Just some of the current lineup of sake bottles

 

Mhel co-owner Min Yi pours sake into a small cup
Here, Yi pours a serving of sake, which makes up the majority of Mhel’s beverage menu.

 

The ume-peach highball cocktail at Mhel in Toronto
This is the fruity ume-peach highball, one of only two cocktails on the menu. $15

 

A selection of non-alcoholic sparkling teas from Nippon Sake
A selection of sparkling teas from Nippon Sake: an uncompromising non-alcoholic complement to any meal. $13 each
The space

The room is warm, minimal and intimate, with 12 bar seats in front of the open kitchen and a handful of adjoining four-tops. It’s an earthy palette with gorgeous wood finishes, a cucumber-green statement wall and touches of greenery throughout. Intricate ceramic dishware from Korea and Japan lends a distinctive touch to each meal.

The dining room at Mhel, a new Asian snack and sake bar in Toronto

Counter seating at Mhel, a new restaurant in Toronto for Korean and Japanese small plates and sake

A look behind Mhel's bar and inside the fridge, which is stocked with sake

Some four-top tables inside Mhel's dining room

The exterior of Mhel, a new Asian snack bar in Toronto

A sign outside of Mhel, a Korean-Japanese snack bar in Toronto