First Look: Skippa is the new sushi spot on Harbord run by a Kaji alumnus


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Image: Yvonne Tsui

Skippa, which is Bajan for “skipper” a colloquial for “captain” is an appropriate name for Harbord Street’s new sushi spot. It occupies the space that was formerly the Roxton.

Chef Ian Robinson’s father is from Barbados and Skippa is also the name of his sailboat. His first introduction to Japanese cuisine (a journey that would lead to Toronto’s famed Sushi Kaji) was through a Japanese woman, who was the wife of his father’s cousin.


(IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)

 

“When I was 15 or 16, she’d make me homestyle Japanese food,” he says. “Simple; what was in season and of course, sushi.” 

That sums up Robinson’s approach to the menu at Skippa. Inspired by the Fukuoka region in southern Japan, the dishes are slightly sweeter, he says, in comparison to say food from Tokyo which is “vinegary and salty.”   

Robinson is hoping to fill a gap in Toronto’s Japanese dining scene. “There’s not much in between all-you-can-eat sushi and committing to a full-blown, 20-piece omakase dining experience,” which are normally lengthier endeavours, sushi’s answer to a chef’s tasting menu.


(IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)

 

Robinson’s culinary career started at Grand Electric. “I always tried to incorporate Japanese flavours into dishes there,” he says. 

Never being one to “sit still,” he was also working two days a week at Toronto’s famed, Sushi Kaji in Etobicoke.

If there’s a common thread in Robinson’s life it’s persistence. In fact when he first approached mentor Mitsuhiro Kaji for a more full-time position, he was turned down. He finally managed to save enough money and returned to Kaji-san with the offer to stage for six months without pay and just live off his savings to hone his craft. This persistence and refusal to take “no” for an answer were the beginning of a four-year stint at one of Toronto’s most widely lauded Japanese restaurants, known for its omakase.


(IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)

 

At Skippa, the omakase menu is more approachable (read, less than $50) which consists of a seasonal snack, edamame beans, tamago (egg), a handroll and the entire sushi menu. The restaurant’s menu is concise – three sashimi offerings, five or six sushi offerings, four vegetarian-friendly appetizers and one handroll.

Kathryn Firanski makes the daily sorbet and ice cream but the team is also in the process of perfecting a mochi recipe to add to the sweet offerings.

While the technique is most definitely traditional, Robinson is playful with his garnishes. For instance, the sea bream sushi is topped with olive oil, salt and preserved lemon — ingredients that you would not normally see on traditional Japanese menus. “I think of what’s in the ocean and what flavours work well with fish,” says Robinson.

Skippa sources seafood from all around the world, capitalizing on “what’s best at the time” so expect menu features and selections to change frequently. The produce is sourced locally because it’s “pure produce, fewer hands touch it” which “allows the ingredients to shine.”

There are no cocktails at Skippa to keep things simple. Instead, there is Asahi Super Dry on draft along with a selection of local craft brews by the bottle. Living Vine consulted on the wine list consisting of one sparkling, one rosé, one red and three whites. There is also a short list of sake, a shochu and plum wine on offer.


(IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)

 

The space has an L-shaped bar with the sushi bar and its front-row view of the kitchen. There’s a harvest table towards the front made from reclaimed sugar maple trees from Northern Ontario by DB Johnson. A blowfish sits in the middle as an accent piece. There are also booth seats and an outdoor patio out front, which seats roughly 20. That’s also where sous chef Dylan Fukakusa-Vickers cares for the herb garden where he grows shiso and mizuna.

Skippa is open for dinner Thursday to Monday.

Skippa, 379 Harbord Street, 416-535-8181


(IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)

 


(IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)

 


(IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)

 


(IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)

 


(IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)

 

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Yvonne lives to eat. She’s known to her friends as the “Ask Alexa” for the best restaurants in cities all over North America. When she's not doing on-the-ground, scrappy PR for TouchBistro, she's a freelance food and drink writer and tells the origin stories, struggles, and successes of restaurateurs – veteran and new.

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