Tojo’s Restaurant Curates Innovative Japanese Cuisine with Historical Influences

VANCOUVER, CANADA


One of Vancouver’s oldest sushi restaurants, Tojo’s Restaurant, continues to excel and excite with its gourmet menu. Helmed by Chef Hidekazu Tojo, the eatery is known for celebrating seasonal, local ingredients in its menu and for inventing the California Roll, an inside-out sushi roll filled with crab meat and avocado. Tojo is also the inventor of the BC Roll, a dish which is filled with barbecued grilled salmon skin, flavoured with a rich, savoury sauce. With over 25 years in the making, Tojo’s is an iconic venue, serving the most delectable Japanese cuisine in Vancouver, and its longstanding history shows it. Our Vancouver-based contributor, Geraldine Sangalang from Chatty Bear, stopped by the infamous restaurant to try the Omakase tasting menu, paired with the Sawara Sake Flight.

Image courtesy of Tojo’s Restaurant

Location


You won’t miss Tojo’s Restaurant, thanks to its central location. Situated on busy Broadway Street in Vancouver, Canada, the restaurant is a calming oasis in the heart of the city. Tojo’s is within walking distance of the charming Granville Island Public Market, and the sweeping city views from Broadway-City Hall station. 

tojos restaurnat vancouver

Image courtesy of Geraldine Sangalang

Tojo’s Restaurant Design


The humble entrance opens to vaulted ceilings, chic lighting and a bright open kitchen. Designed by highly-acclaimed Architect Colin Kwok, Tojo’s Restaurant is the perfect venue to impress a date, celebrate a loved one’s milestone or sit beside frequent locals at the bar. Chef Tojo is known for presenting personalised favourite dishes to regular guests, which marries comfort and luxury—the ideal pairing.

tojos restaurant vancouver

Image courtesy of Leila Kwok | Tojo’s Restaurant

The Food


When a world-renowned chef is in the kitchen, it’s always an culinary adventure to allow them to choose your menu. As such, we welcomed the Omakase menu, paired with the Sawara Sake Flight.


Dinner began with Tojo’s Tuna. This is Chef Tojo’s Signature Dish: Wild Albacore Tuna sashimi served with Chef Tojo’s marinade. It was first served in 1974 and Chef Tojo particularly recommends this dish to visitors from outside of Canada. “I think most foodies are looking for something local,” he explains.

Image courtesy of Geraldine Sangalang

When it comes to sashimi, it must be served first and be savoured slowly, “this is the best way to eat it,” he notes. The sashimi was cool and tender as it should be. The serving was a larger portion than I expected for a first dish, and it was satisfying without being overwhelming. The marinade was a balanced blend of citrus with savoury comfort.

Image courtesy of Geraldine Sangalang

A dish of Seasonal Tempura included zucchini blossom stuffed with scallops, BC Spot Prawn, baby carrots and smelt wrapped with perilla leaf. The texture of the scallops inside the lightly fried zucchini blossom was exquisite. Each bite included crunch with a sweet, smooth texture.

Image courtesy of Leila Kwok | Tojo’s Restaurant

In British Columbia, Spot Prawns can only be captured in August. They’re a sweet, local delicacy and the tempura was an exceptional serving of a local favourite. The baby carrots come from Chef Tojo’s garden and they are light and crisp. The smelt wrapped with perilla leaf was a savoury and refreshing sample of tempura. The perilla leaf is not commonly served with Japanese Food in Vancouver and it provides natural somewhat minty flavour to the fish.


Our next dish was comparable to an elevated sunomono salad. Dungeness crab was served with marinated tomato, cucumber, rice noodles, and seaweed. Chef Tojo explained that these vegetables also come from his local garden. The Dungeness crab was selected that morning from a local source and the texture was sweet and rich. This was paired beautifully with the marinated vegetables and rice noodles which could be savoured as individual pieces as they were soaked in savoury, acidic sauce. A delightful salad!

Image courtesy of Geraldine Sangalang

When the Smoked Canadian Sablefish was presented, we were greeted with the incredible aroma of wood used to smoke the fish. Delicately protected with Japanese cooking paper, you are invited to open the cover to reveal the contents inside. The smoked sablefish wraps around fresh vegetables, presented with a light, savoury broth. Chef Tojo instructed us to open the paper, releasing the aroma and then squeeze fresh lime onto the fish. The sablefish was buttery, smokey and savoury. This dish will not be easily forgotten.

Image courtesy of Geraldine Sangalang

Since Chef Tojo started serving sushi in 1970s Vancouver, guests were intimidated by the menu. Our next dish included three single servings of Chef Tojo’s sushi rolls which demonstrated his ability to hide the sushi elements that surprised Canadians back then, providing new dishes with a beautiful presentation: the Tojo Roll (his famous inside-out California Roll), Golden Roll (where he uses egg crepe instead of dried seaweed), and the Great BC Roll (prepared with barbecued salmon skin displayed inside and outside the roll). 

Image courtesy of Leila Kwok | Tojo’s Restaurant

The Tojo Roll, or the inside-out California Roll is served with fresh BC Dungeness crab, which was sweet and juicy. Paired with avocado which has now become a classic sushi roll, Chef Tojo’s creation is not your typical California roll. I was surprised by the Golden Roll, which is filled with Dungeness crab, scallop, wild Pacific salmon, sweet shrimp and topped with fish roe. Wrapped with egg crepe, the flavour of this sushi roll is gentle with the beautiful texture of the fish roe which bursts softly inside your mouth as you chew. The Great BC Roll is a fantastic savoury finish to this dish as the teriyaki sauce brings depth to the silky barbecue salmon skin. Each sushi roll provides a full bite of satisfying flavours.

Image courtesy of Leila Kowk | Tojo’s Restaurant

The humble grand finale included four pieces of nigiri sushi: geoduck, toro, sockeye salmon and BC Spot Prawn. The geoduck has a slight snap of texture when you bite into it, and it provides a clean, satisfying flavour. The locally-sourced sockeye salmon was marinated and slightly torched to enhance its natural flavour. The sweetness of the salmon shines through every full-bodied bite, and the marinade provides a gentle hum of welcome tartness. 


It was no surprise to see BC Spot Prawn served since Chef Tojo is known for using as many local ingredients as he can. Since Spot Prawns are only found in British Columbia for two to three weeks in August, locals can’t wait to find them. The flesh of BC Spot Prawn is delicate and almost translucent, yet the flavour is bold and comparable to the fatty flavours found inside the shells of fresh crab. 

Image courtesy of Leila Kwok | Tojo’s Restaurant

Last but not least was the Toro Nigiri Sushi, a full bite of richly satisfying fish. The natural oils and meaty textures of the fresh toro fills your mouth and it’s difficult to compare this flavour to anything other than the current symphony in your mouth. 

Image courtesy of Geraldine Sangalang

For dessert, we were served homemade mochi with slices of fresh local peaches, strawberries, pineapple, red and yellow beans, served on vanilla ice cream and Earl Grey orange sauce. I am drawn to the bergamot flavours of Earl Grey tea, but they don’t shine through as much as the fresh fruits. The textures and fruity flavours of this dessert serve a refreshing end to a wonderful meal.

Image courtesy of Geraldine Sangalang

The Drink


The Sawara Sake Flight includes Hikomago Junmai (from Saitama, Japan), Shinshu Meijo – Ginpu Issen (from Nagano, Japan) and Yoshinogawa Daiginjo (from Nigata, Japan). This flight is meant to be enjoyed from right to left, and if you should try left to right, you will most certainly be overwhelmed with the sake.


Yoshinogawa Daiginjo has a beautiful fresh melon scent and flavour. This is the most balanced of the three sake options served, and the flavour lingers on the palate with a rich, slightly spicy finish.


My favourite sake served was the Shinshu Meijo – Ginpu Issen. Savour the flowery scent and buttery flavour. This sake is rich yet balanced and pairs beautifully with each light dish. If I found this particular sake, I would purchase bottles as gifts for friends. It’s a delicious and complex spirit to savour.  Yoshinogawa Daiginjo is very dry and full-bodied. The nose is heavy and truly isn’t for the faint at heart! It has a silky, almost milky flavour.

Image courtesy of Geraldine Sangalang

Overall


If you knew nothing about the history of Tojo’s Restaurant and the significance it brings to Western North American cuisine, you would still enjoy the fresh, locally sourced ingredients presented with each dish. Every dish at Tojo’s Restaurant is artful and expressive; savoury and light. The staff are welcoming and are happy to answer questions about the menu.

Image courtesy of Leila Kwok | Tojo’s Restaurant

They also welcome requests for dietary accommodations. This makes sense, knowing that Chef Tojo and his team have been preparing Japanese cuisine that invites local palates to savour and enjoy since the 1970s.

Tojo’s Restaurant, 133 W Broadway, Vancouver, BC V6H 1G1, Canada, +1 604-872-8050, tojos.com


Find out more about Tojo’s Restaurant here