Kinkaku Izakaya: 105 minutes in heaven

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To be perfectly honest, Kitchener is an area I usually stay away from for two reasons: a) it can be a bit of a hassle bus-wise to get there, and b) let&rsquo;s be real, it&rsquo;s kind of sketchy &mdash; especially in the evenings. However after countless recommendations, I finally decided to make the trek out to the area to check out Kinkaku Izakaya, which had come highly recommended by various friends and colleagues. Being an avid sushi lover myself, I just had to find out whether it deserved the title of &ldquo;KW&rsquo;s best AYCE sushi restaurant.&rdquo;</p>

Walking in, the place is an instant hotbed of activity; customers were already lined up by the door just shy of the weekend lunch hour, peering enviously through wooden slats at the dining patrons as waitresses scuttled around the tightly packed tables amidst the din. Unlike other AYCE establishments, Kinkaku goes for the road less traveled: instead of using paper menus or electronics to take orders, waitresses stand patiently by your table as you rattle off every item that you desire, which can be slightly unnerving with the added pressure of an actual human being standing there as you contemplate which items and in what quantity you want to pig out on. This is a little bit of a hassle as it can be tough to organize, much less remember, all of your orders; however, Kinkaku’s staff deserve a shoutout for letting me order from the dinner menu during lunch hour, as it had a far greater variety of options.

The best way that I can describe what happened next was a lightning round of sorts: of activity, of delicious food, and of eating. Service at Kinkaku was quick and efficient: if your glass of water was empty, they filled it; once your plate was done, they took it away. It was the quickest I’d ever seen waitresses move and they all seemed to move as a unit, constantly monitoring the few tables that packed the restaurant like hawks. You did not come here to while away your time, to stare wistfully outside the window at Kitchener City Hall and its fountains; you came here for serious business: to eat good, delicious sushi, and that’s all (maybe interact with friends a little, but when there’s so much good food leaving the kitchen, there’s no time for idle chit-chat). Honestly, the best way I could describe Kinkaku was like those dream sequences in books or movies, where you get to heaven and there’s a feast of boundless proportions of everything you’ve ever loved just waiting for you, but there’s a catch — you can only be in heaven for 105 minutes. I almost wished I had better eating capabilities as I was sadly outmatched by my mere human limitations.

I tried a great many things during my time there, but my personal favourite had to be the Takoyaki (deep-fried octopus balls). Honestly one of the best I’d ever had — a delicious, rich sauce burst out of the delicately fried ball upon first bite and instantly immersed your tongue; it was almost pornographic in its luxuriance (and clearly still not something I’m over). The tempura was great; the shrimp was a little small, but when it is so freshly cooked that you still feel tiny pockets of oil sizzle on your tongue — that’s a special feeling. The carpaccio, all varieties of fish and beef, were all deliciously tender and coated in a tangy, citrusy sauce; perfectly sliced and prepared, they almost seemed to float down your gullet. Finally, the cheese prosciutto roll: a meat lover’s wet dream, prosciutto cascaded against the velvety cheese and combined with the embedded salmon’s chewiness was a beautifully simple and ingenious roll that I had no trouble polishing off. 

Yes, Kinkaku had a few things that could be faulted. Sure, the karaage (deep fried chicken) was a little too chewy, the sauce that came with the grilled pork cheek was a tad too peppery, and the deep-fried Mars bar was nothing special. However, Kinkaku plays to its strengths, and it’s so clear that everyone there is passionate about what they do, and that makes a world of a difference. I say: go here and be open to trying new flavours, and new ingredients, new palette combinations, for that’s where Kinkaku outshines every other AYCE place I have tried so far in the KW area — or ever, even. I deeply recommend this establishment, and will be sure to return for another 105 minutes in a glutton’s heaven.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

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Price: $16-26 (+$2 on weekends and holidays)

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