Too exotic for Kitchener

An izakaya is a type of Japanese drinking establishment that serves food to accompany drinks; traditionally it is where many Japanese salarymen would seek refuge to drink their sorrows away till dawn. I generally adore izakayas. There are many located in Toronto that offer tapas-style menus and sometimes location-specific dishes. This really allows groups of all sizes to share and experience creative food options that contribute to a great meal conversation.

Kinkaku started out as an izakaya when it first opened in April 2014, but switched quickly to an all-you-can-eat menu due to the Kitchener-Wwaterloo population’s lack of exposure and acceptance to the exoticness of an izakaya menu. Upon viewing Kinkaku’s Facebook page, evidence of an earnest but unfruitful effort in creating an authentic izakaya is clearly documented from pictures of lobster sashimi specials, ramen, and their previously hand-written “market fresh” daily menus. Lack of social media support could have also been an issue (photos have an average of less than 10 likes).

The massive liquor bottle display rack at the entrance creates a solid first impression, while the ambience is great for romantic dates and special occasions with friends or loved ones. The lights are dimmed and the heavy wood overtones create a soothing environment.

By tradition, diners are greeted with a loud “irasshaimase,” meaning hello, by restaurant staff in unison. Kinkaku tries to mimic this custom. However, being non-Japanese natives, the chant I received felt unnatural and lacked the sense of team unison. The service staff is mostly friendly and service is adequate, although stiff and slightly unnatural at times.

The all-you-can-eat method is undeniably more cost effective and helps ease the challenge of pricing menu items by charging a set price for everything. Unfortunately, now that it no longer serves regular menu items, the previously slightly more intriguing options like the ankimo (monkfish liver) and baked oyster have since been replaced with uninspiring attempts of a variety of rolls and the underwhelming Kaki Frai; a peanut sized deep-fried oyster limited “exclusively” to one piece per lucky customer.

<strong>Highlights of the meal</strong>

The chicken skewer was nicely grilled; the outer exterior was crispy yet keeping the meat juicy and flavourful.&nbsp;

Ikayaki &ndash; whole grilled squid is a must order; the whole squid is served from head to tentacles; this added to the impression of freshness. It was soft and juicy with a nicely grilled taste

The calamari was wrapped in an excellent batter that was crispy and served as a nice contrast between the soft and a little chewy squid &ndash; great as an appetizer.

The fried chicken wings is also a notable mention with its wasabi powder seasoning, which gives a nice refreshing zest leaving a flavourful aftertaste.

The takoyaki (octopus balls) had excellent texture; slightly crisp outer while the inside was soft and mushy.&nbsp;

<strong>The bad</strong>

The beef Carpaccio tasted oddly like cheese; I assumed this was served from frozen packaging and I was left with a mildew aftertaste.

The Spanish style pan-fried shrimp tasted undercooked; I asked the waitress and she said it was supposed to be tender, but if you ask me maybe the chef forgot to properly defrost it before throwing it into the pan.

Deep-fried Mars bar, which I thought the appeal of would have died after the CNE was over. Unfortunately this lackluster deep fried Mars bar tasted and looked like someone had found it under their bed and served as-is.

For savvy eaters, there are lunch specials that feature take-out bento box sets at $6.99 for their chicken teriyaki option, and $8.99 for the pork or spicy chicken option. The 100 per cent certified Angus beef teriyaki bento box is also available at $11.99.

It is hardly surprising that Kinkaku would succumb to the all-you-can-eat route; given Kitchener&rsquo;s meager food scene and lack of support for high end food establishments, it&rsquo;s definitely hard for a place that previously served four pieces of raw shrimp for $12 to find customers willing to pay, let alone eat it. I like Kinkaku a lot better than the other sell-out AYCE alternatives but unfortunately Kinkaku fails to raise the bar.