One of the reasons Hidekazu Tojo is a local legend is because he’s always coming up with something new.
Most recently, the master chef and mastermind behind the California roll has introduced Cocktail Hour, a first for the iconic Tojo's Restaurant (1133 West Broadway).
Tojo is collaborating with Jeff Savage—who was named Diageo World Class Canada’s Bartender of the Year 2019 and who has created the libations for his new small bites menu.
What drove Tojo’s decision to start a late-afternoon cocktail-and-canapes service after all these years?
“I love cocktails!” Tojo tells the Straight in the lounge area of his west side restaurant adorned with orchids. “I used to drink beer, but Vancouver has changed so much over the last few years with cocktails. I really like them.”
To eat are dishes like Tojo Maki, a roll with fresh Dungeness crab; Citrus and Sea Salt Wings, made with crispy organic chicken served Tojo-style (as in, not messy); Tojo’s Tuna, the chef’s signature raw, marinated wild albacore tuna with wasabi-sesame sauce (which predates poke); and Miso Mustard Lotus Root. Then there’s Dashimaki, a Japanese egg omelette with ikura and tobiko; fish croquettes; seafood salad; sashimi; and more.
Tojo says he’ll change the dishes seasonally, as he does with other menus.
To go with those elevated nibbles are Savage’s specially crafted drinks. Originally from Calgary, Savage is the head bartender at Botanist at the Fairmont Pacific Rim. As Diageo’s top Canadian bartender for 2019, he’ll go on to compete for the title of Global Bartender of the Year in Amsterdam, Isle of Skye, and Glasgow in the fall.
Among the beverages he’s come up with for Tojo’s are Tokaido 53 (a revamped martini with Żubrówka Bison Grass Vodka, Sheringham Distillery’s Kazuki Gin, and herb and citrus oil); and Kitsune Gimlet, a tart sipper made with yuzu, honey, and Kazuki Gin.
Taking inspiration from a Manhattan, the Salaryman is a potent number that would work well after a lousy day at work, centred on a Japanese whisky blend with flavours of matcha and black sesame.
Garnished with a shiso leaf and umeboshi, or salt-preserved plum, Tojo’s Milk Punch consists of Bank’s 5 Island Rum, shiso, sencha, mint, lime, and clarified milk. The crystal-clear drink harks back to another era, milk punch having had its heyday in the 1700s and first half of the 1800s.
Spirit-free creations are also available, such as Yuzuyu. It’s made wth yuzu, nutmeg, and Seedlip, the world’s first distilled non-alcoholic spirits, made in the UK.
Tojo Restaurant’s Cocktail Hour runs Thursday to Saturday from 4 to 6 p.m. See here for more info.