Since opening in late 2009, Kiko Sushi has carved out a niche on Preston Street, a sleek and busy restaurant with a discerning list of Japanese specialties. But GM Tuan Nguyen admits their drinks menu was lacking. No longer. Last Friday, the restaurant launched an updated menu that sees every item paired with a complementary wine, beer —even cider!
Here’s how they made it happen. Late last year, Nguyen met with sommelier Rene Wallis (formerly of Brookstreet Hotel) to come up with a plan. “He got it right away,” says Nguyen, whose staff prepared some 100 items for Wallis to taste. The sommelier then designed a limited list of pairings, expertly dividing the menu up between tastes. The resulting menu is a triumph — food items along the left side; pairings directly across from the relevant dish. Clear choices, simply put.
Sushi restaurants aren’t generally known for their wine lists. What made you decide to consult a professional sommelier?
It was totally customer-driven. Our customers really help us — they make recommendations and give us ideas all the time. We don’t drink much, so the wine list wasn’t something we felt that comfortable with.
What’s the process?
Rene came in over a couple of days in early December and we made him everything on the menu. Everything! We had about 100 items to try. He really understands the business of restaurants and wine as a combination, so he tasted everything then put together a really great list of wines, beer, and cider that wasn’t too long.
Just before Christmas we had a couple of preview nights where Rene poured flights of drinks to go with different menu items and we asked customers to try them and give us their comments. Rene used their input to refine the list.
Even a limited wine list can be intimidating. How did Rene make it user-friendly?
It’s so simple! The menu items are grouped and listed on the left-hand side of the menu. On the right-hand side, Rene subdivided the menu into different taste sensations. So, drinks to go with barbecue dishes versus grilled dishes, and drinks that work best with fresh and light sashimi, maki, and temaki, versus drinks to match the fresh and flavourful options, which are spicier.
I see you even have one beer and one wine to match each of your lunchtime bento boxes.
It’s nice to have a glass of wine or beer with lunch, so we’ve now got matches for each of the six bento boxes.
Any surprises when Rene came up with the lists?
I’d never thought about matching cider with Japanese food, to be honest. But he chose a cider that’s not very sweet and it tastes great with salty dishes like edamame.