Clever Korean fusion, where tradition gets both a nod and a playful wink
Swish by Han is no ordinary Korean restaurant. You won’t find a greasy BBQ bowl in your table, and the menu goes way beyond the standard bibimbap-and-bulgogi fare.
The Wellington Street hotspot is the brainchild of Toronto-born, Philadelphia-raised brothers, Leeto and Leemo Han, who wanted to introduce a bit of Seoul chic to downtown Toronto. The restaurant opened in 2009 and has been busy ever since.
The décor is an unexpected mix of contemporary chic and old-school elegance: lacquered blond-wood tables and vintage steel chairs sit beneath large-scale chandeliers. A mural of kimchee pots runs the length of one wall. It’s sophisticated without trying too hard — a vibe that’s reflected in Leeto’s self-assured wait staff.
While Leeto runs the front-of-house, Leemo is in the kitchen. His mission is to bring a style of Korean cuisine to Canadian diners that’s outside the box. He takes a playful approach to everything edible, from appetizers — “kimchee’d” pears with stilton, anyone? — all the way through to cocktails (Big Bullocks is a Pimm’s-infused special). At lunchtime, don’t miss the Ssam Baap. It’s a sweet-and-spicy dish of DIY lettuce wraps with all the fixings, a Korean re-imagining of fajitas.
At dinner, order from the Swish List, a complete meal of broth, veggies and either beef, seafood or mushroom, followed by a bonus course of rice or noodles to soak up all the juices. The dish is inspired by the chain of shabu-shabu restaurants run by the brothers’ parents in Korea. Shabu-shabu (an Asian version of hotpot) translates as “swish-swish,” the sound made by the meat when it’s being swirled around in the broth. Fans of the Korean staples won’t be disappointed, either. An updated version of tabletop BBQ is available. Bibimbap rolls are a fresh twist on an old favourite. And spicy pork buns pair tangy meat with onion-studded kaisers.
Whatever you order, there’s a refreshing lack of pretension in the presentation that allows the simple, strong flavours to come through. This is clever fusion cooking, where tradition gets both a nod and a playful wink.
SWISH BY HAN 38 Wellington St E. (647) 343-0268.