Café Sardine is now an izakaya

This week, Café Sardine began transforming itself into an izakaya at night.

Sardine 1
Tonkotsu ramen

Yes, you read that right. As of three days ago, Café Sardine has been undergoing a nightly transformation. At 6 p.m., it morphs into Iwashi (“sardine” in Japanese), an izakaya. Its baristas are replaced with Chef Hachiro Fujise, formerly of the Toronto outpost of Guu, and the donuts, espresso and lunch menu disappear to make way for Asian-inspired cocktails, Japanese pub grub and glorious, steaming bowls of ramen. Oh, and this being Mile End, Pabst tallboys are also on offer.

Pickled vegetables
Pickled vegetables

The “pop-up,” as they’re calling it, is confirmed for the next few months, and could become permanent should demand warrant it. (If one customer’s exclamation of “Oh, my God! My studio is right over there. I’m so excited!” is any indication, demand in Mile End will warrant it.)

But before you get out of line at Kazu, understand that the menu is about as small as the place itself. There are twokinds of $12 ramen and a handful of $5–$12 small plates of traditional izakaya fare with unique touches, like the addition of sour sea buckthorn berries to a mackerel dish. The fried chicken (karaage) and ramen can also be ordered to go at a slightly cheaper price.


Sardine does a good job of switching identities, and the dark lighting, chill music and energy of the staff — who issue a chorus of Japanese greetings the second you walk through the door — make you want to get your drink on.

Three days in is too soon to review a restaurant, but we’ll say one thing: this ramen is legit. The butakim ramen is topped with a pork and kimchi stir-fry, while the tonkotsu features a pork- and smoked-mackerel-infused broth and thin, fatty strips of pork. They’re both shining examples of the flavour bomb that is real ramen, though I preferred the intensely smoky and salty tonkotsu, which tasted like bacon in liquid form. The crispy, fatty karaage was similarly addictive, and a plate of pickled vegetables cut the fattiness with nice crunch.

Izakayas are only going to become more ubiquitous, and with good reason: They’re a lot of fun. But the after-work crowd is going to eat this one up, so we suggest you check out Iwashi before the line-ups get out of control.

Iwashi/Café Sardine
9 Fairmount E.
Alcohol: Duh
Vegetarian-friendly: If you’re a vegetarian who’s really a pescetarian.
Wheelchair-accessible: No
Cafe Sardine on Urbanspoon

Leave a Reply