Trust the chef. When you head to Paper Crane for a meal, co-owner Erin Dunham urges you, trust the chef.
The Other Bird hospitality group opened Paper Crane sushi restaurant in December 2018 with chef Simon in the space that formerly housed previous dining venture Two Black Sheep. A serendipitous set of events set the ball rolling, beginning with a popular sushi spot in Dundas that was frequented by Erin and The Other Bird co-owner Chef Matt Kershaw. Sad to hear their favourite sushi restaurant was no longer open, the pair were elated when former Dundas chef Simon approached their company to collaborate on a new sushi concept. Knowing the quality of the food Simon produced, the group set to fill the gap in Hamilton for a high-end sushi restaurant, giving birth to Paper Crane.
“I never would have opened a sushi restaurant,” says Erin. “But we did because of Simon. Everything is based on Simon’s talent”. With 28 years of experience, Simon worked in several sushi restaurants, including studying under Sushi Master Nobu Terauchi in Tulsa, Oklahoma. When you ask Simon what makes his food so good, he’ll tell you, “It’s not me, it’s the ingredients”.
With extensive time spent in a kitchen comes a passion for quality components. Simon heads to Toronto for fish daily, choosing only the best for the à la carte menu and the omakase — the chef’s tasting menu that changes each day. The rice is meticulously prepared to complement the fish. Combined with Simon’s skill set, you’re sure to have a delicious meal.
If you want to really savour your visit, manager Drew Burke-Gaffney recommends requesting omakase. “We want to show people in Hamilton new parts of Japanese cuisine”. Enjoying omakase allows you to experience a wide range of flavours, prepared in an order crafted daily by the chef.
Roughly translated, omakase means “I trust you [the chef]”. Both Drew and Erin have seen many guests embracing omakase and choosing that option on consecutive visits as the menu always changes. “You can come back multiple times and it will always be different,” says Drew. Even better, request a seat at the bar to watch Simon prepare the meal. The omakase menu often includes contributions from Chef Kershaw, featuring Japanese-inspired hot dishes.
Because it offers a more refined sushi experience, diners may find that they’re eating fewer pieces. “Smaller portions, more flavour,” says Erin. “The portioning is different, but once people try it, they get it. With Simon’s food, you eat half as much”. Another unique aspect of dining at Paper Crane is the lack of soy sauce. While they do have it on hand, they hold back serving it with most of the dishes, as very few require it. “It’s like putting ketchup on steak,” Drew explains. The chef designed the flavours of the meal and the taste is altered from what it was intended when condiments are added. Once again, Drew and Erin both advise guests to trust the chef.
Lastly, if you do choose to order à la carte, talk to your servers. Everyone working is an expert in their field and can help guide your choices based on your taste preferences. The restaurant also offers several options for vegetarians, as well as a fully gluten-free menu (including celiac-friendly soy sauce) to accommodate various dietary restrictions. Want a suggestion? Both Erin and Drew’s favourite piece off the menu is Hotagai (scallop), with special mention going to Uni (sea urchin), available only on Friday and Saturday.
Manager Drew also has a comprehensive background in Japanese cuisine, having worked in Toronto at several acclaimed restaurants. This allowed him to hone his knowledge of sake and carry that into his work here. Paper Crane carries high-end sake, with blends that begin at introductory level and progress to intermediate. The restaurant also carries Godspeed; a Japanese-style beer brewed in Toronto with local ingredients by someone who was trained in Japan.
Diners will notice the decor has changed since the space held Two Black Sheep, including a new back wall that features dozens of paper cranes that were meticulously hand-folded by Drew and his fiancée. The restaurant consists mostly of a black and white palette, with pops of colour found in the form of artwork created by Erin herself. These painted canvases with epoxy provide a lively backdrop to the meal, though Erin notes, “the art is really the food”.
The Other Bird aims to push diners into new experiences and new flavours and provide a broader reach into Japanese cuisine. Paper Crane allows Hamiltonians to encounter this in their own city.
Paper Crane is located on 163 John Street South. For reservations, please call the restaurant at (905) 525-1001.
To keep up to date with Paper Crane and see daily omakase features, head to their Instagram @papercranehamilton.