As I confessed on this blog a few years ago: a restaurant reviewer I’m not. I haven’t trained to be a chef and, as a mom, I usually go for family-friendly restaurants where the high note is struck, or not, by the creaminess of their mashed spuds. Furthermore, many chefs already know me and give me special treatment, so how can I judge how regular clients are welcomed? To top it all off, I hate to stop the festivities by asking guests to wait as I take pictures “for my blog ya know”, although when others do it, I usually smile at their eagerness.
That said, a recent evening out at Kyo Japanese Bar, a new izakaya-style pub in Old Montreal, was a success from start to finish. The restaurant was full, the food delicious, and the waiters attentive. Since then, I have heard nothing but good comments about Kyo, so my soirée may be the norm.
As you may know, Kyo has taken over the spot left vacant by French bistro Aix Cuisine du terroir at Place d’Armes Hotel (one of my favourite Montreal hotels where I like to play tourist staycation-style). Through ad agencies, I’ve actually worked for Antonopoulos Group which owns several establishments in Old Montreal, writing blurbs for the walls of Nelligan Hotel, ads for the now-defunct Aix, radio spots for Auberge du Vieux-Port, etc. It’s a small world as they say.
Before our reservations at Kyo, my BFF and I stopped by the rooftop terrace for drinks. Cocktails are on the expensive side (says the girl who never goes bar-hopping, so what do I know) but the selection is out-of-the-ordinary, like the spectacular view over the city. I had a blueberry martini that was quite nice, although my friend didn’t enjoy her watermelon mojito quite as much. Not bad, just not exciting. Word to the wise: If you’d like to visit, next summer of course, try to book one of two tables under the canopy at the end of the terrace. Relaxed luxury at its best.
Photos: Place d’Armes Hotel website
With our reservation time fast approaching, we simply took the elevator down to Kyo. The restaurant décor was a surprise, a nice balance of sophistication and rusticity combining brick walls and long, communal wood tables.
Instead of ordering the usual sake bottle for the entire meal, we followed our waiter’s advice and tried the “Sake tasting”, which had us sharing four sake shooters that go from light to unfiltered (clear to milky on the picture below). What pleasure to be able to compare sakes, and what a surprise too. I usually prefer food at its natural best, but the cloudy sake was my least favourite, although I don’t regret trying it. And I will definitely try the sparkling (!) sake on my next visit. Around $20-$25 for 4 glasses, the formula is a great deal, as long as you don’t mind sharing with your companion.
Several tables seemed instead to favour sake bombs as their party starter of choice. Kyo serves its sake shooters perched on chopsticks placed over tall glasses of beer. Waiters joined clients to count down at the top of their lungs, then bang on tables to drop the sake into the beer. The whole shenanigans turned the atmosphere from sophisticated to pub-like in the drop of an eye. And was actually good fun to watch.
Domino-style sake bombs
On the food front, we stayed away from sushi, although you could see them on every table around us. The selection was too limited and humdrum for me, with the usual suspects like salmon, tuna & co. The rest of the menu proved more intriguing with its izikaya-style offering. Following our waiter’s advice again, we each ordered two dishes to share:
• Gomaae: Steamed spinach salad served with sesame dressing. I’ll be trying that one at home for sure. ($6)
• Hamachi Bibimbap: Marinated hamachi with vegetables, egg yolk, gochujang rice and kimchi, all served in the traditional stone pot and mixed at our table by our ever-so-conscientious waiter. ($18 )
• Kyo Soba: Buckwheat noodle soup with tuna, salmon, scallops and wakame in dashi broth. ($18 )
• Scallop Ceviche with Yuzu: Deconstructed ceviche with cherry tomatoes, red onion and leek dressed in fresh yuzu juice. ($15)
From top to bottom, the gomaae and deconstructed ceviche
Since my friend and I lack a sweet tooth, we passed on desserts that seemed intriguing notheless, like black rice pudding, chocolate-matcha bread pudding and yuzu doughnuts. In all, our entire meal, a surprisingly reasonable $80 or so for two, charmed us with its delicate touches and incredible freshness. We left feeling light and satisfied. And with the avowed intention of coming back soon.