Meet Montreal izakaya Kyo

We checked out this Japanese bar’s sake, shōchū, signature cocktails and food, too. Report and photos inside.

Kyo Lanterns 1
Kyo. Photos by Barbara Pavone (scroll down for the full gallery)

Montreal has been all about izakaya lately, and Japanese-style pubs can now easily be found across the city, from the Plateau to Old Montreal. I headed to the latter to see if Kyo, located on the ground floor of the swanky Hotel Place d’Armes, was doing the trend justice.

For those unfamiliar with the concept, “izakaya” is a combination of two words: “i”, meaning “to stay”, and “sakaya”, meaning “sake shop.” Basically, it’s a casual pub popular with the after-work crowd in Japan, which serves an extensive selection of drinks alongside a menu of various small, shareable dishes.

Kyo offers both in a unique setting that fuses Old Montreal charm with just enough Japanese touches to make it an interesting space without crossing the line into gimmicky territory.

Whether you sit by a window and exposed bricks, next to the giant wall of sake or at a communal table near the sushi bar (extra points for the tin robot toys hanging out behind the chefs), each spot has something to offer.

Kyo BarIf you’re a sake lover, you can choose from 25 different varieties, including hot, cold and sparkling, or give the sake degustation plate a try. There’s also plum wine, Japanese beer and, my personal favourite, the selection of cocktails made with shōchū, Japan’s take on vodka. Shōchū is distilled from sweet potato, buckwheat, barley or rice and is still not common in the west, making it a unique treat.

The Pinky Ginger mixes shōchū with Chambord, cranberry, raspberry and ginger and strikes a great balance between tart and sweet. Trust me when I say it’s addictive. Meanwhile, the Violette combines shōchū with yuzu, violet and white grape juice and is a standout thanks to a bold flower-y taste that’s extremely unfamiliar.

Chef Terrence “Ding” Ting is in charge of food and although his specialty is sushi, the menu he’s put together is comprehensive and authentic.

If you plan to order sashimi, nigiri or maki, I suggest sitting near the sushi bar and watching the chefs create your meal with the utmost intricacy and attention to detail.

Otherwise, the tori karaage (fried chicken with aioli) and Gyoza dumplings with pan-fried pork and chili-sesame sauce are worthy of seconds, as are the grilled shiitake mushrooms.

The refreshing, tangy scallop ceviche with yuzu is guaranteed to transport you to a land far, far away while the gyutan beef tongue grilled with yakiniku sauce will surely please your adventurous side.

End the night on a high note with a Kyo specialty: cherry bombs. A feminine take on traditional sake bombs, they’re comprised of cherry vodka shooters perched atop chopsticks balanced on glasses of homemade cherry soda. ■

711 Côte de la Place d’Armes, 514-282-2711

[lg_folder folder=”141021-kyo-bp”]