If you’re a foodie in Montreal there are certain local chefs that have helped give this city its superb culinary reputation and if you claim to know the Montreal restaurant and bar scene, then you are familiar with the name Antonio Park. This Korean chef, his culinary training from Japan, puts most chefs to shame, his Japanese fusion restaurant, simply named Park, that’s known for its sushi and Japanese dishes, is the closest that you’ll get to real Japanese sushi in Montreal. Forget California rolls, and kamikaze rolls, we’re talking about delicately crafted sashimi and nigiri with the slightest adornments meant to enhance the taste of the fish, not mask it.
We can talk about his culinary expertise for hours, each meal we’ve had has been better than the last, we’ve been to Park several times, and it never gets old, try the omakase tasting menu, chef’s choice. After Park, Antonio Park then opened Lavanderia, a nod to growing up in South America, and he’s collaborated with the menus at Flyjin and Jatabo – he’s truly Montreal’s golden boy when it comes to Japanese cuisine, he’s running the show in Montreal, and we hope that he’s here to stay. Imagine our glee when we heard that he was in charge of the menu in the newly opened Kampai Garden, a beer garden full of delicious bites, albeit more affordable and casual than his fancier restaurants, and collaborations.
Located in Le Faubourg Sainte-Catherine, this part of downtown is quickly becoming a little Asian town, separate from Montreal’s Chinatown. With the opening of many ramen soup restaurants, dumpling spots, Korean restaurants, Chinese and Japanese restaurants, etc, a new little Asian is born. But Kampai Garden is different, it’s sexier, it’s dark and it’s so very Montreal. Located in a large industrial space, the two floor concept is so big it incorporates multiple pool tables, couches, alcoves to disappear into and bars. You’ll be immediately impressed by the design, but it remains comfortable and inviting.
The menu is not expensive, that’s important to note because Antonio Park imports his own fish and uses only the best ingredients so his name is often associated with a pricey night on the town. This is definitely not the case at Kampai Garden, it is more of a spot to grab a drink with a few high end bar bites, sharing amongst friends, rather than a sit down dinner. Kampai Garden is the perfect spot for a 5 à 7, even their cocktails, which are only available in pitchers, perpetrate the idea that sharing is caring folks! Although you can easily finish the smallest pitcher on your own … and the pitcher is very affordable 😉
Unfortunately, we didn’t have any of the beer, but we aren’t beer drinkers so we stuck to the cocktails! We had two pitchers, the Lucky Peach was sweet with Beefeater gin, white peaches, mint and ginger beer – tasty but sweeter than we like. The winner of the evening was the Local Legend with Absolut Mandarin, hibiscus, red wine, lime juice, yuzu and rose. Very flavourful, floral and tart, there isn’t a ton of booze in this cocktail, so it’s more on the refreshing side.
We were here for the opening event, so they passed around plenty of little bites to enjoy while we drank and mingled. We sighted Antonio Park, as well as well as other well known Montreal restaurant owners and trend setters. Kampai Garden will be popular amongst the trendy 5 à 7 crowd and students, since it’s next to both Concordia and McGill universities. Somehow Kampai Garden’s style and atmosphere makes it perfect for accommodating both of these groups of people.
The first that we tried was the poke bowl salad and it was absolutely delicious! Salmon and white tuna is served with a mix of rice and quinoa with crunchy vegetables in an unagi (freshwater eel) and basil sauce. This was one of our favourite canapés, each bite was very refreshing and bursting with Asiatic flavours. Poke bowls are all the rage in Montreal, it’s the new healthy and fresh alternative to sushi – all the cool kids are eating it 😉
A Diva favourite soon went by, takoyaki, also known as octopus balls were served with the usual eerily moving bonito flakes. This Japanese snack is made with batter, octopus pieces, tempura, ginger, etc. Drizzled with the usual mayonnaise based sauce, each bite was fresh out of the kitchen, very hot and very creamy. We were full and still grabbing octopus balls aka takoyaki as they were being passed around, they were THAT good.
Kampai Garden is part American snack bar and pool hall where you grab a beer, and part Japanese izakaya and cocktail bar. Hence why there are both hot dogs and the Kampai Michigan hot dog on the menu. We only received part of the Kampai Michigan hot dog that was served as a canapé at their event, but you get the picture, it was oozing with gooey goodness!
A Michigan hot dog is topped with a meat sauce with onions, and gooey cheese – at Kampai the Michigan hot dog was delicious and served on a toasted buttery bun that never got soggy. We also fell in love with the fried chicken, aka karaage, a Japanese izakaya dish that’s popular in Japan. This dish is also a nod to American snack bars, Americans love their fried chicken! At Kampai Garden it was served with a sriracha maple sauce, it was the perfect sweet n’ spicy little sauce to go with each bite.
The fried pork dumplings were crispy and full of flavour. Known as gyoza in Japan, these pan fried dumplings are often seen in izakayas, and usually served with a soy sauce based dipping sauce. Other Japanese style snacks that we would return to Kampai Garden to try are the much loved edamame beans, shrimp pogos because we adore pogos, fried oysters with noodles, braised beef tacos, and tuna tataki. As you can see there is a clear fusion of American bar snacks and izakaya favourites at Kampai Garden!
Kampai Garden had a rather interesting dessert menu for this style of restaurant, we don’t usually associate bar snacks and drinking with fabulous desserts. At Kampai Garden the desserts are made in house and served in little containers, we tried the chocolate mousse. It was delicious, with roasted peanuts and chantilly cream. We adored it! Next time we would like to try the passion fruit mousse with coconut and pineapple tapioca, for that Asian feel.
If you’re in the mood to go for cocktails or beer, to share a few bites, nothing over complicated, in a chill atmosphere, then Kampai Garden is the place for you. Have a few drinks, and perhaps you’ll start feeling peckish and order some of their delicious snacks. Who knows, maybe you’ll be lucky and you’ll get a peak at Antonio Park in the kitchen, working his magic!
Tagged: 1616 Rue Sainte-Catherine, 5 à 7, Anotonio Park, Antonio Park Kampai Garden, Bar, beer garden, beers, Cocktails, Downtown Montreal, Fried Chicken, Fried Dumplings, Gyoza, H3H 1L7, Izakaya, Kampai Garden, Kampai Garden Montreal, Karaage, Michigan dog, Montreal Bar, Montreal beer garden, Montreal izakaya, Montreal Restaurant, Octopus Balls, Poke Bowl, pool tables, Takoyaki