Through the good shots and, sometimes, the not so good, our restaurant critics tell you about their experience, introduce the team in the dining room and in the kitchen, while explaining what motivated the choice of the restaurant. This week: Nikkei, where the flavors of Japan and Peru meet.
A few weeks ago, Nikkei celebrated its first anniversary. An opportunity to return to visit this establishment installed in the fire café Les Entretiens, diversifying the offer of the charming Petit Laurier district with its Nikkei cuisine. Nikkei is the name given to this fusion of Peruvian and Japanese cuisines, born in Peru, a country whose rich gastronomic landscape was shaped by numerous waves of immigration, including that of the Japanese, at the beginning of the 20th century.
Slowly, but surely, the Barranco group is making its mark on the Montreal restaurant landscape. Fidel M. Vasquez and his partners opened Barranco, a popular Plateau establishment specializing in Peruvian cuisine, in 2021. With the Nikkei, they wanted to offer a slightly more sophisticated dining experience. They are working on other projects, including the opening of a central kitchen. The group has the particularity of working with two executive “co-chefs”, Michelangelo Miceli and Daniel Silva, who together imagine the menus of the two establishments, a fruitful collaboration. Facundo Ayala takes care of the management of the Nikkei while Jeremy Escolano signs the impressive cocktail menu.
Rarely, Nikkei is open seven days a week. I go there on a hot Tuesday evening, with the lover. Sitting at the bar, we have plenty of time to admire the meticulous work of mixologist Jeremy, who concocts one sophisticated cocktail after another. Thirsty!
To accompany the liquid menu, the chefs have imagined a fairly short menu, which changes over the year, made up of small dishes calling for sharing. In this hot and humid summer, the freshness is at the rendezvous.
Ceviches and tiraditos share the spotlight. The first, more traditional, comes with its plump cubes, and the fish is “cooked” in a very tangy marinade. The Maguro ceviche, made with yellowfin tuna, offers intense, saline flavors: leche de tigre with panca (a Peruvian chili pepper), small cubes of marinated daikon, sliced radishes, mujjol caviar and red onions make up the plate. Without being bad, the marriage of flavors does not seduce us. We prefer the tiradito Kari Kari, better balanced, with interesting contrasts. The salmon, in thin slices, is semi-cooked, lightly torched. Bright sunny yellow, leche de tigre (typical marinade of Nikkei cuisine, bomb of flavors based on various herbs, here with ajì amarillo pepper) is eaten with a spoon and we love the touch of crunch: fried anchovy threads with mirasol, a dried Peruvian pepper. A minimalist dish, which works wonderfully well.
Nigiri de res is a game around the traditional Japanese dish, but here the raw fish is replaced by a tataki of torched filet mignon, made particularly tasty with its togarashi crust (mixture of seven Japanese spices) offering a smoky taste and lots of flavor. umami. Placed on a sushi-style rice ball, it is topped with chalaquita, a slightly spicy Peruvian salsa, and rayunnaise (a tasty mix of rayu, a Japanese spicy oil, and mayonnaise). The three bites are devoured in a few moments and we have to refrain from ordering a second round.
Among our other favourites: Atun’s tron shi to, a yellowfin tuna tartare topped with cute kumquats candied in syrup, which are placed in nori sheets to make one bite, and the dish shishito bonito, where shishito peppers pair perfectly with crunchy snow peas, all topped with dried bonito flakes, a fermented and smoked fish, a Japanese specialty.
In the sweet finish, the yuzu tartlet offers a variation around the Key lime pie, in a deconstructed way. The whipped cream and pastry cream are delectable and the citrus fruit is very present. But the shortbread cookie was a little too tough under the fork.
The cocktail menu alone is worth a stop at the Nikkei. The choice is vast, original, very elaborate. Some creations have no equal in Montreal. Several are inspired by classics, with a Peruvian or Japanese twist, for example the Käwa Fasshon, a Japanese Old Fashion (Japanese whiskey, Hinoki, a woody bitter, and kuromitsu, a black sugar molasses), very successful. Or the refreshing Yüso Lúz, perfect balance of acidity and bitterness with its mixture of mango and kefir, enhanced with cachaça (a Brazilian alcohol), Aperol, Peychaud and prosecco. There is also a nice selection of non-alcoholic cocktails! The place offers an interesting list of privately imported sakes. On the wine side, the choice is more limited and conventional.
Small dishes run around $15. For fish dishes (ceviche, tiradito, tartars), count from $20 to $30. Cocktails start at $16.
Nikkei is open seven days a week from noon to 11 p.m. Reservations recommended – except on the terrace, where it is first come, first served, weather permitting. Very few vegetarian dishes, but pescetarians will be satisfied. Easily accessible to people with reduced mobility.