Unfortunately, this article is no longer up to date, as Big in Japan Izakaya has closed its doors permanently.
Big in Japan restaurant opened its doors in 2010 and continues to be very successful. A forerunner of the Montreal Izakayas, it was once featured in the TV show ‘The Layover in Montreal’ by the famous chef, Anthony Bourdain. Here is our own portrait of a unique small address.
The owners, André Nguyen and Julie Bisson (owners of Big in Japan Bar, Maison June Rose, Banh Mi Queen), are children of the 80s and the inspiration for the restaurant’s name comes partly from the 1984 song « Big in Japan », by Alphaville.
They also wanted to open an Izakaya at a time when this type of place was not really part of Montreal’s food scene. André had spent a lot of time in Asia beforehand : « Every Japanese restaurant that opened in 2010 had a Japanese name and offered sushi. » For them, it was important to offer something more relaxed, casual, without going Zen and pure white, like many sushi restaurants of the time.
Big in Japan was meant to be a Japanese snack bar, and a good one at that. The result is impeccable – not at all cramped and everyone feels comfortable. Families, friends, celebrations, business meetings or first dates are here; it works for everyone.
They settled on Blvd St Laurent for a numer of reasons, all circumstantial. The roadworks on this main artery, which we all remember but wish to forget, had just finished and the location was available. Many businesses closed during this period but André and Julie strongly believed in the revival and renewal of the boulevard.
The decor inside Big in Japan restaurant is noticeable for its eye-catching features; designed by Bruno Braën and the couple, the 75-seat space is very original. The influences of Japan, Montreal and the art world can be felt and despite the limited budget, this seems to have contributed to the creativity. The old worn floorboards add that well-visited look together with other items that have come from the closures of other places on the boulevard, including La Frite Dorée. Tables, chairs, red-topped diner stools, the long countertop – it’s an eclectic mix and it works.
In the kitchen, the original and spicy delicacies with their Japanese flavours are thanks to chef Jongwook Lee (Maison June Rose).
At lunchtime, there are lots of noodle dishes to choose from – miso ramen soup, spicy ramen, mabo nasu (spicy ground beef), hiyashi chuta (ramen noodle salad, vegetable & curry croquettes, crispy pork, tuna tataki, salmon teriyaki, and more). The rice dishes are varied, like the miso katsu don (crispy pork), torikatsu don (crispy chicken), teriyaki don (salmon teriyaki), kolloké don (vegetable & curry croquettes), buta don (braised pork), and tuna tataki don (tuna tataki).
The dinner selections have some similarities to the daytime menu plus other items like steamed pork breads, beef ravioli, fried tofu and chicken wings as starters. Sharing plates include roast chicken, and a rib steak with miso and soybeans. The menu remains essentially the same all year round and people often come here to eat only their favourite dish, like we have been known to do – the house tuna tataki – which we think is one of the best in Montreal! We also like tonkatsu.
Big in Japan also proposes some original desserts and milkshakes. There is a choice of two beers on tap, some cocktails, plum wine, a pitcher of punch and four different saké to go with your meal.
When everything is taken together at Big in Japan, what is most appreciated by us is the excellent value for money. The Japanese cuisine is tasty, the dishes are well-made and served in generous portions. « The key to our success is linked to our returning customers. We have customers that are here several times a week, maybe because they get their money’s worth. » We agree absolutely, and the diverse clientele also speaks to eating very well at Big in Japan. Don’t forget to check out the interesting decor.