- Japanese chain restaurant Tsujiri has opened its very first Montreal location — the largest in Canada.
- From noodles to tea, to desserts, here's what to expect.
- Make sure to try the matcha pancakes!
I was lucky enough to be invited to the newest restaurant addition to downtown, Tsujiri, the 159-year-old Japanese chain that specializes in matcha teas and desserts. The Montreal spot on Crescent will be Tsujiri's largest Canadian store at over 2,500 square feet and will not only be serving up its iconic teas but will also include a sit-down dining area. Since Tsujiri only uses the highest grade matcha tea imported from Japan, I looked forward to tasting some of the specialties.
There is a huge difference in taste between grade levels of matcha. The first time I had a matcha tea, the vegetal and bitter taste threw me. I thought maybe matcha was an acquired taste or learned flavour.
While perhaps it is, matcha made with high-grade tea is much subtler, less bitter, and more complex and full-bodied.
I was able to take a sneak peek at the kitchen and watch the preparation of the signature dessert, the matcha pancake (more on that below), and a chance to chat with pastry chef Chiharu Narushima who explained that everything is homemade and made fresh daily.
So, why the biggest store in Montreal? According to the Montreal owner, "it's a special city, Montreal. Japanese tea should be a very important part of experiencing Japanese culture. We don't see a lot of traditional Japanese shops in Montreal."
He went on to explain, "because of Montreal's French roots, you can find pastries anywhere in the city. We're dedicated to creating pastries with both Japanese and French inspiration."
The decor itself of Tsujiri is bright and lofty, with a modern and simple light wood aesthetic complemented by dark walls. A glass wall at the front of the restaurants offers a view of Crescent.
There are two main sections to the restaurant. The first area is a serving counter and serves as more of a café where you can place your order and sit at one of the group high tables while you sip your tea.
The store gives you the idea that everything has a purpose. The tables themselves are imported from Japan and are a nod to Tsujiri's century-long history. "We wanted the furniture to add something historical. We tailor-made 5 different handmade tables with recycled old barn wood from Japan to make a real historical look and feel that would match our company history."
If you walk through to the back of the restaurant there is another area meant for full service sit down dining complete with a different menu.
The front counter menu is made up of tea, coffees, shaved ice, ice cream, and parfait choices ranging from $4.75 to $8.50. Most options have the choice of matcha or the less caffeinated green tea houjicha.
Now for the food. There was just so much food.
We started off with a popular cake made up of matcha sponge, whipping cream, azuki (a popular bean in Japan that has a close taste to dates, but less sugary), and matcha sauce. It was incredibly light and fresh, and just pretty to look at.
After this, we were treated to two small cakes to go along with the ceremonial grade matcha tea. Tsujiri will always have a fresh rotation of cakes.
The ones featured above were the lemon cheesecake, along with the azuki/matcha layered cake. Both were fantastic, but the lemon cheesecake was perfectly paired with the tea.
Somewhere along the way we also tasted the cold tea. The smell was incredibly robust yet the taste was delicate and even subtle.
The dining menu is currently small, but I was assured that in time it will have additions.
The first dining course was the Tonkotsu Soba which came with sliced pork, chives, leeks, bean sprouts. The matcha noodles along with the creamy broth made this one of my favourite dishes. The bowl is huge. I'm guessing it's meant to be shared between two people which makes its $15 cost not so bad.
Just when I thought it was over, I found out we were only halfway through.
Next up was the Dashi Chazuke, a traditional rice dish with a broth you pour overtop with marinated sesame kombu, tamagoyaki, soba roll, green onions, wasabi, and served with salmon ($14.50) or grilled unagi ($16). I loved the sharing and interactive aspect of this dish and creating your own concoction with the side foods.
Next up was the shaved ice ($7.50), a nice mix of refreshing lemon and matcha with a surprise layer of azuki in the middle. I thought it was refreshing enough without the azuki, but that could just be due to the amount of food.
The Matcha Parfait ($12.50) is a giant. The pictures don't do it justice. This is layers upon layers of matcha infused ingredients with varying textures: matcha soft serve, red bean, chestnut, roasted rice sprinkles, mochi, yuzu cheesecake, cereal flakes, matcha warabi, and hard matcha ice-cream on the bottom.
It's gorgeous but may have been one of my least favourite on the menu. I'm going to write this off as being too full to really appreciate it.
Ah! The pièce de résistance was hands-down the pancake ($15). It's crispy-ish on the outside and kind of wobbly on the inside. The texture is light and warm and melts in your mouth. It comes with houjicha and matcha ice cream and dripping with maple syrup. This is a must-try.
Tsujiri is really focusing on combining both traditional Japanese flavours with western flavours for the food menu. I also found these seemed more like western sized servings — especially for the cost.
Everything from the food to the decor is simple and well done. The restaurant is officially open today; it's a great place to grab a tea or stay for dinner — whether or not you're a matcha fan.
Tsujiri Matcha Restaurant
When: Everyday; 11:30 a.m. - 10 p.m.
Where: 1418 Rue Crescent