Sunday, 30 November 2014

November Round Up

Rounding up November, already.  This year, especially since my move to Canada has gone soooooo quickly.  It's quite scary.  Does mean it's almost Christmas though, so I'll be back in the UK for a bit, woo.  Here's what I've eaten this month in Montreal. 

Joe Beef
Goatsy came to stay and we went to Joe Beef.  I don't need to say anything more about Joe Beef, it's amazing, it's difficult to get a table, I've said it's brilliant enough.  Just when I thought it couldn't get any better, they smashed dessert, just look at this thing, mille-crepe lemon meringue.  No further words required.

Gibeau Orange Julep
Somewhat of a local institution is Gibeau Orange Julep, think fast food served in a big orange.  Literally.  It's cheap and cheerful, the julep in the name refers to a drink which is not entirely a pleasant thing, orange juice combined with milk and a hell of a lot of sugar which typically accompanies some kind of burger, hotdog or poutine.  I got this little tray of delights, 2 hotdogs with all the toppings and I was tasting raw onion for the rest of the day.   Can't say I'll rush back but it's a novelty destination really, situated on an industrial estate, apparently bikers hang in the car park during the summer, so if that's your thing, you know what to do.

Appetite For Books
This is a wonderful book store in Westmount, they have an incredible selection of cookbooks and they offer evening cooking demos, Sarah and I went along to a class to celebrate the recent launch of Yotam Ottolenghi's Plenty More.  We saw made (and then ate) some sample dishes whilst drinking wine.  The onion cake, yes, onion cake, is just incredible.  I'll definitely be making this myself.  Buy the book, go to the store (if you live in Montreal), the classes are just a really fun night out even if you have little interest in cooking.  I now won't have any problems coming up with veggie dishes to cook thanks to Yotam.

Grace, Margaret and I hit Laurea one Saturday night for dinner.  This is a new opening on one of my favourite streets in Montreal, Laurier.  I wasn't sure what to expect from the food, hadn't read too much about it.  It felt very New York in the cocktail bar downstairs, we sipped martinis while some dude played the piano.  Then we moved upstairs for dinner, and I ate this wonderful dish of cod with prawn dumplings in a dashi broth ($22).  Really delicious.  I'll be back for sure, cocktails were good and the food more than lined our stomachs for the night out ahead.  We went down the road to Bar Kabinet but actually ended up coming back and hanging out in the adjoining Bar Lorbeer until it closed at 3am.  Loved both places and the food really impressed.

Balsam Inn
Another newish opening here in Montreal that I made it to this month, Balsam Inn is located very centrally right next door to Dominion Square Tavern.  The decor is really cool, quite clinical and minimal but they have some amazing bits, nice light fittings which are a little different to the generic trendy vibe you see so much of these days.  Long story short, the food wasn't all great, the appetisers were a lot better than the mains, fried chicken was not my cup of tea at all, smothered in a sickly sweet sauce.  But there is a lot of promise, the cheese and flatbread was excellent, the bacon meatloaf was just odd.  Will probably head back after Christmas to try more of the menu, this was just a quick hungover stop off.

Grumman '78
Had a shocker of a meal here with Art.  I had really high hopes due to their appearance in a Munchies Chef's Night Out in Montreal earlier this year. I think it's the most disappointed I've been in a meal in this city so far, especially sad because Art was visiting, and I was attempting to show her the best that's available here.  They had run out of both the wine we chose and the main course I ordered, we weren't offered the dessert trolley (didn't want any of them, but would have been nice to have a look) and it was cold in there as we were sitting close to the door and it was a snowy day.  The food was pretty rank to be honest, bahn-mi tacos and fried chicken with johnny cakes.  Just no.

Another disappointment sadly, the newly opened oyster bar run by Daniel Notkin, the guy behind Montreal's oysterfest which I very much enjoyed earlier in the year.  Nice venue for drinks but the food was decidedly average, the highlight being the chowder pictured below.  We skipped oysters but in hindsight you probably can't go wrong ordering them here.  The lobster burger was the biggest letdown, we asked the waiter to recommend what to eat and nothing he suggested stood out.  Shame. 

Gibeau Orange Julep
7700 Boulevard Decarie

Gibeau Orange Julep on Urbanspoon

381 Laurier Ouest

Laurea on Urbanspoon

Balsam Inn
1237 Rue Metcalfe
Golden Square Mile

Balsam Inn on Urbanspoon
Grumman 78
630 Rue De Courcelle 
Sud Ouest

Grumman '78 on Urbanspoon 

Notkins Oyster Bar
1101 Rue De Bleury

Notkins Oyster Bar on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Boo in New York - Ippudo

Best ramen in New York?  Friends I was staying with reliably told me it can be found at Ippudo.  We went for Sunday lunch at the Midtown outpost.  They've just opened in London, to mixed reviews, but I loved the meal we had in New York. 

So, their thing is that each table is announced and cheered by the staff upon entry, bit weird, but to be honest, not even that noticeable.  I expected it to be very in your face, but I actually think it's quite nice.  Maybe because I was in holiday mode, rather than nipping round the corner from work to have a quick ramen lunch, but people need to lighten up if they find this intrusive.   We scored a much sought after booth as we were a big group and only had to wait about 20 minutes, which we spent in a nearby vintage clothing shop.  It flew by. 

We started with an obligatory Sapporo ($6), mine didn't go down all that well tbh, it was too early and I was 2nd day hanging.  Molly and I ordered exactly the same, starting with agedashi tofu ($10)

This is served in a dashi broth topped with aubergine, radish, spring onion and wasabi.  Probably the best agedashi tofu I've ever had, the lightest batter encasing it, it was quite difficult to eat actually because the tofu was so soft it was impossible to grip with chopsticks.

Next up we went for the Tori tatsuta-age ($9), the fried chicken with daikon ponzu sauce.  This was incredible.  London has some amazing karaage chicken (Bone Daddies), Montreal too (Saka Ba), but this is the nicest I've ever had.  I could have eaten all of this in a heartbeat, but I had to stop to save some room for the ramen.  It pained me to leave any.

SMILEY FACE!!!  The main event being this, the karaka men ramen ($15).  Tonkotsu pork broth, noodles topped with chashu pork, minced pork, spicy sauce, sesame mushrooms and onions.  Optional extra seasoned egg ($2) was added, obvs.  Now, this was not a Clarence Court egg, so clearly inferior but everything else about this bowl hit the spot.  I'm keen to try the London branch when I'm back in December, to judge for myself if the same formula works in another city. 

Apparently these guys invented steamed buns, who knew.  The starter dishes were really standout and the ramen ticks all the boxes too. 

Ippudo, NY
65 4th Avenue
New York

Ippudo on Urbanspoon

Monday, 10 November 2014

Boo in New York - Momofuku Ssäm Bar

The only must visit place for me during my recent New York trip was a Momofuku restaurant.  I didn't even mind which one.  David Chang's restaurants have always been on my wishlist, I'm a regular reader of his Lucky Peach magazine and as luck would have it, I was staying at my friend Suz's place in the East Village, a stone's throw from the Ssäm Bar.  We ended up lucking out and not even requiring a reservation for a group of 6, walking in at around 10pm on Halloween looking to fuel up before heading to Brooklyn for the night.

Starting with drinks, I tried the juniper#3, gin apricot, campari and lemon.  Served unexpectedly in a tumbler, it was short and really tart, great start.  Ellen's choice of a celery sour won, so great.  The scotch based Penicillin also went down well.  Cocktails here are excellent.  

We each opted for some buns ($10 for 2), Nibs and I shared the steamed variety with pork belly, hoisin and cucumber.  Really, really amazing.  I just love these things.  The pork was so succulent and tender, I resisted the urge to order more.  The girls also enjoyed the buffalo pork buns with blue cheese and hot sauce, and some of the veggie ones filled with mushrooms.

Molly's choice of country hams ($12) was brilliant, smoked ham with bread and red eye gravy from the small dishes section of the menu.  Other dishes falling into either raw, fall, fish or meat sections.  Non meaty options at the table included the scallop ceviche ($15) with lotus root, the kimchi mason jar ($5) and a fresh chilled market bean salad ($10) with XO and radish that had an almighty kick to it.  All excellent dishes.

For main I couldn't resist the beef offal stew with turnip and kale ($23).  The broth was fragrant and rich, the meat included tendon, oxtail and tripe.  Also pictured below is the fried moo kimchi with yuzu mayo ($8).  Everything we ate was incredible, there wasn't a single miss.  We shared some kind of pie for dessert which I have to admit wasn't particularly memorable, but it's me, not them.  Desserts = meh when you're in New York for Halloween and you have parties to go to.

I think this place is amazing.  As well as incredible food and cocktail menus, they also offer BYOB, group bookings with set menus, weekend brunch and drinks only at their bar, Booker and Dax.  If I lived in New York (one day yeah?) I'd be here all the time.  Loved it.  Just don't expect the politest service ever, they have a constant stream of diners and need to turn tables quickly so have little patience for indecisiveness or lingering guests. 

'Emojis, assemble'.  Best Halloween ever.

Momofuku Ssäm Bar
207 2nd Avenue
East Village
New York

Momofuku Ssäm Bar on Urbanspoon

Friday, 31 October 2014

October Round Up

Rounding up the month of October, some good brunches were the highlight.  A couple of close to work revisits that are worth a mention, had a great thai chicken meatball soup at Le Local, always a solid lunch choice and L'Orignal refurbished, rewrote the menu and relaunched.  Had a nice suckling pig dish there one night for dinner.  Here's the rest....

Restaurant Manitoba
I dined here early in the summer but didn't take pics, I was impressed with both what I ate that night and with the excellent personable charm of co-owner Elizabeth Cardin (we drank some gin shots together).  I've been meaning to revisit for brunch, which they recently started serving, but bizarrely they're not open on Saturdays.  This past Sunday Erika and I met there, it was really busy, there was a guy playing the cello and we propped ourselves up at the bar for a few hours.  Some people might find the vibe a little pretentious but I find it charming.  There's been a lot of attention to detail in the set up of the place and I really hope they do well.  It's only a 15 minute walk from my flat so I'll definitely be back again and again.  As for the food, it's really inventive.  A chalkboard on the wall lists the daily changing dishes, we both went for the squash spaghetti with poached egg and mushrooms.  I've honestly never had a dish like it.  Prices are reasonable (I paid around £15 for this and a few cups of herbal tea) and drinks are amazing.  If you're in Montreal, go.  I don't understand why more people don't rave about it already.

Dinette Triple Crown
This place has been on my list since before my first trip to Montreal.  Think fried chicken, mac & cheese, pulled pork etc.  They have a tiny little place in Mile End opposite a park, so in non snowy months you can grab a picnic basket and eat across the street.  They also deliver and, although I'm just outside the delivery zone, one hungover Sunday night they made an exception and came the extra distance to delivery to my place, wooo!  So we knew we had to have the mac & cheese, then we each picked a meat and threes, which is your pick of fried chicken, beef brisket or pulled pork with 3 sides.  We shared everything first up was brisket with mash and gravy, creamy slaw and greens.  So so so good.

The second option was 3 pieces of fried chicken with cornbread, sweet potatoes and hushpuppies.  Had to google the latter, they're like deep fried balls of corn batter served with a garlic dip.  It's obviously all hideously bad for you so a once in a while treat rather than a weekly takeout option but I was really impressed with the food.  Best mac & cheese I've had here so far, we got the small, the large must be massive.  We paid around $50 for this, but there was a lot of food.  We also opted for the pear and ginger pudding which was completely unnecessary but really lovely.  This will definitely be happening again on a cold winter night in the not too distant future.

Bar Bounya
I came here for lunch earlier in the year but didn't blog it because it was just a couple of hours before I flew back to London in July, so I was in a rush and didn't take pics.  Went back last weekend with Erika and Sar for Saturday brunch.   For $12 you get a main dish and a selection of treats including a tomato and ricotta salad (ricotta mixed with feta - so good), bread, jams, nuts, olives and honey with kaymak, a soft butter like spread.  This is such a bargain, can't wait to go back.  It's served sharing style on a board.

The main I opted for was shakshuka, served in the dish it's cooked in, it always suffers from the heat of the dish overcooking the eggs and this is exactly what happened.  2 hard cooked poached eggs is not a good thing.  The sauce of tomato, spinach and onions was nice enough, I ate that with more of the bread, but overcooked eggs is one of my worst things, unforgivable.  I do like the place though and you can't argue with a $12 breakfast, I'd pay that again for the cheese alone.

Juliette et Chocolat
I was invited to the Laval store opening of Juliette et Chocolat.  I'd not yet tried any of their cafes in the city, there are several located throughout Centre Ville and the Plateau, and now they're in Laval too. You can read about their story here.  The menu is obviously chocolate based, think hot chocolate, chocolate fountain, fruit covered chocolate, bars, truffles, mousse, biscuits, even chocolate lipstick.  They have a great range of Halloween based treats, chocolate skull anyone?  People visit for desserts apparently in the evenings, I rather like the idea of popping in after dinner somewhere.  I ate so much chocolate on the night that I felt quite queasy when I left.  Speaks volumes of the quality of the sweet treats on offer here, because I don't have much of a sweet tooth at all. 

Bolo Bolo 
I was also invited to a new restaurant opening on St Laurent in the Plateau.  The deal here is meatballs and cocktails.  The opening night was packed so it was pretty hard to get your hands on a decent drink, but there were plenty of meatballs on offer.  They even have a meatball topped bloody mary.  Best thing sampled on the night was the buffalo meatball, there are all kinds on the menu, it's a great location, more of a bar than a restaurant vibe but that could have been due to the launch party. 

La Societe
Before visiting La Societe, I'd read some negative reviews.  I was skeptical but wanted to check it out anyway and I wish I'd skipped it to be honest.  Many online reports told stories of shoddy service, ours was absolutely fine but the food was pretty poor.  It's the worst meal I've had in Montreal, actually a 4am poutine and 'burger club' at Fameux Viande Fumee probably holds that accolade.  Shudder.  Anyway, back to Societe, Lobster bisque ($13) was overly creamy and pretty tasteless, advertised as coming with truffle oil but there was none.  The New York strip steak ($29) I ordered was undercooked and tasteless and the peppercorn sauce was just awful.  Fries and aioli were good and the cheeseboard was passable.  We had a gin based cocktail which looked radioactive before moving onto white wine.  All the effort here seems to have been put into decorating the room, the floor and ceiling are both impressive, but the food really underwhelming.  I won't be revisiting. 

Restaurant Manitoba
271 Rue St Zotique Oeust
Parc Ex

Restaurant Manitoba on Urbanspoon

Dinette Triple Crown
6704 Rue Clark

Dinette Triple Crown on Urbanspoon

243 Laurier Ouest

Barbounya on Urbanspoon

Juliette et Chocolat

I dined as a guest of Juliette et Chocolat

Juliette Et Chocolat on Urbanspoon

Bolo Bolo
3540 St Laurent

I dined as a guest of Bolo Bolo

Bolo Bolo on Urbanspoon

La Societe
1415 Rue de la Montagne
Golden Square Mile

La Societe Montréal on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Le Bremner

Crown Salts restaurants are a big deal in Montreal.  TV chef Chuck Hughes is co-owner and he was at Le Bremner last week when Sar and I visited for dinner.  It's been on my list for ages but it's one of those restaurants that you need to be reasonably organised to visit, as in you can't book for next week but you can probably book a month in advance.  Previously I'd tried a number of times at short notice and it was full.  I was hoping this was a good sign, it's generally not difficult in Montreal to get a reservation, Joe Beef being the exception. 

I really liked the meal.   We started with the burrata with tomatoes and white anchovies ($23).  Disappointing lack of bread again, bread sticks are NOT the same.  No oil, no dip, I just don't get it.  Anyway, the cheese was good, the seeded crackers that came with it were great, so we especially didn't need the bread sticks.  You can see them in the glass in the BG above, their one redeeming feature being that they were heavily salted.  Otherwise, meh, 

Excuse the washed out pics, I've had to brighten them, the place is candlelit to the extreme and my photos are virtually unviewable.  This is the tuna and tahini starter ($19).  Wasn't sure what to expect from it, we were curious about the combo.  It's nice, the contrasting textures were great, little crispy shards of what I believe were fried shallots, and micro leaves.  So far, so good, but nothing wowed.  

We were urged by diners on either side of us to order certain dishes.  Thank you lady to my right who recommended the lobster BLT ($32).  It was one of the stand out dishes of the night.  A slice of brioche topped with seriously crispy bacon, crunchy lettuce and a generous amount of lobster.   Lovely.  Sorry chaps to the left who suggested we get the quail, we ignored you, it did look good though, next time.

Dark and out of focus this one, excellent work.  It was my favourite dish on the night so it's a shame the photo does it no justice at all.  Lamb neck cavatelli ($26), perfectly al dente pasta with chunks of tender lamb and a rich meaty sauce.  Seriously good but I was getting full and becoming increasingly unable to breathe.  There was a great Canadian sparkling Riesling on the menu which we were knocking back, but evidently I'm allergic to it.  Unfortunate.  

Our other main was the whole sea bream with red cabbage and carrots ($31).  Nice but very boney, I'd attacked it with my knife and fork ahead of the waitress coming to the rescue and filleting the thing for us.  I'd dislodged a lot of the blighters so it wasn't the easiest dish to eat.  The accompanying gremolata was amazing.

Our dessert was shared, the chocolate, coffee and salted caramel pot with honeycomb ($10).  This reminded me of the best dessert I've ever eaten served in the same way and everything.  There was no Italian meringue in sight but there was honeycomb lurking in there.  Amazing.  Still couldn't breathe though. 

They didn't have any amaretto (urgh, seriously restaurants, sort it out) so they rustled us up a cointreau based aperitif, not the same.  That and the Riesling aside, I loved everything, even loved the Riesling, it just didn't like me much.  Open Monday to Saturday, dinner only.  I'll definitely be back, soon I hope.  It's a solid Old Montreal choice, they have daily changing seafood specials and this is what they're most known for but the mains are also worth checking out.  Must do Chuck's other restaurant, Garde Manger, first.

Le Bremner
361 St Paul East
Old Montreal 

Le Bremner on Urbanspoon 

Monday, 20 October 2014


Couple of Saturday nights ago a group of us were looking for a dinner venue ahead of some birthday drinks.  I walk by Damas a lot, it's in my neighbourhood, as were the bday drinks so I suggested we try it.  It's always packed and open 7 days a week which is quite a rare thing in this city.  I didn't know what to expect of Syrian cuisine, but checking out the menu online, a lot appealed to me and it obviously bares a lot of similarities to other foods of the region which we're more accustomed to eating, such a Lebanese and Turkish. 

It ended up being one of the best meals I've had here.  Everything was excellent.  They bring over pickles when you sit down, love a place that recognizes that you want to eat as soon as you can when you're out for dinner, snacking while perusing the menu really works up your appetite.  The pickles were brilliant, they saw we were loving them and gave us some hotter ones. 

Starters were ordered mezze style, all sharing dishes.

Incredible fattoush.  The flavours of every dish was so fresh and zingy.  With pomegranate seeds and fresh mint defining most dishes.  This is a herby and fruity salad with bits of bread and cucumber.  Seriously good.  Next came the hummus and muttabal, a smoky aubergine dip, served with flatbreads.  The aubergine dip was the winner, both were incredible, the hummus was so smooth, the kind that you wish you could get in supermarkets, but there really is nothing available like it to buy, might try to make my own....

Then came the akkawi, fried cheese served with nigella seeds, tomato and mint.  This is kind of like halloumi, it's fried, but it's much softer and not remotely squeaky.  Nice tomatoey sauce left in the bottom for mopping up with more of the flatbread.  

This messy looking thing is tatar burek.  Beef and lamb dumplings with yoghurt, coriander, roasted garlic and pinenuts.  There were 4 of these and we were 5, annoying, and we all politely offered to eat half.  They were so good we were all desperate to have a whole one.  Our waiter was so helpful, making suggestions about which dishes we might like, how much would be enough food, wine matching suggestions, really nice.  The restaurant is very casual, no fuss, no frills and although they tables pretty quickly, we didn't feel remotely rushed.  Not sure how they do it. 

My main dish was maqlouba, a recommendation of our waiter.  It's braised lamb shoulder with aubergine and saffron rice complete with side dish of yoghurt with cucumber and pomegranate seeds.  There were raisins in there and I still loved it, and I usually have a severe aversion to them in savoury dishes.  I barely managed to eat any of this, I was so full from the starters, there was a lot of that at our table, so much so that we were worried it might offend but portions are really generous.  They asked if we wanted to take with us what we'd not managed to eat. 

I couldn't manage dessert, those who could went for pistachio ice cream.  We drank a bottle of red wine, trying to warm up to drink again on a hangover and we paid $65 each.  This place is such great value for money.  I completely understand why it's so busy everyday and I'll definitely be back again.  Love that it's near my apartment too!  Yay Outremont.  Interestingly, there are 2 Syrian places in the Eater top 38 restaurants in Montreal at the moment.

5210 Parc Avenue

Damas Cuisine Syrienne on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Maison Publique

People really rip it out of Jamie Oliver, don't they?  I like him.  I especially like his latest cookery show Jamie's Comfort Food, I've been catching up on 4OD.  Thinking about doing the shepherd's pie for my Thanksgiving bash next week (it's in October in Canada, god knows...)  Or the steak and onion ciabatta, or the curried fish pie....Anyhow, an ex-Fifteen chef has set up shop here in Montreal, backed by Jamie.  Derek Dammann spent 4 years in London before heading home and opening Maison Publique in the Plateau.  It's been on my list since I got here and I went along last week for dinner with Sar.

There's a board on the wall with the days offerings.  The place is really relaxed, it feels more like a pub that a restaurant, people seem to like that here.  Our excellent waiter recommended some things we might like and we took him at his word and went for his suggestions.  We drank prosecco all night, they didn't have any amaretto and they didn't have any cheese (which they really need to sort out) but that's where the disappointment ends.

The first dish we ordered was a tuna sashimi served with artichoke and yoghurt dressing.  Look how cute the plate is.  This was delicate and soft, perfect sashimi, there's a lot of raw fish here, and I like it.  Nice refreshing start.

Then came the lamb tartare ($13).  Tartare is everywhere in Montreal, I might have mentioned.  But lamb tartare, LAMB!!!  We had to order it.  They warned us it's served very spicy, and it did have a kick, really great toasts spread with a minty paste.  Loved this, I've never had anything like it before.   Happy days.

Then came the wholewheat tagliatelle with tuna.  The tuna was minced and the dish was topped with lots of nuts and there were raisins.  I don't normally like fruit in savoury dishes, but they added something here.  I liked this, the pasta in particular, really well done but the sauce was a tad forgettable.  There's usually a daily special pasta dish at around the $20 mark.

Our final main was my fave dish of the night, the lapin ($29).  A rabbit, offal and all was served simply with leaves but there were so many different cuts, each morsel perfectly cooked.  The offally bits were lurking underneath the larger leg portions, we were pretty full by this point so didn't manage to eat them all, but each mouthful presented a new pop of flavour.  I forgot to take a pic of this, but it would have looked like a plate of lettuce leaves anyway and I really couldn't wait to dig in, so good.  Meant to have come with fries, but we didn't get any.

Our special side was the XO greens.  Bok choi served with a spicy fishy sauce, elevating what could have been the token green dish.  Utterly appalled at the lack of cheese, we declined dessert and went onto liqueurs.  Can't remember what it was but we had several...Seeing we were slightly worse for wear, they gave us a dessert anyway, the pot de creme butterscotch with shortbread ($10).

This was actually very welcome several hours into the meal (we had a lot to catch up on!), as desserts go, I approve.  Derek himself came out to mingle at this point.  There was a mixed crowd, couples, groups of women, it's pretty small but seemed full and busy all evening.  Seem to remember liking the music too.  There was plenty to love about the meal and I'd definitely go back.  They do a great brunch apparently.

Maison Publique
4720 Rue Marquette

Maison Publique on Urbanspoon