Monday, 15 September 2014

Le Serpent

Le Serpent is sister restaurant to Le Club Chasse et Peche where I dined earlier in the year.  While I found Le Club a tad stuffy and OTT, by comparison Le Serpent is relaxed and welcoming.  We arrived early and started with a couple of martinis at the bar.  The service was extremely friendly, it felt like being welcomed by relatives we'd not seen in some time.  I was totally charmed.

I'd read that the room is not the most comfortable environment, and I sort of agree.  Especially the seating, the chairs are really uncomfortable after a couple of hours and the tables for 2 are very close together.  I don't tend to let that bother me at all, but people probably get to know a little more about me than I'd generally care to divulge to strangers, due to their close proximity. 

We ordered bread.  This must be one of only a handful of restaurants in Montreal that don't serve bread automatically.  You need to order it and pay for it here.  A nice foccacia is served and there's some kind of charity donation involved if you do order it, so I suppose one mustn't grumble.  But come on, just serve bread, people love it. 

The menu is split into raw starters, cooked starters, pasta, risotto, surf, turf and rotisserie sections.  There's a lot going on and it took us some time to reach a decision.

I started off with the kit of three ($18).  3 types of sashimi, this is a huge starter and I didn't eat all of it.  Mainly because I thought the scallops were slightly ruined by the addition of an overpowering sweet chilli sauce.  The fish itself, though, was excellent.  I much preferred the mackerel with yuzu, almonds and dried olives.  The third of the trio (below, centre) was flounder with red onions and orange powder, again the fish was a tad overlooked because the accompaniments were so strong. 

My main was seabass with mussels, fregola, tomato and fennel ($29).  I'd hoped this would be on a par with my fishy fregola main at Rotorino but it sadly wasn't.  I'm wondering whether we took a ridiculously long time to finish our starters because it looked to me like my main had been sitting around for a while, it was all a bit dry.  Flavours were good though.

Instead of dessert we shared a cheeseplate which included Mimolette, I'm always happy to see this cheese, and I miss Waitrose where I used to stock up on it.  

Despite it sounding like I didn't enjoy much, in all, I'd like to try more of the cooking at Le Serpent and I'll definitely revisit, it's just down the road from work so I'll be back soon.  Some hits, some misses on my first visit but I'm sufficiently pleased to go back again.  I'll be trying the 'spit of the day' from the rotisserie next time.  What I remember most is drinking Disaronno until they practically had to throw us out because everyone else had gone.  We paid a little over $100 each which included pre drinks, a bottle of prosecco and several digestifs.  Great night, 

Le Serpent
257 Rue Prince
Old Montreal

Le Serpent on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Joe Beef

This video introduced me to Joe Beef, thank you Anthony Bourdain.  Based on the places he visited during his 24 hours in Montreal I planned my first meal at Joe Beef when I initially visited in Feb. That didn't happen in the end, for numberous reasons and I didn't actually make it until Em came to visit in August.   I ended up going twice in one week (long story, won't bore you with it) and I'm planning my next visit in November.  I loved it.  It's my favourite restaurant here.  No contest.

On both evenings I sat in the beautiful garden, it's the perfect setting for a summer evening.   The menus are on large chalkboards by the entrance (so you can peruse while you wait to be seated), inside the restaurant and on boards in the garden, something they're missing at Liverpool House.  Em and I allowed the waitress to recommend what we should have, with a couple of must try dishes in mind, she was bang on with her suggestions.

First thing I should mention is the lobster spaghetti ($30).   It's one of their signature dishes, and Em and I were talking about it for days afterwards.  Available in 2 sizes, we had the small to share and ate every last bit.  There's a massively generous amount of lobster, I don't know how anyone manages the bigger portion, perfectly al dente spaghetti and the most amazing creamy sauce.  It's one of the finest plates of food I've ever eaten.


We also tried a small double down ($17).  This thing is insane.   2 chunks of deep fried foie gras with bacon, smoked feta and gravy mayo sandwiched in between.  We were so glad we had the small because it's small but intense, a large would leave you feeling like a right greasy scumbag.

On my other visit, Craig, Sar and I tried the smoked meat croquetas ($12) which were brilliant (still not a patch on Barrafina though, holy grail croquetas, will never be bettered).


Also tried the smoked salmon plate, which was different....I wouldn't have ordered this to be honest, but again it was recommended and didn't disappoint.   There was egg, I was immediately sold.  Probably the most interesting and least guilt inducing plate of food I've tried here, accompaniments included mustard, dill and toast.


Ok now, both visits have included the tournados de cheval with emmentaler ($38).  A massive horse steak and a cheesy sausage with horseradish.  This dish is something else. I had reservations about eating horse, as it's so rarely eaten in the UK, and the whole 2013 horse meat debacle recently highlighted the nations outrage at the prospect at being duped into eating horsemeat.  I liked it, I would probably rather eat a cow steak but I've had this twice and I'm not ashamed.  You have to try these things, right?


We offset the horse meat with a lighter main of panfried fillet of trout with new potatoes and mussels. Probably the least memorable of everything I've tried but only because everything else is so outstanding. 


The sides were also memorable, the simple green side salad with ham ($10) and the fries with aioli ($8) were both outstanding.  We didn't finish either of course, nor did we have bread as we didn't want to fill up and not have room for afters.


Onto puds and this marjolaine classique ($10).   A layered sponge with hazelnut cream and meringue. So so good.  We knew we'd be beaten by dessert but had to have it anyway.  Excuse the hideous photo, we'd retired to the outer garden by this point and were well into the wine.


Another dessert ordered was the pannacotta with prunes ($7).  This one well and truly got the better of us and we had to admit defeat.   Brilliantly creamy with a tartness from the fruit, everything you need in a sweet. 


Final dessert I've tried was this amazing thing, a sort of eton mess, meringue, berries and cream.   We'd asked to have the sorbet and eau de vie, daily changing flavours doused in a shot of your choice of booze.  They were just making up a fresh batch of sorbet so they made this specially for us and we got a berry flavoured liquer to accompany.   It was incredible, much better than a sorbet, so we really lucked out.


They have an incredible lengthy and pricey wine list, all the waiters are well versed in helping you select something good to pair with your food choices, the red we had wasn't great but the white was excellent.  I'm no wine buff clearly but there's definitely enough choice there to please everyone. Mostly French, obvs.

The key to eating at Joe Beef is to remember everything is going to be brilliant, but massive, so order small portions where there's an option, share everything and accept that you'll leave reeeeeally full, and that's ok, don't deny yourself guys.   I love Joe Beef very very much and will be returning regularly.  The ambience, the service and, above all, the food are of such a high standard that it's easy to see why people regard this as one of the best restaurants in the world.  I do too now.  LOVE.

Joe Beef
4291 Notre-Dame West
Little Burgundy

Joe Beef on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 31 August 2014

August Round Up


Sarah and I brunched here on the Osheaga Saturday morning.  I zipped down from Outremont on a Bixi bike which was a brilliant idea.  I love the Bixi bike scheme (Boris equivalent).  Note to self to get an annual pass for next year (they're decommissioned Oct-Mar ish due to the snow).

I had the salmon tartare brunch, which consists of tartare, bagel, poached eggs, hollandaise, these weird pink pickled onion slices and a hash brown.  It was very very good.  I've been vocal about my annoyance at the constant appearance on menus of the 4 things Montrealers are crazy about (tartare, lobster, foie gras and oysters) but on this occasion I relented and ordered a tartare as the waitress recommended it. 

Have to say the bloody Caesar was virtually undrinkable, very heavy on the tabasco and I literally had a coughing fit after each sip.  I struggled, got most of it down, I'm not a wimp where these things are concerned either.

Anyway, I loved Suwu.  Had a hunch that I would.  Pretty much everyone in there was proudly sporting their Osheaga 3 jour wristband.  I must return post brunch time to try their mac and cheese grilled cheese.  
Em and I popped in for a light lunch one afternoon.  This place is owned by the Joe Beef/Liverpool House team, it's no reservations, you can just show up.  They're really sweet, wine is their thing, it's more wine bar than restaurant, but the menu is no afterthought. We started with some sparkling wine and the vegetable platter with garlic dip.

Doesn't look like much but we loved this.  Topped with fried courgette flowers, the dip really made it, so intensely garlicky.  Really really good.  Then we went for the baked oysters.

Topped with cheesy herby breadcrumbs, we enjoyed another glass of wine and lingered to enjoy to sunny terrasse.  It was a really pleasant low key meal.  I'll definitely be back.  Post on Joe Beef to come soon, I've been twice in as many weeks and it deserves a full write up.  Cheaper and more relaxed, Vin Papillon is definitely going to become a regular haunt.
On a Monday night, one can often get caught out in Montreal, not many restaurants are open.  Hotel Herman is one of them, I booked on the afternoon and opted to sit at the busy bar.  Wines are natural, we went for the interestingly names Pow Blop Wizz sparkling rose.  Loved it.  Oysters were the highlight of the meal, I've went back for more just last night.  2 kinds, from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, they come with lemon wedges, buttermilk and miso accompaniments.

My main on the first visit was this lamb with cauliflower.  I thought it could do with a good dousing of sauce.  The foie gras with brioche was brilliant though.  Never tried their desserts, should probably. I prefer the wines and the oysters though over the main dishes.  Nice jovial environment and servers who really know their menu.  Reasonably priced too, starters for around $12 and mains up to $22.

Popped here for a really late lunch, I had the steak tartare.  Look at me turning into a walking Montreal food cliche, there's more to me than oysters, foie gras and tartare, y'know.  Pretty plating, I had a couple of glasses of Sancerre with this then ordered some cheese.  This little stretch of Bernard is good for people watching, exactly what I did before a big night out.  

Could have done with more egg, always, the tartare itself was nice, a good kick from the red sauce.  I'll be back to try brunch, it's literally at the end of my block.  Nice little local.

Uh oh, I did it.  And I wasn't even drunk.  I was severely hungover though, and this was on Em's to do list.  So we had to.  My first poutine in Canada.........and I liked it.

Granted, it looks absolutely foul, but it was exactly what I needed, followed by a lie down in the park.  Poutine is chips, gravy and cheese curds.  Banquise take it to the next level by chucking all manner of hideous sounding toppings into the mix.  I went for the la taquise with sour cream, guacamole and tomatoes.  I liked the fries, and the curds, the gravy I could do without, it's pretty tasteless, but I was pleasantly surprised.  This is a huge thing here, even McDonalds do poutine, I might just be a convert.  About $10 for a 'small'.

One of the biggest disappointments so far was this meal at Van Horne.  I originally booked for a Saturday night, they called me and the place was booked out for a private event, fine, we switched to the Wednesday with the promise of free wine for the inconvenience, which never materialized.  

I had high hopes, after reading this, the owner says all the right things, albeit in a slightly self indulgent tone.  We wanted the tasting menu, it's only available on weekends, shame.  The menu is very small, 4 options for starter and main and only 2 desserts to choose from.  Neither of which appealed.  I just felt the flavours weren't very sophisticated.

This lamb main was pretty dry and I didn't like the dry charred greens.  A little amuse of mustard seed and foie gras (I think...) on a delicate crumbly biscuit was exquisite but my chilled green tomato gazpacho with prawns was nice but a little too tart for my tastes.  The bread was lovely, but the whole thing was underwhelming.  I probably won't return.

Some revisits this month include Lawrence, I've been back for brunch (baked eggs, hello!) and for a dinner collaboration with London's very own Giorgio Ravelli from Upstairs at the Ten Bells.  When I found out this was happening, I was BEYOND excited, one of my London favourites and one of my Montreal favourites cooking together!!  Too much.  The food was exceptional, the starter of hen broth, egg and liver toast is one of the best dishes I've eaten all year.  There was a lot of food, I left very happy.

Brunch pizza!  Asparagus, egg, bacon, cheese and tomato.  Why didn't I know brunch pizza is a thing?!  This was brilliant.  Also had a normal bloody caesar, everything was as it should be.  Very good Magpie.  Still need to try Gema. 

3581 Saint Laurent
SuWu on Urbanspoon
 2519 Notre Dame
Little Burgundy

Le Vin Papillon on Urbanspoon

5171 Saint Laurent

Hôtel Herman on Urbanspoon

1257 Bernard Avenue

Les Enfants Terribles on Urbanspoon

994 Rue Rachel

La Banquise on Urbanspoon

1268 Van Horne

Thursday, 28 August 2014


L'Express was on my radar long before I made it over to Montreal so I was really excited to head here for dinner one evening during Emily's visit.  It's very popular, but not so popular that getting a table gives you a headache (ahem, Joe Beef), I was able to make an online reservation a few weeks in advance for a sensible hour.  How it should be.

We arrived a bit late because we'd spent waaaay too long rewarding ourselves for walking up Mount Royal by buying all the make up in Sephora.  I've got a problem.  I called to say we were running late and they were cool about it.  Excellent start.  We sat down and this was presented to us.

Now, I'd spent the best part of a week banging on to Em about how I've developed an addiction to cornichons.  Lots of the supermarket jars contain sweet ones which annoys me no end.  These weren't, they were perfectly pickled, and look how many there are.  Any restaurant that gives you unlimited cornichons is a winner in my eyes.  Some baguette and butter and water also arrived, very good.

For starter I opted for the fish soup ($13).  It came with little cheesy toasts and aioli.  Brilliantly salty and intensely shellfishy, as it should be. The toasts were a bit chewy yet overly crispy, in the way that toasted stale bread is.  Only gripe, they're obviously using yesterday's leftover baguette to make them.  Perhaps not the smartest dish to order on a hot August day, I was slightly overheating.

We ordered a bottle of chablis.  Their wine list is immense and very reasonably priced, starting at as low as $30 a bottle.  Which is significantly lower than anywhere else we dined throughout the week.  I knew I'd love this place.  The feel is very French, obviously, checkerboard tiled floor, waistcoated waiters (who are all lovely) and simple rustic dishes which deliver some serious flavour.  Em had the celeriac remolade ($8) to start.

I confess I wasn't too sure what to have for main.  I wanted the coq au vin but it was far too hot for soup followed by stew so I opted for the mushroom stuffed ravioli ($20.90).  These had a nice deep flavour and a rich gravy, the pasta was perfectly cooked, they're obviously home made (raviolis maison) and it was just the right amount to mean I had room for pud.  Em went for the tartare ($25.90) which looked great, it was massive and came with loads of fries.

We wanted a cheese course, we got a hunk of Brie de Meaux with crispbreads and walnuts ($7.20).  Loved the nuts coming with it, a tad hard to prize out of the shells with your bare hands but we persisted.  What we were really waiting for though, was this beast.

The Ile Flottante ($8.40).  The size of it was literally drawing gasps from diners each time one emerged from the kitchen.  I'd seen pictures of it before, but had no idea it was such a behemoth.  The thick layer of caramel contained a light meringue, all sat on a bed of creme Anglaise with a few bits of almond brittle sticking out.  It's not the daintiest of desserts, but it was amazing. 

This rounded off the meal nicely and we head off, full and happy for drinks elsewhere in the Plateau.  Everywhere is open til 3am, it's incredible.  I'll definitely be back to L'Express to try more, it's a real gem and is certainly in my top 10 meals here so far.  I need that chicken stew in my life the minute the cold weather hits.

3927 Rue St Denis

L'Express on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Bouillon Bilk

I'm eating so much this month it's quite scary.  Em's arriving tonight and we have a full on week of eating planned.  Excited.  I'm justifying this by signing up for a 5k run at the end of the month, it'll be fine, heh.

A spontaneous dinner last week happened at Bouillon Bilk, I've tried to eat here before, but they were closed for refurb.  The décor is nice, larger communal tables at the front and the bulk of the tables arranged around a central raised bar area.  For a Monday night, the place was really busy and the atmosphere was great, relaxed but it immediately felt like they have their shit together.  

We began with a bottle of fizz, the Sebastien Brunet Vouvray, I'd not heard of it before, it was great!  Very creamy.  Bread arrived next, it was the best bread I've had here so far, would love to know where they get it or if they make it in house.  You can basically eat as much of it as you want too, which I obviously love.  Held back and had just 2 bits each. 

I ordered an appetizer from the daily specials, the bone marrow with mushrooms, diced green apple, whelks topped with crisps and prettily served inside a massive bone ($18).  It looked so lovely and tasted great, the almost sour fruit really helping to cut through the fatty richness of the marrow.


The 'thing' here is that each dish contains a protein matched with a fruit, here marrow and apple, other examples on the menu were Hamachi (a Japanese fish served raw) with raspberries (which I tried, it was great), foie gras with rhubarb and lobster with nectarine.

For main, we both opted for the scallops with pear, fried courgette flower, yellow courgettes, mushrooms, pepper sauce and beurre noisette ($29).  This was really very very good, I was worried that the portions might prove to be a tad small but this was deceptively filling.  The sauces were incredible.

We had a bit of a break before moving on to cheese, we chose a couple of glasses of rioja to accompany.  All local Quebecois cheese, none of which were familiar to me, a selection of 5 for $20 came with some candied nuts, toast and some apricot jam.  The blue was the highlight.


We paid around $120 each which I think is fine value for the quality of cooking on display here by chef Francois Nadon.  Loved the flavours, the service, the vibe and the room.  Will definitely be back because we foolishly overlooked the sloe gin fizz on the cocktail menu.  Need those in my life. 

Bouillon Bilk 
1595 Saint Laurent
Latin Quarter
Bouillon Bilk on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 13 August 2014


Reading about Toqué! made me think it's probably in the 'La Gavroche' category of restaurants, somewhere that's widely regarded as one of THE food destination in the city, with a loooong history of happy diners and a busy reservations book.  Those things all being true of Le Gav, but my meal there was a bit of a disappointment food wise in 2013.  Could Norman Laprise and his team at Toqué! prove me wrong?  (Not sure what the exclamation mark's all about).
I was actually pleasantly surprised by the meal, me of little faith.  It began with a tasting of champagne, 2 glasses, not just one, as an aperitif.
I would say that the service was a tad lacking, we waited a full hour before we got something to eat, and I had to ask for bread, or it would have been longer.  I was starving!  We opted for the seven course tasting menu which is a complete surprise, there is no list to read from so you need to wait until the dish arrives to know what's coming, this annoys me.  It's $117 which is good value, you can opt to have it with or without foie gras for the same price.  I went with.
The bread was decent, nothing special, 2 options, sliced seeded bread and then ciabatta buns.  Unsalted butter.
First up was an amuse, marinated scallops in sour cherry water and lavender mousse.
Next dish was Bluefin tuna.  So so pretty.  I instagrammed this pic and Lizzie asked me if it's now deemed acceptable to eat Bluefin.  It did surprise me when it arrived and the components of the dish were described by the waiter.  I'm pleading ignorance (no menu), but I believe they are still at risk from overfishing, so not cool.  Served raw with corn, almonds, mushrooms and a wasabi vinaigrette. 

Continuing the unethical eating, the foie gras dish arrived next.  I not going to launch into a defense about eating this, there's no argument really, it tastes good, I like food.  A slice of foie gras terrine was served on toasted brioche with peach and pistachio.  Very good. 
Onto main dishes, another tuna offering came next, not named as Bluefin in this instance, seared and served pink in the centre.  Accompaniments were beetroot sauce, several types of mushroom and lovage.  Nice but I was crying out for a meat course.
Which came in the form of lamb.  2 ways, rib and merguez.  This was my favourite dish of the meal.  Radishes, button onions, mushrooms and a random strawberry which I didn't eat. 
The cheese course was good (no Le Gav style cheese trolley unfortunately), 2 kinds of goatscheese, 1 hard, 1 soft, there were more bloody strawberries on the plate though.  Don't get me wrong, I like strawberries, but I don't want them with lamb, or cheese. 
The dessert was fine, I'm always least excited about this course, Toque's was flourless chocolate cake with sea buckthorn ganache, hay caramel and ice cream, also hay.  Pretty good actually, a solid end to the meal.  Pretty again (photo credit - Sarah, thanks!)
Now I wouldn't say this is the best food available in Montreal, my preference would be something more fun, modern and casual (though the dining room wasn't as formal as I'd expected it to be).  We drank red wine and the champagne to begin with and the bill came to over $200 each.  I was prepared for it to be expensive but for that money, it really ought to be head and shoulders above all else available in Montreal surely, you get what you pay for?  Well, they do offer valet parking....

 900 Place Jean-Paul-Riopelle 
Old Montreal 
Toqué! on Urbanspoon