If you’re heading to Montreal for the jazz, check out the gastronomic wonders to be had in Canada’s foodie capital. By Fiona Beckett
One of the things you need to realise about Montreal is that you’ll never manage to hit all the restaurants you want to go to. Generally regarded as Canada’s most gastronomic city, it has the largest number of restaurants per head in North America outside New York. Ask people for their recommendations and they give you a list as long as your arm.
TV chef Anthony Bourdain describes Montreal as “uniquely wonderful” and suggests that “before you come here you train for the experience and give yourself some hang time for recovery afterwards.”
So if you’re there mainly for the jazz let’s try and whittle it down a little with some places to go before and after the sessions, and a couple of places it might even be worth missing a gig for…
And just one practical point – pay attention to whether an address is east or west of the Boulevard Saint-Laurent if you want to save yourself a long walk.
Although Montreal’s restaurant scene, like most big cities, sprawls out across the city’s most fashionable neighbourhoods, most of the events take place around the Quartier des Spectacles.
If you feel like living it up, your best bet is Bouillon Bilk (1595 St Laurent Blvd) – a bizarre name that apparently came to the owners when they were completing the paperwork for the property. (Go figure!) Flavour combinations are definitely out there – think strawberries, romesco, crème fraiche, courgette, millet and almonds but chef François Nadon has the talent to pull them off. Lunch is cheaper than dinner but if that’s still a bit pricey the same team have a more informal wine bar called Cadet just up the road. £££
Also in the quarter is a new all day brasserie called Blumenthal (305 rue Sainte-Catherine W) serving typically French food such as moules frites and steak tartare alongside roast chicken, cheeseburgers and the odd dish with a twist such as onglet of beef with miso butter. Profits help to support free events at the jazz and other festivals. ££
If you’re suffering an overdose of poutine (the iconic dish of chips, cheese curds and gravy that you’ll find everywhere in the city) there’s the newly opened Food Chain (1212 McGill College Ave) which offers eight freshly made raw salads and dressings to go (or perch on a stool to eat in but space is limited). Healthy, delicious and great for veggies. £
And a couple of options if you fancy a cocktail – the Hyatt Regency’s Six Resto Lounge terrace (1255 Jeanne Mance St) which overlooks the Place des Arts or, if you want to escape the mayhem for a while, the glamorous Bar George at the Mount Stephen hotel (1440 Drummond Street) which is new enough not to have been discovered by the festival crowds. They also make a mean Sidecar. ££
North of the Quartier
You’ll also find good pickings if you head north of the Quartier des Spectacles up St Laurent Boulevard – also known as the Main – which divides the city into east and west and off the parallel rue St Denis.
This is where to go to track down the epic smoked meat sandwiches without which no visit to Montreal would be complete. I rated Schwartz (3895 St Laurent Blvd) where the filling is three times the thickness of the bread but others swear by The Main at no. 3864. (There’s a similar debate about bagels. Some favour St-Viateur (263 rue Saint Viateur West), others Fairmount (74 Fairmount West) Both operate 24/7 and will almost certainly be the best you’ve ever eaten.) £
Also up that way you’ll find the legendary Au Pied de Cochon (536 Avenue Duluth E) which offers an artery-furring selection of foie gras and pork – including foie gras nigiri, foie gras poutine even a charcuterie and foie gras pizza if you feel strong enough. Maybe one for the famously cold Montreal winters. ££
There’s a slightly lighter offering at Maison Publique (4720 rue Marquette), a welcoming Franglais-style gastropub on the Plateau presided over by Derek Dammann who used to head up Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen in London. Regularly changing specials are chalked up on the board – don’t miss the insanely good baked oyster with mushrooms and Marmite. (Yes, really!) Note it’s open Wednesday-Sunday and evenings only. ££
If you fancy a spot of fine dining Montreal-style (the locals are never that formal) head over to the brilliant Le Filet (219 Mont-Royal Avenue West) which overlooks the Parc Jeanne-Mance. Everything is delicious but raw preparations like the tuna tartare, the squid ink linguine and the stellar desserts (the maple syrup square – mmmm) are particular high spots. Generally considered one of the best restaurants in the city. Fabulous wine list too. £££
For more casual eating and drinking try the offshoots of two popular restaurants – Pop! Laloux wine bar (250 Av des Pins E) the cheaper sibling of Laloux with its retro Scandi decor and a short, smart $20 menu or sip a sake or a Japanese whiskey at Big in Japan Bar, a cool speakeasy near the rue Rachel (4175 Boulevard Saint-Laurent but note there’s no name on the door) which stays open till 3am. “And the later you go the better” tips off a local.
Finally, no round up of Montreal restaurants would be complete without a mention of Joe Beef and its sister restaurants Liverpool House and Vin Papillon which sit side by side on rue Notre Dame W (2491-2501) in the area known as Little Burgundy. Joe Beef was the restaurant that really put Montreal on the map as one of the world’s top food destinations – it’s not a steakhouse as the name suggests – but an exuberant homage to French cooking, focussing on top quality ingredients accompanied by an amazing (largely natural) wine list. Great tartares, great seafood, lavish plates of charcuterie but the bad news is it’s almost impossible to get a booking. You may be luckier with Liverpool House (although possibly not given that Obama and Justin Trudeau ate there the other day) and you should be able to walk into their wine bar Vin Papillon which serves a cheaper, largely vegetable-based (though not vegetarian) menu. And has a lovely summery outdoor patio at the back.
The 38th Festival International de Jazz de Montréal runs from 28 June to 8 July. For details of the Jazz passport package visit the festival website.
Fiona Beckett was hosted on her trip by Tourisme Montréal.