With my day job I get to travel around quite a lot, but last week I made it all the way to Montreal. It’s very strange being in a french speaking region that feels so similar to America. The food is also a strange but interesting mix.
There’s some clear Mediterranean influence but some traditional foods that are definitely more inspired by their US neighbours and even some of their British roots.
Take for example the well-known dish poutine. This is basically chips (these tend to be more like the UK wedges) topped with gravy (yes my friends, chips and gravy) and then topped with cheese curds – can you taste it already? You can find this in fast food chains and street stalls but we also were served it at a conference too. It’s definitely good to have a bowl of during your visit, but nothing ground-breaking in terms of taste, it’s a comfort dish and would be well at home back here in Blighty.
Then there’s Montreal-style smoked meat. This dish is said to have evolved from one of the Jewish delis (which specific one is up for debate) and is similar in taste to pastrami, although a little softer in texture. It’s a type of kosher-style deli meat product made by salting and curing beef brisket with spices. This is typically served with fresh bread, yellow mustard and sliced gherkins. Nom nom.
Fois gras is also quite popular in the city. Some of you may disagree with it as a dish due to the issues surrounding the fattening of the birds (visit Peta for more info), but many people still enjoy it and you can find it in a number of different guises here.
Where to visit
While you’re out and about during the day you probably just want to grab something cheap, simple and light. There are several shopping centres that have restaurants within and are usually in fairly handy locations. Some even have food halls, like the Katherine Mall, which provides a great opportunity for everyone to eat different things and to see what cuisines are popular in the area. I tried a small pan – Asian place and tucked into a large plate of General Taso’s chicken and rice – a crispy fried chicken dish in sweet and spicy sauce with piles of veg. Really tasty and cooked fresh to order, unlike many other food malls and coming in at just over $10. Other options include the many chain shops – Dairy Queen, McDonald’s, Tim Horton’s etc and coffee shops like Cafe Starbucks and Second Cup.
As I was only there for a few days, my insights are a little limited, but I had some great dinners too. Make sure to ask your hotel reception for recommendations and check out some of the local blogs, but here’s a starter:
Boris Bistro 465 McGill St. Montreal, Quebec H2Y 2H1
This place is fantastic in the warm weather, set in a beautiful courtyard, you get to eat your dinner under the trees. The menu is interesting … an eclectic mix of dishes with a strong French influence. Starters included their to-die-for chips cooked in duck fat, classic tomato soup, cured meats and tartares. I went for a cheese and mushroom nem, which is a deep-fried filled pastry and in this case cheese and mushroom. It was light and packed with flavour, but I could have done with another one or two on the plate – one just wasn’t enough!
The mains included the usual Mediterranean fair such as risottos, pastas, rabbit and salads, mixed with some more unusual dishes like Irish black pudding, chicken served with tuna and more tartares. I went for the duck confit sandwich served on nut bread. This had a very odd texture as the meat was shredded up and in a mayonaise, so kin of felt like I was eating tuna. It was then served with apple slices and shoots on the nut bread and reminded me very much of a Waldorf salad. It also comes with the super fries! My biggest recommendation for this place is the Red tuna a la Boris (seared tuna), but only if you are a fan of eating it rare!
Cost: You’re looking at around $10 for a starter and $20 for a main, with a decent bottle of wine around $60
Place Ville Marie, 5 Place Ville Marie, Montreal and other locations
This is a chain of restaurants that can be found across Montreal (and the US) but are well worth a visit, particularly if you are a fan of steak! The restaurants have an American feel, are full of dark furniture, dark lighting and plush booths. They also do an amazing lobster menu when it’s in season in the summer. The starters include things like escargot, shrimp cocktail, mushrooms or soups. I opted for one of the lobster specials – fried, breaded chunks of lobster and shrimp, served up with a huge amount of chilis (I set them to the side) and asparagus, tossed in a sweet and spicy sauce so it has a kick but tasted great; very much recommended!
On the mains menu you’ll find a host of different steaks, salads, chicken, ribs and of course the summer lobster. The prime rib was highly recommended by colleagues; it’s roasted in the oven rather than cooked on the grill and as a featured dish comes with a lettuce wedge starter too. I, however, went for a bone-in rib steak which was insane. Weighing in at 20oz, it’s the biggest steak on the menu but comes with a large bone in, which gives it an incredible flavour. Served up with grilled veggies and your choice of potato (I had a double baked potato – a jacket with a creamy mash, spring onion and bacon filling).
Cost: Starters are around $10-$15, mains – steak $25-$40, lobster $45-$50, others $35-$30, cocktails $10 and a good bottle of wine $40. There were 18 of us and we had a banquet of a meal for around $100/£50 a head – fantastic price!
190 Saint Catherine St. West, Montreal, Quebec, H2X 2X3 (and other locations across Canada, US, Dubai & India)
This was a little place on the edge of the Des Jardines shopping complex, underneath the Hyatt Regency where we stayed. It’s simple, non-fussy but welcoming and has indoor and outdoor seating.
The name is relating to their amazing breakfast menu – where eggs are the main attraction in an unbelievable number of ways. But we visited in the early evening, where there was a smaller non-egg menu. There were options like lobster mac and cheese and chicken skewer with rice, but we all tucked into burgers. The chicken burger was a succulent chicken breast smothered in pesto, with melted mozzarella, tomatoes and salad. The chips smothered in herbs and seasoning that made them irresistible – we all cleared the pile even though there were loads – and were served up with a pot of fresh mayo. The Turo burger was a beef burger served up with caramelised onions, peppers, cheese and bacon. The cocktails were also great, served up in jam jars and packed with fresh fruit.
Cost: Our meals were $28 per head for a burger and cocktail
All in all, Montreal is a great city with lots to do. It has a bit of an old-fashioned, industrial feel to it, but there are some brilliant hidden gems, so make sure you get out and explore. In non-food business, make sure you check out Mount Royal, the giant hill that the city is named after and check to see if there’s any cultural events like the Just for Laughs Festival pictured below.