4 years, 9 months ago
This post exclusively for HouseTrip from renowned food blogger Niamh Shields as part of our #housetripping series
Montreal. A Canadian city but so different to the others. They speak a different language for one, French, although they also do in New Brunswick, so this is not entirely what sets it apart. Once driven by high finance, Montreal was the centre of Canadian banking until the banks relocated to Toronto after Quebec tried to separate. Now, Montreal appears to be driven by creativity and is a haven for artists and musicians, famously Arcade Fire and Leonard Cohen.
Montreal is high energy and relaxed at once. The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts has a beautiful large red and yellow Dale Chihuly glass sculpture outside. It says so much about Montreal, their energy and passion, and the fact that they don’t feel the need to throw beer bottles in it as I am sure they would here.
This creativity expands to restaurants and food, and some of Canada’s best restaurants are in Montreal (Joe Beef & Pied de Cochon). For cooks, one of Canada’s best food markets, the Jean Talon Market is there. A large market with lots of local produce, a wonderful spice shop, lots of maple syrup and associated products (Quebec produces 80% of Canada’s maple syrup) and plenty of local ice cider and ice wine too.
Montreal has a lower cost of living than a lot of other cities of its size, and so it can be a very reasonable place to visit, and to stay. Restaurant prices are generally accessible and apartments are super value. I stayed in 3 apartments over 2 trips.
The first a lovely bright one bed apartment with a nice kitchen and good sized bedroom right in the centre of the Bohemian part of town. It is the kind of apartment that I would love to have in London, with an outside stairwell just crying out for some herbs. There were lots of independent food shops nearby and so I was cooking within hours of my arrival. My first meal was some delicious locally foraged fiddleheads. A bargain for £69 per night.
The second was a cottage, bigger and more suburban (but near the metro) with a large living space and three bedrooms. The kitchen was small but sufficient and there was a nice outdoor seating are which was welcome on sunny days. This was from £124 per night and can sleep up to 8 people.
My third apartment was actually a large house a 15 minute walk from the gorgeous Jean Talon market. It sleeps 7, with 2 bathrooms and a large furnished outside garden with a great BBQ. It was hard to believe it was only £195 a night. Two of the rooms are kids rooms (but adults can obviously stay there too) and of the remaining two double rooms, one has a balcony overlooking the (quiet) street, with the other, which I stayed in, a large TV and a window overlooking the serene garden. I was very happy there. The real selling point of this apartment is the kitchen. Set in a beautiful window lined open plan living area, there is a large dining table and, then a few steps below over looking the garden, an area to relax with large sofas. All of this costs less than a double hotel room of this standard in most cities, which is fairly astounding.
You love to cook, but you also probably want to eat out. I know I do. There are over 5,000 restaurants in Montreal, with many influences. There is an enormous French influence and the food tends to be very rich. It was in Montreal that I was first made aware of the term crises de foie (a liver crisis after you have had too much rich food). Even if the restaurant isn’t French, the French heritage is evident on a lot of menus – there is foie gras almost everywhere you look – but there is also a wild Canadian streak (I am looking at you poutine, chips with squeaky cheese curds and gravy, which originated in Quebec), and some evidence of immigration filtering through.
Schwartz’s is an essential first stop for some Montreal Smoked Meat, for me best in a sandwich with mustard served with the local cherry cola (I was advised that that is a must and while I rarely do as I am told, I did in that instance). Rammed with characters, don’t be put off by a queue, it moves very quickly, and is worth it.
Joe Beef is a must but reserve early as it is immensely popular and has a wait of a few months. The food here is delicious, rich and full of personality with a sense of humour too. A foie gras double down for starter (based on the KFC double down) was delicate and light and literally dripping but so divine, I was reluctant to share it with curious fellow diners (but I did). Liverpool House next door is owned by the same team and is their bistro, but it is just as good (and I believe easier to get into). The buffalo style sweetbreads that I had there with blue cheese sauce are a death row dish.
Pied de Couchon is another must visit for the infamous foie gras poutine. For the uninitiated, poutine is Canada’s unofficial national dish, chips, squeaky cheese curds and gravy, born in Quebec city. Here, the chips are beautiful duck fat fries, the gravy is made from foie gras and the curds are gentle and fresh. The housemade charcuterie and sausage is superb too. There wasn’t a weak point in my meal, the only weak point was me, as I was quickly full to bursting.
Osteria Venti, an Italian restaurant in downtown Montreal, serves housemade pastas and other Italian specialities at extremely reasonable prices. The food is excellent, well made and well sourced. Pastas are a must but don’t ignore the rest of the menu, I had a great halibut with white beans, tomatoes & capers. There is a nice selection of wines by the glass and the Italian cheeseboard is very good too.
Le Contemporain, the Museum of Contemporary Art’s bistro, is housed in a vast open serene space with high ceilings and lots of light. The food is modern and adventurous. I had a fabulous starter of roast bone marrow with fresh oysters on top and the best lobster roll I have ever eaten for lunch. Terrific wine selection by the glass too.
Jean Talon Market has lots of stalls serving food that you can eat at a central dining area. I had some great tacos, while listening to a jazz band that were playing at lunch time.
If you fancy a stage, you can do one at L’Atelier par Europea’s fine dining kitchen. It is an experience for sure, I spent 45 minutes scooping tiny balls out of a courgette with a tiny melon baller. A fascinating experience when you eat in the restaurant after and dine on your wares, as it were.
Not a restaurant but bagels are important here. Namely choose your team and stick with it. The bagels in Montreal are the best I have ever tasted and the two main bakeries, Fairmount & St Viateur have an intense loyal following. They are shipped daily all over Canada. Save some room in your suitcase to bring some home. And some maple syrup by the very pretty tin.