Earlier this month I was lucky enough to be invited on a flying visit to Montreal. Montreal might be in the same country as our hometown of Vancouver, but from a political, linguistic, cultural and culinary perspective, it is very much French, making it the perfect Canadian city escape.
I stayed at the Hotel Le Germain. Perfectly located on Mansfield Street in the heart of Downtown Montreal, it’s ideally located for business meetings and not far from the shopping of Sainte-Catherine Street. A boutique that is trendy without being pretentious, the rooms are superbly designed with chic but understated décor and extremely comfortable beds. The service was exceptional during my stay, and every single one of the staff I met could not have been more helpful.
The hotel’s restaurant, Laurie Raphaël, is highly acclaimed for its locally inspired menu of appetizer size specialities. The subtle flavours of my halibut, with polenta stuffed zucchini flower were particularly noteworthy, as was the progression of selected Québec cheeses. The flawless service continued with our server at Laurie Raphaël whose knowledge of the regional cheese producers and wine list was highly impressive. A note of caution, however – this isn’t your usual hotel restaurant to enjoy a quick business dinner. You will want to give yourself a couple of hours to really enjoy the experience.
My second dinner in Montreal was equally memorable. On the recommendation of the hotel’s concierge I headed over to Brasserie T, the sister restaurant to a veteran of the Montreal restaurant scene, Toque! You can’t miss the location – a modernist structure with bright interior design, in the centre of the Quartier des spectacles. Tonight it was buzzing and I was lucky enough to jump a queue of 10 people waiting for tables, having secured myself a spot at the bar. Tonight I kept my menu choice traditional –an excellent steak frites, followed by crème caramel. Brasserie T is known for its quality ingredients, and in simple dishes like this, it really shows.
Friends who know the city had told me I was particularly lucky that my trip coincided with the Festival International de Jazz de Montreal, and they were absolutely right. After dinner, we caught a free concert by Canadian singer Kellylee Evans. I am no jazz expert, so it would do her voice a disservice to describe it as anything other than soulful and beautiful. But the relaxed atmosphere, with couples, families, tourists and locals all dancing and enjoying the music really captured the cultural vibe of the city, and was refreshing coming from Vancouver where, post Stanley cup riots, the fun police are always lurking at city outdoor events ready to pour out any “festive” spirit you may have!
The next morning I had a few hours to enjoy the city before catching my flight, so I headed to Vieux-Montreal, for me the City’s must-do. Strolling along the riverfront and through cobbled streets and squares, I could easily have been in one of the small French towns of childhood vacations. Top tips for Vieux-Montreal. Le Magasin General is a gorgeous independent gem full of unique accessories, jewellery, décor and gifts. And believe it or not, perhaps my favourite meal of the trip in a French city was in fact Italian! BEVO Bar and Pizzeria is a trendy new take on a firewood pizza restaurant, with a terrace perfect for people watching over lunch. Since moving to Canada I have found a really good thin-crust pizza hard to track down. This one nailed it, with simple flavours, delicious fresh mozzarella and basil and perfectly crisp dough.
A 36 hour visit was nowhere near long enough to enjoy this amazing city, but it was enough of a taster to ensure I will definitely be back for a longer visit!