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Eating out in Montreal - recommended restaurants in Montreal city

Paris, eat your heart out... 

(First published in The Guardian - 'Laid-back living' travel supplement)

In Montreal you can sample the cuisine of 80 different countries without leaving the compact city centre. The latest craze, slow food, involves a new generation of chefs sourcing fresh ingredients from local suppliers

A pretty jammy mission, I reckon, to spend 48 hours delving into Montreal's diverse range of culinary delights. The chance to discover the city's specialities, its market-based cuisine and its latest trend of "slow food" sounded like heaven to me.

To explore a vibrant city is exciting enough, but one that boasts over 5,000 restaurants serving up flavours from more than 80 different countries should surely thrill even the most stubborn of taste buds.

Head downtown to rue Crescent and the side streets of rue Sainte-Catherine's and you'll discover a huge variety of gastronomic delights. On boulevard Saint-Laurent you'll find the fashionable crowd, and might even spot a celebrity or two dining at the fine restaurants and supper clubs.

You'll find mainly Greek and Italian restaurants around rue Saint-Denis in the vibrant Latin Quarter, more fine dining in Old Montreal, and dozens of cost-effective, bring-your-own-wine restaurants in Le Plateau Mont-Royal district.

Thank goodness Montreal is compact enough to get around by foot. With my list of eating places reaching epic proportions, I'm going to need every mile I can tread to burn off the calories. Albeit very slowly.

Which brings us nicely to one of the city's most popular eating trends: slow food. Its philosophy is simple: in order to eat well and enjoy your food, you need to take your time, relax, and use only the finest fresh ingredients. So the new generation of fashionable young chefs are following the craze for local produce, fusing authentic local products with urban tastes and proudly adding the name of the producer or origin to menus. With these chefs' newfound reputations for diversity, quality, innovation and originality, eating out has become an all-consuming pastime for many Montrealers.

Breakfast is great value at Eggspectation (1313 Boulevard de Maisonneuve), where I sit in a high-ceilinged, warehouse-like café with park-inspired decor and a relaxed buzz. Chefs churn out Uneggspecteds and Eggsuberants like there's no tomorrow, but I opt for Eggstravaganza: two eggs, toast, bacon, grilled potatoes and a fruit garnish, washed down with café au lait and fresh juice.

I would have liked a touch of Eggcitement, but orange brandy wouldn't have done me any favours at 9am (even if it was flambéed on strawberry toast with sugar, butter and cinnamon).

Funky cafe-restaurant L'Avenue (922 avenue du Mont-Royal) in Le Plateau is a breakfasting gem. I sit opposite a naked female manikin and underneath a wall-hung motorbike.

I order the house speciality: oeufs bénédictines, the best I have tasted, for which the chef arrives at 6am daily to make fresh hollandaise sauce and where, at weekends, you'll wait an hour for a seat.

A stone's throw away is St-Viateur Bagel Café (1127 avenue du Mont-Royal), famous for hand-rolled bagels. Try one with cream cheese, with or without smoked salmon. For a chic breakfast in Old Montreal, reserve a table in the Grand Salon at the prestigious Hôtel Le St-James (355 rue Saint-Jacques). There you'll enjoy breakfast a-la-carte in elegant surroundings in a beautifully restored 1870 building filled with antiques.

Mid-morning is a good time for markets, so hop on the Metro to Marché Atwater (138 Avenue Atwater) for speciality boutiques selling meats, fish and baked goods, or to Marché Jean-Talon (7070 Avenue Henri Julien) for ubiquitous fruit, vegetable and flower stalls, plus gourmet speciality shops selling products specific to Quebec. Choose from 20 different varieties of bagel at nearby Fairmount Bagel (74 rue Fairmount), open 24 hours.

Bagels are lined up on long wooden spatulas, cooked in a wood-fired oven, then skilfully tossed into an aluminium shoot. Believe me, the bagels are to die for. The satisfied customer staggering out with 10 dozen bagels to take back to Boston will vouch for that.

Enjoy a light lunch at quaint Olive et Gourmando in Old Montreal (351 rue Saint-Paul), known for its top quality food. Sit on the patio at Boris Bistro (465 McGill) and try the delicious mushroom tartlet or tender buffalo steak with fries.

But for a true Montreal speciality, go to the wonderful Schwartz's (3895 boulevard Saint-Laurent), where around 200 loaves are filled daily with the tastiest smoked meat imaginable.

In formal and stylish Europea (1227 rue de la Montagne) I order warm foie gras, sautéed medallions of Quebec veal with mushrooms and risotto flavoured with green shallots. And for dessert, divine white chocolate parfait, passion fruit coulis and sorbet. A few miniature raspberry meringues, a speciality, are presented free of charge.

Afternoon cakes at Olive et Gourmando are as good as their lunches. Try mouth-watering Kitty's killer caramel square, on a par with death-by-chocolate.

Call in at a Boulangerie Première Moisson shop for a fine French pastry, or chew on delicious dragon's beard candy in Chinatown.

Dinner is superlative at both Cube (355 McGill) and Toqué (900 place Jean-Paul Riopelle, Old Montreal). Everything on the menu makes you drool. Those who are as indecisive as me should opt for the tasting menu which consists of seven courses and four/five glasses of wine.

For a trendy supper-club, where fashionable wine-tasting takes place once a month, and where Ben Afflek and George Clooney have been known to hang out, go to restaurant-bar Le Globe (3455 boulevard Saint-Laurent).

For hearty meat cuisine with deep country roots, grab a bite at Au Pied de Cochon (536 Duluth) where the owner has taken the bizarre Quebec speciality "poutine" (french fries topped with gravy and melted cheese curds) to a new level by adding foie gras.

Stepping up a gear or two, eat in sophisticated Newtown (owned by racing driver Jacques Villeneuve) or in an atmospheric old warehouse setting in the same street at Wienstein & Gavino's Pasta Bar Factory (1436 rue Crescent).

So, after 48 hours of nothing but walking and eating, I'm left with only another 4,982 or so restaurants to check out... Maybe my mission should have been 48 years in search of food?



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Fine dining Montreal

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