Vive La Cuisine Montrealaise

In Montreal, haute cuisine is alive and well

“Intangible Cultural Heritage” is the designation given five years ago by UNESCO to French cuisine.

Look around most major Canadian cities and you will see that French haute cuisine restaurants have almost disappeared. Left the building. Gone AWOL. In cities that boasted at least a dozen white tablecloth fine dining French restaurants with attitudes and prices to match, today there are one or two lonely holdouts.

Did the world’s most renowned cuisine become too predictable, too tired, too boring? Absolument pas!

Montreal has its own brand of soul food. It is the city of Chez la mère Michel, where the kitchen still prepares foie gras in the traditional way, and on the other side of the spectrum, Celine Dion’s favourite, St. Hubert BBQ, where chickens get a lot of respect. Le smoked meat is still a star player, and bagels are the manna of the masses.

Restaurant Europea spearheads the culinary French Revolution in the city. Enjoy the unique hospitality of Jerome Ferrer and Francois Chartier even once and you will understand why this Relais & Chateaux establishment has been recognized as Best in the World on several fronts.

A cup of lobster cappuccino with truffle puree shows off the skill of the kitchen, and then they prove themselves with Maple bark-stewed, pan-seared foie gras, caramelized on a river stone with ice wine. God is in the details. They go undescribed and unlisted on the menu. The witty and whimsical surprises of between-course fantasies, and the parade of sweet spectaculars at the end create a breathtaking dining experience. To tell-all would give away the delicious plot.

Customer clamour for a sibling resto was answered with the opening of Birks Café par Europea. On the mezzanine of this legendary jewellery emporium, elegance prevails at lunch or afternoon tea.

Is there anyone more influential than the “Meilleur Ouvrier de France,” Christian Faure. He has opened Maison Christian Faure, his school for pastry chefs in Place d’Armes on four floors that encompass a pastry shop, a salon de the, the school, where the pastries at left were created, as well as event and demo space. Classic tartines, salads, Quiche Lorraine may sound ho-hum, but the visuals are like delectable paintings, and then, of course, the desserts from the master himself. Authentic, beautiful and delicious dishes. If you cannot tear yourself away, register for a pastry class at the school.

The oldest inn in North America, Auberge Saint-Gabriel, built in 1754 out of solid Quebec stone, is the scene of one of the city’s most modern kitchens. You won’t find old-fashioned cuisine in this lovingly restored establishment. What can we say when we see a huge dinosaur spine decorating the bar? Surprises are everywhere, especially in the cuisine of talented Eric Gonzalez. The menu changes continuously, as one would expect from a chef whose mandate it is to serve the finest and freshest available. My recommendation to serious chefs in Canada would be to make a pilgrimage to Montreal—and see what Canadian cuisine is all about.

It is with good reason that Sunday Brunch is one of the most popular social dining excursions of the week. No rush to get back to work, cell phones off, computers shut down, we want to relax and enjoy. In search of elegance, I believe that the most beautiful brunch in Montreal is served at Renoir in the Sofitel. Chef Olivier Perret is justifiably proud of his fresh ingredients and prepares them with finesse. With light pouring in from the wall of windows, we can see our flawless dishes of just-cut fruits, eggs done perfectly to our liking and the tiny subliminal details that give us such pleasure in dining.

From this location, at the foot of Mount Royal Park, the city is open for us to explore: The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, McGill University and the unique boutiques and shops of mid-town. Strolling and absorbing the distinctive Montreal style is the activity du jour.

Where to Stay
Taxi drivers call it the “love hotel” and that is no surprise. While it’s real name is L’Hotel, it is the Robert Indiana LOVE sculpture to the left of the front door that is memorable. And to the right, a Botero sculpture balances the entrance. Big art. Inside, the theme continues. Georges Marciano (of Guess Jeans) bought a 59-room hotel in a landmark historic renovated bank and filled it with his collection of original pop art. Jim Dine, Roy Lichtenstein, David Hockney, Mirò, Andy Warhol, to name a few artists whose works are part of the 120 artworks permanent collection. Of course, rooms have all the comforts we expect. Sleeping in an art gallery in the heart of Old Montreal is a bonus.

At the Le Centre Sheraton, they know the pulse of the city. There is an instantaneous feeling that we are in capable hands the minute we check in. It tells us much about professionalism and an experienced hotelier. While our accommodation is splendid, with an oversized work desk, exceptionally comfortable furnishings and the luxurious bathroom we always hope for, we can hardly wait to go back to the lobby and partake of the Sheraton Social Hour in Le Cafe Bar. They have curated a wide selection of some of the finest wines in the world, usually unavailable by the glass, and offer gently priced pours and tastings as well as conversation with wine experts. This is an opportunity not to be missed.

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