With only three days to explore this vibrant and exciting city, there wasn’t a moment to lose, and I used every minute to my best advantage on a recent trip to Montreal! It all started after checking into my beautiful and historic hotel – Hotel Nelligan was “my kind of hotel”, situated in Old Montreal, my room was bigger than most London flats, with a fire, comfy sofas, a separate bathroom with shower, a walk in dressing room and exposed stone walls. Near Notre Dame, the Old Port and the Saint Lawrence River, the cobbled streets beckoned me to walk and enjoy this stunning part of the city.
If the Chinese lantern festival isn’t to be missed, then a Smoked Meat Sandwich is also another “must-have” to be enjoyed in Montreal! Montreal is famous for several kinds of cuisine, Poutine, Bagels, Pâté Chinois and Smoked Meat Sandwiches; whilst I was there, I was lucky enough to experience TWO smoked sandwiches, from Reuben’s Deli and Schwartz’s Deli. So what is a smoked meat sandwich? Basically it’s a cured, spiced beef brisket which is hot smoked to cook it; the meat is then sliced and served in light rye bread, with mustard, dill pickles and cherry cola! The sandwiches are big, but I somehow managed to put them away, it must be all that walking on cobbled streets!
I then moved onto Bagels! Bagels are a BIG thing in Montreal with two bakeries making most of these chewy bread buns. There’s St-Viateur Bagels and Fairmount Bagels, and as I discovered, you like one or the other, but NOT both, and there is a fierce rivalry between both bakeries! Whilst I was there, I was fortunate enough to not only taste the bagels from St-Viateur, but I actually made and baked some bagels too……and yes, they were good enough to be sold! The Montreal bagel is very different to the New York bagel as it is smaller, is always baked in wood-fired oven and is sweeter with a dense chewy texture – I loved them, and was given a HUGE bag of freshly baked bagels to take away!
Breakfast in Hotel Nelligan was sumptuous and very filling, but it’s nice to savour the first meal of the day in places outside a hotel, and I can highly recommend Olive et Gourmando in Old Montreal; it was there that I enjoyed a sensational breakfast called “House-made Ricotta Sweet”, which was house-made ricotta with honey, orange zest, and Maldon salt, served with toast. The café was buzzing at nine in the morning and also offers an amazing array of “daily plates” and lunchtime salads and sandwiches. You can also buy muffins and French patisseries to take away as well as the charming earthenware mugs, bowls and plates that the food is served on.
A must visit location in Montreal has to be the market; in the middle of Little Italy, Marché Jean-Talon is immense with the most amazing array of fresh and preserved produce, cafés, restaurants, book shops, cook shops and it was a riot of colour with tempting aromas luring you into the small side shops at every turn. I enjoyed my first taste of Quebecoise Tourtière— a spiced meat pie with buttery pastry; it was served with a mountain of freshly cooked vegetables, gravy and a bowl of cranberry sauce— in one of the small cafés for lunch. The fruit and vegetables that were on offer were seasonal and locally grown – I was particularly tempted with a wild mushroom stall and the cheese stall, which offered ONLY cheese made in Quebec— the province offers over 400 varieties!
My last magical moment was a one-to-one cooking session with Chef Marc-Olivier Eloy of Au Petit Extra restaurant. We cooked a Sweetbread, Wine and Romanesco main dish as well as a starter using the restaurant’s signature Blood Pudding and Apple Chutney. The restaurant celebrates its 30th anniversary this year with special menus costing $30 for a three course meal. The emphasis is on classic French cuisine, but using fresh, local and seasonal ingredients, and with a Quebecoise twist! It has a Bistro/Brasserie feel about it and is a real hidden gem, being some way out of the main “downtown” area, although I travelled there in under 20 minutes on the Metro, which is very easy to use and multiple trip tickets can be purchased.
As well as all the obvious food highlights in this vibrant city, I also enjoyed an evening’s walk about Old Montreal. Following the signs and old gas lights, the soft evening light shone like a halo around Notre Dame— also known as the Lighting Tour. I can’t finish before I mention the street food scene and food trucks in the city; whole city tours can be created around these trucks (there are over 55 trucks), if you have the stamina and appetite! I was particularly drawn to the Le Bacon Truck serving local cuisine, Boîte À Fromages truck, which serves raclette and Lucky’s Truck, which serves pulled duck poutine.
As you can see, my short trip to Montreal was food driven, but, there is so much to see there outside the restaurants, cafés, food trucks and markets. This diverse bilingual city has a vibrancy and atmosphere that is very different from any other large Canadian city I visited. There is a sense of pride in their shared French heritage, and yet, they remain independent of France and retain a very distinct and original identity. Expect to use your “school French” a lot more than other parts of Canada, but also expect a very warm Montreal welcome too!