It would be hard to visit Montreal and not be impressed by the culinary scene. Montreal’s best attraction for me is its dining. Montreal is not just about French food, it has almost everything you are looking for. One of my favourite meals was at a brassiere called Monarque at 406 Saint-Jacques Rue, in the business district of Old Montreal off Victoria Square, which is voted number 42 on Canada’s 100 Best Restaurant list.
We dined inside during Covid and were delighted and amused to see how clever they were on social distancing by placing well dressed mannequins throughout the restaurant to separate people. They could be at your table, at the bar, or placed throughout the restaurant. The clothes on the mannequins came from Sarah Pacini. When Covid is over, they will auction them, and the proceeds will go to a food bank. Bravo!
Inspired by New York’s famed Grammercy Tavern, father and son duo, executive chef Jérémie Bastien, and chef and co-owner Richard Bastien are seasoned veterans of Montreal’s culinary scene and know how to combine classic and modern flavours. I know everyone touts the restaurant and institution L’Express on Saint Denis, but I found our meal here far superior.
I started with a salad of tomatoes, cucumbers, and peaches, with feta and basil, which was divine. The fruit and vegetables are at the height of the season in August and was the right choice for me. My farrotto au homard, (lobster) was heavenly, with arugula, lemon and tarragon. The grilled tender octopus with fatoush, and labneh, was also inspiring. The fish of the day was halibut with fresh figs in an herb creme. We washed this all down with a Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
There are a lot of French classics on the menu like steak tartare, foie gras, lobster thermidor, bone marrow, Niçoise salad, poule au pot, steak and frite, but also dishes like lamb ravioli, fish tartare, veal meatballs with taleggio cheese and seared broccoli steak with quinoa, almonds and chimichurri. I have to mention that their French fries were the absolute best of my trip. Double fried perfection. The pavlova we ordered looked lovely but was not that splendid. The pot de creme was definitely a better bet, full of cherries and crunchy cookies.
The restaurant is strikingly beautiful, and quite large, seating (in normal times) up to 180. There is a long bar with avocado coloured leather bar stools. The floor is a shimmering mosaic tile floor, which is a work of art. Black leather banquets run across a mirrored wall. The actual historical building in Old Montreal dates back to 1845. There is a large picture window of the stainless-steel kitchen midway down the restaurant, plus large picture windows at either end, letting in a lot of light. Wooden tabletops, exposed brick and stone walls, are a nice setting for the beautiful people, the movers and shakers and tourists alike. The restaurant is quite chic and glamorous and a perfect backdrop for the quality of cooking. I like the back lit cabinets displaying the bounty of local produce.
The wine list was contemporary and extensive, with a fare markup and a wide array of price points. Monarque’s menu showcased freshness through both traditional and innovative French inspired dishes. The menu changes seasonally throughout the year. The staff was friendly, knowledgeable and efficient.
Monarque is a good choice of meticulously prepared French classics with a focus on market cuisine, served in a stylish setting.