When you see a restaurant billed as the #1 best in Canada you are likely setting yourself up for a big disappointment. Remember my review on Mugaritz that was supposedly the 7th best in the world … feh. But Toque in Montreal deserves all the accolades and in my opinion is in the number one spot for best restaurant in Canada.
Toque is located at 900 Jean-Paul-Riopelle Place, set in the heart of Montreal’s business district, across from the convention center. It’s a spacious, well-lit, chic and modern restaurant housed in a beautiful old stone building. The restaurant has a dream team under the helm comprised of Chef Normand Laprise and partner Christine Lamarche. The reason the restaurant works so well is because Normand has sixteen chefs under his helm in the kitchen and Christine is in charge of the front of the house. The Relais and Chateaux‘s front of the house staff and service is as good as the back of the house and this is what truly makes a successful establishment. The team has been doing things right for over 23 years together in business. They first started in a smaller space before moving to the current location, and a few years ago, Christine tells me they reduced the restaurant down from 100 seats to 80 seats to better serve customers. Many say Chef Laprise started the food revolution in Montreal and has had a HUGE impact on the food scene from the beginning. He was one of the first who helped change the cuisine of Quebec from old French to something new and modern. He was named #1 restaurant in Canada two years running now, by a consortium of seventy chefs, diners, critics and foodies. He’s endured for so long because he is ingredient-driven, with a focus on collaborating between chef and supplier. And secondly, his cooking had stayed relevant all these years. He didn’t need theatrics or kitsch, not when every morsel you bite into tastes like a dream.
Normand likes to support local farmers and produce and you see the numerous farms and purveyors listed on the first page of his menu. If you think this doesn’t make a difference, think again. I can tell you not only was the cooking faultless, and perfectly executed, the freshness and flavours just burst in your mouth.
You can choose from a seven-course tasting menu or go a la carte. The prices are high, but not outrageous considering the quality of food and the work that goes into it. The tasting menu was $132 and you can do wine pairings as well. We noted the majority of diners chose to do this. They have a 6,000 bottle beautiful wine cellar. Ask for a tour, it is quite impressive. We opted to order a single bottle of wine and the sommelier was very helpful in choosing one that would pair well will our tasting menu. The a la carte mains are in the $50 range but are generous in portion.
After an amuse bouche of yellow watermelon wrapped in a homemade charcuterie – did I mention they cure and dry age their own meats – we started with one of my favourite courses, the Nova Scotia scallops. These were literally the freshest and sweetest tasting scallops I have ever had. They came with a framboise foam. It was hard to choose another favourite course because each one was so impressive.
The next course was a local stone crab in a wonderful gazpacho. Christine brought us out a special course of venison carpaccio with sea snails, Parmesan cheese and cherry tomatoes that was outstanding. Thank you, Christine, for the delicious gift! The restaurant is known for their foie gras and I can see why, with its wild blueberries and shiitakes, I would have licked the plate if I could. I don’t get to see razor clams very often and especially not ones as large as what they served. Now I know that they can be cooked to a tender and delicious consistency, not rubbery like I find most other restaurants serve. Bravo! The next course was again one of the best tuna dishes I have ever had. It actually looked like a beautiful piece of veal or lamb when it was presented and I was surprised to taste the tender fish in an incredible sauce with lobster mushrooms in a thyme and lemon sauce. The next course was the only meat course on the tasting menu, a baby pigeon with a beautiful rich sauce and the most tastiest roasted potato – perfection! The tasting menu is always a surprise. They won’t tell you what it is in advance. They only ask if you have any allergies or aversions.
For dessert one of us had the cheese course … that would be me, of course … It was presented in a beautiful glass bowl and looked like a sweet dessert. Sourced from a local dairy farmer, it was a lusciously creamy, fragrant cheese served with homemade flax seed crackers and a strawberry compote. We also ordered a creme au beurre noisette, a meringue with a pine ice cream with wild Quebec blueberries. Another dessert we sampled was fresh Ontario peaches and a fresh corn mousse. The flavour was unbelievable.
Laprise is the only Canadian to sit on a newly created international chefs advisory board created by the Institut Paul Bocuse based in Lyon, France. He also gets a 19/20 in Gayot. Why this restaurant doesn’t have a couple of Michelin stars is a mystery. But no restaurant in Canada does. I think they need to come pay Toque a visit. Toque is a culinary jewel, whose globally recognized dishes are works of art. It’s perfect if you are seeking a truly creative gastronomic experience.