Follow Rue Notre-Dame west to the end of your tourist map and you’ll come to one of Montreal’s hottest neighbourhoods, Saint-Henri, where new shops and restaurants are opening weekly.
We began our tour at Lionel-Groulx metro station, a short walk from Atwater Market. In the early 1900s, St.-Henri was home to French Canadians and working class Irish immigrants, our excellent guide Roland told us. While still a little rough around the edges, today it’s home to young people and chefs looking for an affordable place to settle.
The restaurant scene on west Notre-Dame is a study in contrasts. A few doors down from Nouveau Systeme, a popular roast chicken place promising fast delivery, sits a new hipster BBQ joint. Greenspot, an old-school diner serving huge portions of comfort food since 1947, is so kitschy it’s hot again.
A new place that resembles a Chinese restaurant from the ‘50s doesn’t even have a name. Montrealers call it Satay Brothers after the two owners. As Roland was showing us a home-style Japanese place he thought was just about to open, the owner walked by and announced it had opened four days earlier.
A few doors down, a graceful, tall-ceilinged room called Sumac is always packed with people hungry for good, reasonably-priced Lebanese food. Yet another entrepreneur has opened a pub dedicated to 19th-century architect Ludger Lemieux, who designed many of the area’s churches and public buildings, including Art Deco Atwater market and the area’s fire station.
Of course trendiness has its price. The owner of one of Montreal’s famous coffee roasters, Saint-Henri, has already announced he may have to move from Notre Dame as his rent skyrockets.
Named for its postal code, H4C was packed with diners enjoying the three-course $41 menu created for the fourth annual Montreal a Table, which runs until Nov. 8. The chef had cleverly added a few extra courses for an additional price, including three perfect half-moons of chicken liver mousse pate on a plate dabbed with tangy, fruity sea buckthorn berry puree.
My marinated mackerel appetizer was light and fresh, with pillows of pale pink fish surrounded by mounds of finely diced cucumber, avocado, brioche crumbs and a barely-there buttermilk dressing. For $19 extra, I chose the main course of duck breast – a great slab of meltingly tender rosy pink meat cooked sous-vide with slices of roasted celery root, bouquets of fried kale and soft prunes.
But the most fun was dessert – a thin grey slate plate with a classy take on campfire S’mores. There were homemade marshmallows, slightly roasted on top, “glued” to homemade graham crackers with a dot of cranberry sauce. A spoonful of smoked chocolate sorbet added the campfire element, while a deep red cranberry sorbet set tastebuds racing with its tart richness.
Day 1 ended back at the beautifully modern Hotel Le Crystal near the Bell Centre. Tomorrow, markets!