with Guest City Lyon
Imagine nearly two weeks of outdoor fun, music, shows, fair rides and fine food, during the winter, in one of Canada’s most iconic cities, and you have arrived at Montréal’s annual festival known as Montréal en Lumière. And, it’s here that I was a guest earlier on this year, where I enjoyed four days filled with fine food and wine, as well as lots of outdoor festival fun! Montréal certainly knows how to throw a party, even in the winter, and I was treated to a packed itinerary, as well as plenty of free time to explore this vibrant city. I’ve been to Montréal many times…….and, I have written about this city’s lively food scene before too, but, I have never been there in the winter, so I was excited to see how Montréalers embrace what can be a very severe weather conditions, with excessive snow, ice and sub-zero temperatures, whilst having fun in a large outdoor festival.
I didn’t have long to wait before joining in with the festivities, as soon as I landed at Montréal’s international airport I was whisked off to my hotel home for the next four nights, the Montréal Regency Hyatt, where my large and very comfortable bedroom overlooked the main site at The Quartier des Spectacles; every nightfall I was treated to colourful and stunning visual scenery of the giant Ferris wheel, a Luge course, Zip-Wire rides, Fire Eaters, Jugglers, as well as a rather funky “Disco” Cement Mixer, which was one of the festival’s “art installations”. My king-size bed overlooked all the action and it only took me 5 minutes to make my way down to the festival site, where my itinerary started on the first evening with a champagne cocktail party, followed by a gourmet meal at Bistro le Balmoral created by guest Lyon chef Joseph Viola, “Meilleur Ouvrier de France” (M. O. F.), chef of the Daniel & Denise restaurants and president of the Association des Bouchons Lyonnais. The meal started with Pâté en croûte, followed by Poulet Fermier in a Morel Sauce and a pan of Lyonnaise Potatoes – all beautifully cooked and presented.
As a food AND travel writer, I had been invited to attend the festival to experience and review the dining side of what was on offer; on day two, I was treated to a”Festival of Cheese” in the nearby Complexe Desjardins, before some free time and an evening meal at Kitchen Galerie near Jean Talon Market. As a cheese lover, there is nothing I like better than the thought of enjoying cheese for breakfast, which is what I did, and, it was a marvellous opportunity to meet some of the cheese-makers of Quebec. They happily answered all my questions, and were keen to talk about their creations and the regional qualities that contribute to the flavours and define the character of their cheeses. The Festival of Cheese is free to the public, and visitors can taste the Québécois “classics”, while pairing them with some excellent wines and beers at the Quebec Cheeses Boutique.
After a wonderful afternoon walking about Jean Talon Market, I was treated to an EIGHT COURSE special Surf’n’Turf menu at Kitchen Galerie, with wine pairings for each course and a welcome glass of bubbly. This cosy 22-seater Bistro, also offers diners to chance to sit at the bar, which I did and where I was able to chat, laugh and joke with the chefs, Matthieu Cloutier and Mathieu Bourdages, whilst watching them cook my (and other guests) meals. The sommelier, Gabriel Gallant, was professional and friendly and kept me well topped up with wine throughout the evening. I was treated to the special Montréal en Lumière menu, which as all about foie gras and seafood, hence the Surf’n’Turf title. From grilled oysters and sea urchins, to lobster, foie gras sorbet and caramelised apples, the menu was innovative and perfectly cooked. The atmosphere was fun and friendly, and I had to catch a taxi back to the hotel some four hours later, as I had imbibed quite a lot of wine, as well as fine food! This is a restaurant that I WILL be returning to when I am next back in Montreal, and I heartily recommend it to all.
Day three dawned with the prospect of brunch on my doorstep, as I had a reservation at Brasserie T! Located just outside the hotel entrance, I was booked in for a special two-course winter brunch featuring fresh black truffles from the Drôme. Brasserie T! is the sister restaurant to TOQUÉ! which is part of the Relais & Chateaux group and also Les Grande Tables du Monde too. My brunch started with a Mimosa, what I know as a Buck’s Fizz and was followed by Truffled Gravadlax served on toast with Truffle butter, Truffle cream and shaved fresh truffles, which was utterly divine and so earthy but in a light and flavourful way. The second course followed…...Farmers sausage with truffles, fluffy scrambled eggs with truffle and home style fried potatoes with truffle oil, a veritable feats for any truffle lover, of which I count myself as a fully-paid up member!
The rest of my day was spent wandering around the south west area of Montréal, known as Little Burgundy, as well as the uber-cool and up and coming Griffintown area of the city. I visited the wonderful Atwater Market, which is named after the 19th century businessman and municipal politician, Edwin Atwater. It was established in 1933 and its Art-Deco style architecture makes it one of Montréal’s most beautiful buildings. When I am next in Montreal, I plan to visit Joe Beef, which was sadly closed when I was there – Joe Beef advertises itself as “An old Montreal restaurant classic in the heart of Little Burgundy. An homage to Charles “Joe-Beef” McKiernan, 19th century innkeeper and Montreal working class hero. A drunken crawl away from the Historic Atwater market. Steaks and seafood” and that Liverpool House has “Seaside cottage charm and bustling oyster counter. Sexy Old World wines, and crazy fresh market food. A great club house feel. Perfect for gin-tonic fueled evenings with relatives, friends, lovers and/or Peter Hoffer (aka “The HOFF”)”……I can’t wait to go there!
On my last day, brunch was at the amazing Restaurant Hambar, a twenty minute walk away from the hotel and located on McGill, in the heart of the Old Montréal , the day was bitterly cold, and by the time I got there I was pleased to be welcomed with a pot of hot, lemon tea. Hambar’s master butchers offered me a Lyon-inspired charcuterie platter to celebrate the festival; a glass of Morgon Côte du Py from the Louis Claude Desvignes vineyard accompanied my platter as well as a selection of artisan breads. Their menu also features house-made pasta, fresh seafood and quality meats, including their famous rib steak. Recognised for their house-made charcuterie, and extensive wine selection, Hambar also offers weekend brunches, where modern and classic meet, and I loved their modern and edgy decor with vintage meat-slicers, as well as their entrance, which is a glass cave for ageing their hams.
One cannot leave Montréal without trying something from one of the Food Tucks, and so on my last afternoon, I met a friend who lives in Montréal, and she and I indulged in some food truck grub! There were two food trucks outside my hotel, one selling Beaver Tails and the other one selling Poutine – both Québécois classics! We both enjoyed a Pomme et Cannelle (Apple and Cinnamon) Beaver Tail, my FIRST ever, and then later on, I popped down for some supper, and ate a smoked meat Poutine by one of the warming stations at the Festival Montreal en Lumière; there was smoked meat piled on top of chips (fries) with squeaky curd cheese and a rich smoked meat gravy……basically it’s “after a night out on the town chips and gravy” but with cheese and meat – but it does the job in minus zero temperatures though and is just outside the hotel at the festival, so handy.
My four days flew by and the festival Montréal en Lumière was incredibly diverse with so many activities, shows and dining venues to visit and enjoy. The dates for 2018 have been released, and if you want some winter fun with lots of outdoor activities, music and fine dining, as well as snack dining, dancing and just general frivolity, then I cannot recommend highly enough attending the next festival Montréal en Lumière. The 19th EDITION kicks off on FEBRUARY the 22nd until MARCH the 4th in 2018, and I’m ending by sharing a video of the 18th Edition this year, 2017 below, to get you in the mood for the next one. I hope my “dining out” notes above will also encourage you to visit this exciting, culinary city for fabulous food and fun! See you soon with more Prairie Dining Notes from Winnipeg, as well as some new recipes, Karen
With thanks to Éliane Lévesque for making this happen, as well as Air Canada, Regency Hyatt Hotel, Go Media 16 and all the people and restaurants mentioned above. I was the guest of Montréal en Lumière; all my flights, transfers, accommodation and meals were included, as well as all trips and extra excursions. With profound thanks to all the people and organisations that looked after me and made my trip so memorable and exciting.
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