At 6am on a Tuesday morning in March, on the brink of a colossal snow storm, Philip and I packed our bags, got in the car and headed east to Quebec City, kicking off our Canada150 tour. 2 feet of snow, 8 hours on the highway and a tight grip on the steering wheel later, we decided to alter our plans, cancel our Quebec City reservations and setup home base in Montréal. Phil and I had both been to Montréal in high school and many times since we began dating, each time presenting a new experience.
This time, we had one thing on our travel agenda, to eat our way around the city.
Where We Stayed
A modern sanctuary in the heart of a big city, Hotel William Gray was home away from home during our stay in Old Montréal. From the moment we handed our keys to the valet, to the warm welcome from the concierge, to the chocolate on our pillows, the finishing touch is something this hotel values and stands behind. A refined blend of old and new, classic and modern, masculine and chic, the ambiance the hotel provides is serene and inviting. The hotel is just as much a place to see, to visit, to be inspired by with an in-hotel library, a European-inspired cafe, a boutique store, fumage art by Montréal native Steven Spazuk and Maggie Oakes.
What first attracted us to Hotel William Gray was the vegetable-forward and in-hotel restaurant, Maggie Oakes. Fresh and local ingredients, and when we say local, we mean across the restaurant local. Maggie Oakes is home to a large micro-green wall of herbs, foliage and flowers dedicated to brightening and enhancing their dishes and plates. Upon arrival, dish after dish after dish was presented with a storytelling feature of ingredients, techniques and methods. Salmon gravlax, carpaccio octopus, tuna and bison tartare, duck breast, côte de bœuf and an assortment of desserts ignited our palate and was the perfect finishing touch on a perfect stay. The food was thoughtful and surprising, refined yet farm-to-table, a meal you eat in silence.
By the end of the meal we were beyond satisfied and beyond pleased with the experience at Maggie Oakes. But nothing could compare to the sous chef coming out to thank us for visiting as we sung his praises. And while he did not take full credit, he did bring us into the kitchen to thank his entire team. Shoutout to Sous Chef Wadensky and his team.
Thank you again to Maria, Tony, Laura and staff for making our first stop on our Canada150 tour and our stay in Montréal one to remember. Luxury accompanied every detail, the service was impeccable, and dinner at Maggie Oakes unforgettable. We look forward to visiting new friends made at Hotel William Gray in the summer months, that is, if they’ll have us back. Merci beaucoup.
Where We Ate
Oh, the weather outside was frightful but nothing was keeping us from indulging in the Montréal food scene. The chefs in Montréal honour their heritage by opening restaurants that pay homage, improve and enhance the food they grew up on. Simple classics, dishes that are bold and intentional without sacrificing any soul. When booking reservations we definitely recommend the DINR app, allowing you take advantage of last minute openings at top restaurants.
While the majority of our meals in Toronto are home cooked and photographed by us, when we do indulge at Toronto restaurants the camera stays at home. To us, a good meal can leave an impression, a memory in your mind, a tingle on you palate more than a photo can and when we rely on our camera to capture the food we have in restaurants we’re losing the opportunity to taste, reflect and appreciate each bite.
Because the snowstorm forced us into Montréal a few days earlier it also deterred many from leaving their houses. Luckily for us this meant 2 open seats at the hard to get a reservation for, Joe Beef. Dave McMillan and Fred Morin were culinary geniuses and first caught our eye when they served clams on a radio – literally 3 clams on a retro radio. Snuggling in tight in the bar area, we watched as our waiter spewed out his top favourite dishes and squinted to make out the menu on the chalk board. Croquettes, mushroom soup with foie gras flan, roasted cauliflower, and duck with olives, meals that were thoughtful, complex and completely genius, this was the perfect meal to start our trip.
After dinner, I raced into the car as Phil cleaned the 2 feet of snow off the roof. Watching from the window, Phil kicked the snow off the side of the car, and walked toward a man standing by the restaurant door, shaking his hand. When Phil got back to the car he said, that was him, that was Dave McMillan.
Arthurs Nosh Bar
A 15 minute drive from our hotel, Arthur’s Nosh Bar has officially made it on our list of must-have-everytime-we-visit-Montréal. Retro with Jewish and German influence, penny-tinned floors and black and white photos makes this classic yet modern diner an unexpected treat. We shared the matzah ball soup, the Arthur’s schnitzel sandwich and the vinegar fries for lunch and wished we didn’t have later reservations because we would have napped in our car and came back for supper. In one word, go.
Le Bird Bar
What came first the chicken or the champagne? Ordering fried chicken with bubbly is what the regulars request and a speciality at Le Bird Bar. While we didn’t write home about our meal, the design and decor of this modern yet Gatsby-esque restaurant was one to admire. Exquisitely designed by the Gauley Brothers, the turquoise velvet banquettes, globe light fixtures and a really cool neon wall light made well known that you were in the company of thoughtful design.
Now, Foiegwa was something to write home about. Located in Old Belle Province and also designed by the Gauley Brothers, entering this diner-inspired restaurant was intimate and cozy, like a flashback to the 1950’s. It was one of two restaurants on our trip that we fully indulged from frog legs to bone marrow, French onion soup to liver paté, bœuf bourguignon to ratatouille, oh mon dieu. This was French cuisine in Canada at its finest.
If you live for the trifecta of delicious food, incredible design and decor and a very filling $30 lunch for two, then LOV is a must. Even if you don’t live for the trifecta this hip, chic and casual restaurant will not disappoint. Vegan and Vegetarian options – think Kale Mac & Cheese, Caesar Salad and quinoa crusted onion rings (insert heart eyes emoji).
Au Pied du Cochon
This restaurant has been on Phil’s bucket list since the day he started watching Wild Chef and Martin Picard’s Au Pied du Cochon did not skimp out. With reservations being far and few, we luckily scored two seats at the bar at 11:30pm on Friday night. Nervous for the rumours we’d heard about the richness, decadence and foie gras topped everything, we approached the menu (having had a 7pm dinner) on our tippy toes and decided on Cider Mystique, of course and a plate of foie gras poutine.
Following in true Bourdain style, we left the famous smoked meat sandwich (and pickle) of Schwartz’s Deli to the final day of our trip. Smokey, meaty (go figure) and classically delicious, this sandwich is a must for every visit to Montréal. Eat a meal that’ll knock you out and be on your way as Tony suggests, I luckily got to pull my seat back in the car on the drive home while Phil had to drive it out, fortunately only taking us 5 hours home to Toronto.
What We Did
The benefit of driving to Montréal is that you have an escape car ready to take you hours away into the country, to nearby cities or simply down the street to farmer’s markets, shopping malls or landmarks. If you aren’t able to access your own car, UBER is in full effect, super friendly and willing to compliment you on your restaurant destinations of choice.
Put on your walking shoes, stretchy pants and let the city be your guide. Montréal is a city of wonder, it’s a city of treasure around every corner from art boutiques to breathtaking cafes to rustic general stores. Every light post has a story, every building is historic and every corner is a photogenic moment. As in Toronto, coffee shops have become a place of relaxation and quite time, and the cafes in Montréal are extensions of the architecture. Probably the most Instagrammed coffee shop Tommy was beautiful and organic, and Crew Collective (an old bank turned cafe) was beyond its beauty, timeless and incredible.
A UNESCO world heritage site, the town of Old Quebec is immersed in quaint cobblestone streets, European charm and well-preserved architectural treasures. Historic at every turn, we explored the city for a day eating poutine, shopping local boutiques and heads up glaring at the stunning Chateau Frontenac Hotel from the base of the St. Lawrence River.
Nestled an hour outside of Quebec City is the picturesque, mountainous and north shore of the St. Lawrence River, Charlevoix. Traditionally made beers, cheeses, meats, and chocolates makes Charlevoix’s Flavour Trail a foodie destination in the country. Be sure to look for the orange sign with the chef’s hat.