I was cut, completely disappointed.
When I found out that Canada’s number 2 restaurant (then #1) was located in Montreal, a city that I’d be spending a few days visiting for work, I immediately set about making a reservation.
All to no avail. It seemed that (like most places), Montreal’s top restaurant was hard to get into at short notice.
It wasn’t until I was sharing a quick lunch with my Canadian colleagues that I mentioned two things; firstly, I’d been to Maison Boulud and found it rather disappointing (see post here), and that I’d desperately been trying to get in to Toqué!
At the mention of Toqué, the team began to regale me with tales of splendid and unforgettable meals at the French fine diner. Noticing my spiral into discontent, the team made a few calls and found that we could in fact secure a table for lunch the following day.
It seemed as if fortune was smiling upon me after all!
The day was typically cold when we hopped into our Uber to head across town for our midday reservation. With four of us crammed into a tiny little rust bucket, we ventured out to the slippery streets of Montreal and drove past the site of a well known Montreal viral video of busses, cars and even snow ploughs sliding into each other. It caused a bit of a chuckle about the dangers of driving in the city (see video here).
The booking had us sitting at the bar, which was not ideal for a group of four, but when we arrived at the restaurant, we were shown to a lovely table in the main dining room. Fortune still seeming to be smiling upon me 🙂
Our menus arrived and unsurprisingly were mainly in French; but with a couple of oddities – some pages had English translations underneath the French, some were in English and others were only in French. While the menu itself was strange, the contents were anything but; I was confronted with the dreaded ‘too-many-great-choices’ dilemma. Normally not so bad from a restaurant you’d visit regularly; but given it was my first and possibly last visit to Montreal, a scenario that needed careful consideration.
While I was contemplating my choices (as if my life depended upon it), we were given a plate of fresh bread rolls and crusty cut baguette along with a nob of salted and hand churned butter. All quite lovely layered with plenty of that creamy butter.
We were off to a good start.
As must always be the case, we made our selections and settled in for what I hoped would be a fantastic meal. It wasn’t long before our first course arrived and my choice of Roasted Quail with Jerusalem artichoke purée, confit shallot and black trumpet mushrooms with a sticky Campari sauce. The golden quail had been partially deboned to help with the eating and was surrounded by the earthy campari sauce. The crisply skin was perfectly salty and covered expertly cooked flesh that was a little sweet and very gamey. The caramelised shallots gave a contrasting sweetness; all underpinned by the twang from the artichoke puree. It was a delicious dish indeed.
My dining companions had a variety of dishes, all looked beautiful on the plate, especially the Beef and La Beurasse goat cheese salad. Even the Venison and lingonberry terrine looked amazing, the plating simple and effective, with what can be a hard to present set of ingredients.
When in the wilds of Canada, it’s hard to go past a good ‘game’ dish and when I saw the Venison Loin, it was probably the easiest choice of the day for me. The expertly cooked rare venison was presented with charred Brussels sprouts, carrots, sautéed trumpet mushrooms and a creamy potato puree. Venison is a protein that needs to be cooked very rare, otherwise the flavour is ruined and the meat tough to eat; Toqué! managed to get the cooking juuuust right, making it both amazing on the palate, but easy on the jaw. The combination of flavours worked well, the plate had the right amount of seasoning; the only real issue was the messy plating that wasn’t super attractive to eat.
The prettiest main was actually the fish dish (pretty sure it was Halibut), served with charred cos lettuce and tomato; but word from the table was that it was a little bland and could have used a little more seasoning.
I’d really struggled to decide my dessert; I’d seen some photos from my dining companions’ previous visits, with the meringue and sponge cake dessert looking (and by wistful description of its eating) scrumptious. And I’d contemplated getting the dish too; but settled for the Crème Brûlée Cheesecake with specula’s crumble and blueberry gel with sorbet.
I tell you, it was the only time during the whole meal where I had food envy. I’d definitely chosen the wrong dessert. That’s not to say that my cheesecake wasn’t good; the individual squares of cheesecake with a caramelised brûlée top were nice, but just a little dense. The sweetness of the cheesecake was not quite there when contrasted with the sharpness of the blueberry gel. It was just not as sweet as I’d have liked to finish my meal.
On the other hand, the Pink Pepper meringue and gel, praliné and sponge cake, served with roasted white chocolate and strawberry balsamic vinegar granité not only looked amazing; but I was informed in no uncertain terms how delicious and sweet it was.
Dratt my poor choice!
Lastly, we were presented with little sweet cakes to finish as our Petite Four; they were essentially madeleines, but in a different shape. My little bite was just the sweet hit I’d been looking for with my dessert.
Toqué! is pretty much the quintessential French Canadian restaurant; its longevity clear evidence of its stature in the Canadian culinary landscape. Head chef and owner Normand Laprise places a huge influence on local produce; a smart move in a country where there is abundance of nature’s goodness.
By the time of my visit, Toquè! had been ‘demoted’ from Canada’s number one restaurant to number two. And while the French fine diner has not made the San Pellegrino list of top 50 restaurants, it has made another prestigious list of top restaurants; The Elite Traveller Top 100 restaurants, which ensures the restaurant rubs shoulders with some of the best restaurants in the world (#65 Chefs Table at Brooklyn Fair, #66 Toque, #67 Arzak.)
I completely enjoyed both the company I dined with and the meal I consumed during my unexpected visit to Toquè! The contemporary and modern dining room was bathed in light from large windows to the outside world; which gave a shiny perspective on the white linen on the table that was almost a throwback to a bygone (only recently) era of fine dining. Service was also excellent in as much that it faded into the background and never really caused any concerns.
My meal was all the much better because it was unexpected, and quite frankly, restored my faith that Montreal had some amazing food; and was a foodie destination.
The only real problem was that we eventually had to traipse back out into the cold and head back to work….