October 8, 2013 — Influenced by its multicultural inhabitants, Montréal offers a diverse gourmet feast that spans a wide range of mouth-watering menus appropriate for all palates. Food is a Montréal passion, pursued in anywhere from five-star restaurants to Parisian-style bistros to cozy eateries, and inspired by the culinary traditions of 120 cultural communities, local products and the ingenuity of the chefs. Montréal is the city with the largest number of restaurants per capita in all of North America, with over 6,000 gastronomic establishments within the region.
If you are in Montréal on a Saturday, you might want to take advantage of Flavours and Aromas of Old Montréal, a guided tour of the culinary, cultural, and historical charms of the district. Food boutiques open their doors, inviting you to sample their rare delicacies. You could also head to the Little Italy district for a Foodie Tour. This neighbourhood boasts renowned restaurants and fine grocery stores, not to mention the Jean-Talon Market, the largest open-air market in North America, where tasty samplings are always part of the visitor experience.
DAY 1 – OLD MONTRÉAL
The cobblestone streets of Old Montréal have witnessed the passage of time for more than 360 years. Today, art galleries, artisans' boutiques, terraces, and cafés conduct business within the walls of gracious century-old structures. You can start your day at the charm-filled breakfast and brunch locale, Le Cartet, where urbanites gather in a unique resto-boutique that offers European-style selections, including blueberry French bread and the healthy and popular Brunch Santé.
After your morning meal, don’t miss checking out some of the area’s specialty food boutiques. At Canadian Maple Delights, gelati and pastries are among the many available goodies made from Canadian maple syrup. Sweet! Grab a gourmet “lunch box”, all packed and ready to go at Europea Espace Boutique, a foodie paradise where you can also stock up on original souvenirs and gifts. Meanwhile, the Marché du Vieux is a fine food store and bistro/café, featuring a wide range of local products, including smoked meat, Montréal bagels, foie gras, ice cream, and local cheese.
A stay in Montréal is not quite complete without a visit to Pointe-à-Callière, Montréal Museum of Archaeology and History, the site that rises above the actual remains of the city's birthplace. The museum offers you the chance to peruse a variety of cultural artefacts through an authentic archaeological tour that takes you from the 14th century, when Natives occupied the site, to the present day. At lunchtime, head towards Boris Bistro for scrumptious bistro cuisine served on an enchanting terrace or in the welcoming dining room.
If you’re a foodie in a hurry, go for a hands-on approach at 30-minute cooking classes offered by Ateliers & Saveurs. In addition to cooking classes, this unique school invites the general public to try bartending and mixology workshops, and wine tasting sessions. If you would rather have a laid-back afternoon, stroll the streets of Old Montréal until you work up a thirst for an aperitif or two at Jardin Nelson, an oasis located at the always captivating Place Jacques-Cartier. Here you can relax, people-watch, and sip on a libation selected from an extensive list of wine and cool cocktails.
Before indulging in a savoury supper, consider touring the Quays of the Old Port, either by foot or even by quadricycle! If you fancy frozen treats, go to Café-terrasse Chez Catherine, where you can indulge in Québec ice cream, as well as iced coffee and chai.
The options for dinner in Montréal are endless, but if you feel like spending some time offshore, Bateau-Mouche and AML Cruises offer music, a variety of cuisine, and splendid views of the city as you cruise down the majestic and historical St. Lawrence River. If you would rather stay on terra firma, try the superb Chez Delmo, a stylish historical venue with contemporary fittings, an extensive wine list, and a focus on seafood and fish, or Graziella, which serves delicious Northern Italian specialties using local and seasonal products. With a refined, minimalist yet warm décor, the restaurant is also known for implementing notable sustainable practices. Bon appétit!
DAY 2 – DOWNTOWN
Montréal's downtown scene is a bustling study in contrasts where the latest architectural marvels soar beside stately Victorian-era residential, civic, and religious buildings.
Start off the day with a nice and hearty breakfast at a restaurant inspired by the story of a couple whose recipe for love was made up of happiness and good food. Ben & Florentine is dedicated to providing superior quality and high standards in the "Ben & Florentine" way. Offering a variety of dishes in a comfortable, welcoming atmosphere, the eatery is a great spot for families, with a view to being the number one choice for breakfast and lunch in the city.
Spend the rest of the morning shopping in the downtown area. There are lots to see and buy in this retail haven, and be sure to check out Montréal’s renowned 29.7 km (18.5 mile) long underground pedestrian network while you are at it. Rain or shine, you can always count on finding something worth purchasing in the city under the city.
Once you have had enough retail therapy, how about some massage therapy? Spa Eastman, discreetly located on the 16th floor of a downtown office building, offers renewal right in the heart of the hustle and bustle of the city, with massage, sauna, and a variety of beauty and body treatments. The view of Mount Royal from the premises will knock your socks off. For their relaxation needs, men can get pampered at MANN, a center specializing in male grooming and massage therapy.
If you are feeling peckish enough for lunch, try the nearby Le Commensal, a vegetarian restaurant boasting a minimalist décor, a laid-back atmosphere, and a spectacular view of Montréal's business district. Choose from soups, salads, hot dishes (pasta, tofu, seitan, vegetables, pizza, quiches, etc.), and desserts.
Properly stuffed, you can stroll down Sherbrooke Street West and admire architecture through the ages, like that of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts pavilions, as well as specialty boutiques like La Casa del Habano, a choice destination for the discerning cigar smoker, where you can relax in a spacious lounge and enjoy a roll of tobacco with a Cuban cocktail or coffee.
You can also try out one of the cooking workshops at L'Atelier par Europea, a friendly space behind the scenes of restaurant Europea's kitchens, where chefs and experts share their know-how with participants. More than 30 different themes can be explored in a one-hour session, which includes a drink, a recipe card, and a gift from the chef.
Take an afternoon break for sweets or other eats at the sleek and elegant Nocochi Pâtisserie Café, where you can sample delectable, gluten-free, Persian pastries imported from Dubai, oven-grilled sandwiches, pizza, pasta, omelettes, vegetarian dishes, and much more.
You can continue walking down Sherbrooke Street West to appreciate the many galleries as well as works from the city’s impressive collection of public art that can be found throughout numerous blocks of this grand and historic thoroughfare.
In the evening, have a feast at the exceptional DECCA 77, which features the freshest ingredients lovingly combined to form tasty culinary creations, or, for a change of pace, head to Deville Dinerbar. In a retro-chic decor, savour revamped classics reminiscent of the American diners of yesteryear.
DAY 3 – MILE END AND THE PLATEAU MONT-ROYAL
Mile End and the Plateau Mont-Royal are fantastic Montréal neighbourhoods with an urban fabric that features exterior wrought-iron staircases and old-style stone masonry. Here, diversity reigns, and there is something of interest for everyone, whether it's designer boutiques, vintage shops, nightspots, restaurants, or cafés, these two beautiful districts have what you are looking for in Montréal.
Begin your day at the Fairmount Bagel Bakery, which since 1919, has been treating customers to scrumptious traditional hand rolled bagels baked in a wood-fired oven. Their rivals at St-Viateur Bagel have also been feeding hungry Montrealers with their delicious offering at all times of the day or night. Now it’s up to you to decide which bagel you like best!
Take some time to walk around the vibrant neighbourhood. You can even try to get lost (although you won’t!) as you explore the Victorian-era residential and commercial architecture on the easy-to-follow grid of neighbourhood streets. For some neat finds, check out Laurier Avenue West’s Boutique Royer, a unique place where art meets function in the contemporary designs of over 100 local artists. Nearby, the minimalist, monochrome interior of Les Touilleurs makes a perfect backdrop to a dazzling collection of accessories, appliances and utensils.
For lunch, go to Leméac, on the west end of Laurier Avenue West, which has been a Montréal mainstay for years. The restaurant keeps things fresh and simple, has a gorgeous outdoor terrace, and serves up a classic menu of steak frites, foie gras au torchon, homestyle blood sausage, and other palate pleasers, along with a respectable wine list and selection of Québec cheeses. An in-store boutique means you can take home gifts and homemade treats.
Next, keep meandering about the area. At Bernard Avenue, culinary treasures await discovery, from a gelato to copious fine dining with international accents, while du Parc Avenue is home to much of the Greek community and its restaurants and pastry shops. For an afternoon refreshment, you can head to Dieu du Ciel, Brew Pub, a microbrewery that concocts inspired, inventive, and bold ales served in a friendly and warm environment.
As suppertime approaches, make your way to Saint-Denis Street, where food options abound. Delight in “bistronomy” at Au cinquième péché, a little gem of a restaurant that serves up inventive dishes made from local, market-fresh products. Only a few steps away, Chez Chose offers a varied, seasonal menu that changes daily.
Finish the evening off at l’Assommoir Bernard, a paradise for cocktail lovers set in a cozy environment. The perfect spot for that last sip of the evening!
DAY 4 – AN INTERNATIONAL FEAST
The variety of fare on offer in Montréal embraces the culinary traditions of a multitude of cultural communities, a flavourful mosaic which has spawned much international acclaim.
For a taste of Montréal’s local culinary culture as well as for some early nibbles, head over to Jean-Talon Market, the largest outdoor public market in North America and a hot spot for foodies from near and far who come to stock up on Québec products. Whether you’re in search of rare spices and wild mushrooms or you just want to nibble on the abundant samples of local and imported fruit and veggies, this is the place for you.
Next, take some time to walk around the neighbourhood, known as Little Italy, the bastion of the Montréal Italian community since the 19th century. It has its own special feel, where easy-going meets jet set and residential backyards give way to tomato plants and grape vines. Attend a cooking workshop at Apollo, and check out the Casa d’Italia, a community centre built in 1936 which houses several Italian associations.
Now, for something completely different, make your way south to Chinatown, which dates back to the 1860s when Chinese immigrants came to Canada to work in the mines and on the railroads. Here, the Chinese community continues to shop and celebrate its traditional festivals and holidays along the narrow streets lined with stores selling food, traditional crafts, martial arts accessories, herbs, and natural medicines, to name a few.
From Chinatown, you can walk to the Palais des congrès de Montréal (Montréal Convention Centre) and appreciate its one-of-a-kind architecture and interior design spanning over three centuries, as well as take in the Place Jean-Paul-Riopelle, a public square named after the famous painter and featuring his sculptural fountain entitled, La Joute.
For an aperitif, head to the Dominion Square Tavern on Metcalfe Street. This English pub with a decor straight out of the 1930s features a savoury cocktail list and a selection of local beers on tap.
You can end your tour with authentic Lebanese cuisine at laid-back Garage Beirut, Northwestern African fare in a nomadic tent atmosphere at La Khaïma, a gourmet Portuguese dinner at Helena, or a festive last supper at the izakaya (Japanese pub) Imadake, whose menu is composed of appetizers to share. Whichever you decide, you will end up leaving Montréal knowing that there will be so much more to taste of the city when you return.