Montreal may not be New York, with dozens of media-crazed chefs and restaurateurs, but it has a vibrant yet easy-to-grasp restaurant scene, with a handful of true restaurant-world stars. Locals know them on a one-name basis: Picard. McMillan. Chuck. Ferreira. Laprise. These are some of the biggies. But more on this later…
It turns out that the last two – restaurateur Carlos Ferreira and chef Normand Laprise, owners, respectively, of famed Ferreira Café and Toqué! – just opened, this summer, side-by-side restaurants. Not only that, but they’re identical on the outside and have similar names: Ferreira’s F Bar is a mere stone’s throw from Laprise’s Brasserie T!, and both resemble rectangular aquariums that dramatically jut out of the sidewalk.
The London equivalent of this would be if, for example, celeb-chef Gordon Ramsay cut the ribbon of a new “Bistro R” right beside Jamie Oliver’s “Trattoria O”. Ain’t going to happen, right?
Well, in Montreal, it did happen! And not just anywhere, but right smack-dab on the main esplanade of the city’s new Quartier des Spectacles (a large public open space buillt to host most of the city’s countless festivals which officially opened last year, although its grand début actually happened with the start of the Jazz Fest, in July).
This means that come festival time the F Bar and Brasserie T! offer those lucky enough to snag a terrasse table the chance to eat and drink while catching a show…. for free! When there aren’t any shows on the schedule, a seat facing the urban plaza is still highly entertaining, not only because of the great people-watching but also because of the funky fountains that spurt water out of tiny holes on the ground in a sort of coreographed ballet, while coloured lights tinge the jets with everchanging hues of blues, reds and yellows.
But back to the two seemingly identical restos owned by the big-name restaurateurs… how does one choose between them?
As someone who’s eaten at both a few times (can you tell I’m a fan?), I think I can help… All you have to do is figure out what matters to you most.
As both F Bar and Brasserie T! are owned by guys that really know their stuff and have a name to uphold, it goes without saying that you’ll eat very well regardless of which one you choose.
At F, Ferreira has put Frenchman Gilles Herzog in charge of the kitchen and gave him free reign, which explains why the menu isn’t nearly as Portuguese as at his flagship Ferreira Café. Dishes are modern French, with a Portuguese ingredient here or there, and the odd nod to the head-to-tail and haute charcuterie trends.
There’s even an homage to New York’s chef Daniel Boulud and his infamous burger (with foie gras in the middle of the beef patty), which in F’s case combines baby arugula, grilled mushroom, aïoli and melted cheese.
I see a clear difference between the lunch menu – much more casual – and the dinner menu, where dishes have rather elaborate presentations. For example, chef Herzog slices pig’s trotters as thinly as paper, and pairs that with spicy shrimp coated with a red pepper rub. A tiny, elegant side salad, sits to the left, completing the compositon.
You won’t find something that complicated or elaborately presented at T!
True to the brasserie norm, lunch and dinner are the same: super casually presented (and super delicious, too). The big items on the menu are the meat-centric: an addictive and smokey “Montreal Sausage”, a beautifully made charcuterie platter with toasted brioche slices, etc.
Yet there’s much on the menu to please the light-eating ladies, including simple side dishes of seasonal veggies that are a locavore’s dream and big enough to share. Take their beets, for instance. They’re just that. Roasted, a bit of parsley sprinkled on top. But…. what amazing quality!
Don’t be fooled by the hum-drum descriptions: “salmon and dill” is actually so much more than just a piece of fish. Slowly cooked at a very low temperature, it has the texture of great sashimi, almost, and its buttery texture matches perfectly with the thin, crunchy slices of fennel.
Perhaps the coolest idea, food-wise, is the dessert and cheese cart which sits in the center of the room, fully loaded with artisanal goats and triple-crèmes oozing their creamy goodness, and jars holding freshly-baked cookies that would put any corner coffee shop to shame.
On a late summer visit, I shared a dessert with my friend M: a chocolate éclair with a side of ruby red strawberries that were intensely flavourful. So very far from your standard supermarket strawberry – that’s clear.
In fact, I think that’s precisely what makes the place: awesome ingredients, barely messed with.
Both restaurants have very knowledgeable staff, but I am particularly impressed by T!’s barman Alexis Morrisseau, who sources his cocktail ingredients at their seasonal prime and seems incredibly creative and passionate.
I haven’t exactly sat down to do exact calculations, but I always spend less at T! Laprise’s Brasserie is a steal.
Ferreira lucked out: his restaurant is practically next to the main stage, while Laprise’s T! is further back. Come Jazz Fest time, those who dine at one of F’s terrasse tables (pictured below) have, quite simply, the best seats in the house!
F Bar’s interior is slightly more upscale, with high-backed chairs, while I prefer T!’s bar area, which seems cozier: plush leather stools, a wall pained the colour of plums, etc.
If after reading all this you’re still undecided, I’ll give you the short version: go for F on a date night, or if you want to catch a show while enjoying a candle-lit dinner. If you’re hitting town with hungry friends who want to drink and eat like kings without breaking the bank, T! is the spot for you.
1458 rue Jeanne-Mance,
tel. (514) 289-4558
1425 rue Jeanne-Mance
tel. (514) 282-0808