Birks has been a Montreal institution for fine jewellery since 1894. Last September, the chichi store opened an equally chichi resto-boutique on the mezzanine level called Birks Café par Europea. Ladies who lunch can now “take tea,” as they say, overlooking a dazzling array of jewels and designer watches.
I was happy to hear that heading this gastronomic endeavour was none other than Montreal top chef Jérôme Ferrer whom many locals know from his chain of restaurants, including the haute cuisine Europea, as well as Andiamo, Beaver Hall, and Espace Europea.
And why do tea for two when you can do three? I decided to enlist my Montréal Buzz colleagues – and noted foodies – Alexandra Forbes and Melora Koepke. Phil, our charming waiter, started our afternoon on a bubbly note: Anderson Valley sparkling wine, $73, by Roederer Estate (the same folks who bring you Cristal) was served to us in sleek, pinstriped etched flutes. Likewise, we sipped our water in Birks Living Murano glass tumblers, ate off Montgolfier plates from France, and manoeuvred sweet and savoury treats into our mouths with ultra-contemporary silverware – all of it (make note shoppers) is available in-store.
In lieu of the traditional tiered plating, Phil presented a rectangular silver tray upon which our delectable bites were smartly arranged. My first nibble was on the scones; we had to ask for extra Devonshire clotted cream, which was so thick and creamy, I could’ve downed a whole tub of it like ice cream.
Sweets included layers of fruit and cream en verrine; chocolates made by famed pastry chef Christophe Morel, each bearing a tongue-in-cheek name, such as l’or (gold), le diamant (diamond), and le rubis (ruby); and cotton candy-coloured macarons. I should also mention that the chocolates ($2.40 each), macarons ($1.90 each) and other sweets are also available for take-out purchase at the long glass display along the back wall opposite the stairway entrance. Not that I’m dropping hints or anything.
On the savoury side, we munched on artful shrimp and cucumber sandwiches, foie gras and chutney bites, a mini-club with prosciutto, and smoked salmon crackers topped with caviar.
Of course, we had to have tea. Paris import Thé Mariage Frère was presented in cast iron Chinese teapots. We decided on the Marco Polo, with flowers from China and Tibet, but more traditional tea-drinkers can order a classic like Earl Grey Impérial.
The afternoon tea service also includes a pretty box of macarons for you to enjoy at home (as I am now). Ours were carefully curated by Chef Ferrer himself. Top flavours to taste are: lemon, lychee, Bailey’s liquor, maple syrup, apricot and lavender, coconut, dark chocolate, and milk chocolate with passion fruit – did I just mention them all?
On the way out of the boutique, it’s hard to miss the massive, smooth marble pillars, ornate crown mouldings, and sprawling glass counters filled with shiny, happy presents-in-waiting. In French the term for “window shopping” is faire du lèche-vitrines, which basically means, “to lick windows.” Believe me, I had to hold myself back. Move over, Holly Golightly! I say, Why do breakfast at Tiffany’s when there’s high tea at Birks?
1240 Square-Phillips (corner of Sainte-Catherine Street)
Tel: (514) 397-2468
High tea hours: 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Cost per person: $26.50 (bubbly not included)
Note: The café also serves lunch from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. The chef de cuisine is Olivier Chaussy who used to be sous chef at Europea.