Perhaps rightfully, many of Montreal’s banner festivals induce skepticism among the general public for being overly corporate, overly touristy, overhyped, overcrowded, or overpriced (or some combination of all of these). And the annual winter food and arts celebration Montréal en Lumière is no exception — especially given the city’s extra-hyped 375th birthday this year.
The food side of this year’s festival has a focus on culinary traditions from Lyon, France, with a number of restaurants transforming themselves into bouchons, a restaurant style particular to Lyon which focuses on traditional, meaty dishes served in more of a bistro setting (and less of a fine dining one).
As in past years, restaurants put on a variety of prix fixe or table d’hôte menus, often bringing in guest chefs to sweeten the deal. Some jack up the price accordingly, too, even though one would think the whole homestyle bouchon thing might lead to more reasonably priced menus than a theme that encourages, say, molecular gastronomy.
In any case, there are some deals that are affordable and interesting at the festival — and they still have seats available for the slightly quieter second week(end) of the event. Alternatively, you could skip Montréal en Lumière and just visit your favourite restaurant because, hey, winter is the quietest time of year for most establishments, and they could probably do with your support, festival or not. In any case, here’s what will give you some bang for your buck at Montréal en Lumière.
- Lunch and brunch options are undoubtedly your friend if you’re looking to do something affordable at Montréal en Lumière. Vincent Chatelais and Dominic Laflamme’s Plateau restaurant Le Quartier Général is one of the best options on that front, with three courses for $25 (and it’s BYOB, if you’re into weekday drinking), every day at lunch until March 3. No Lyonnais gimmicks here — the menu will go with dishes out of Montreal’s own neighbourhoods.
- Quartier Général’s sister restaurant État Major has a similar offer: three courses at lunch for $23. Chef Nicolas Ficuciello (who helped Quartier Général make its name) is taking the Lyonnais route and offering hearty, bouchon-style plates. It’s BYOB and runs until March 3.
- Chef Jérôme Ferrer’s line of snack shacks might be overkill but his flagship restaurant Europea is still a very reputable destination: and a bargain at $30 for a five course lunch with elements of bouchon cuisine (but not the whole menu) — it runs until March 10. Wine matching is available but it’s not included in the price.
- Joe Mercuri’s eponymous fire-powered restaurant has got a lot of critical love in the past, and is putting on a $32 three course table d’hôte menu that takes lunch as seriously as dinner. It runs daily through to March 3.
- Perhaps due to its tourist-central Old Montreal location, Hambar flies under the dining radar of some Montrealers. But if anyone can be trusted to come through on a meaty menu, Hambar is a good bet — chef Aniss Meski is doing five courses of meaty bouchon-inspired fare, plus dessert, making that six courses for $45., available March 3 and 4. Wine matching is an option but isn’t included.
- Chef Contant Mentzas at Old Montreal Mediterranean restaurant Ikanos handles seafood with flair, and the $72 tasting menu on most nights of the festival isn’t a bad deal, but the good stuff is the after 10 p.m. option of five mezzes for $24. It’s only available March 2 and 3 on the nights where Mentzas pairs up with rustic, earthy South African chef Neil Jewell.
- Chef Thierry Baron’s Plateau French restaurant Vertige is doing six courses of Lyon specialties for $45 through to March 2. On the menu: classically creamy pike quenelles with Nantua sauce, chicken Célestine with mushrooms, and Beaujolais poached pears.
- Lastly, État Major’s dinner option isn’t quite as sweet of a deal as lunch (to be expected), but Nicolas Ficuciello is pairing up with Swiss-Spanish chef Rafael Rodriguez for a five course meal focused on dishes from Lausanne — a refreshing break from the long list of Lyonnais specials elsewhere. It’s $60, and bonus: it’s BYOW.