Lavish decor of Le Mount Stephen Hotel aside, their dining room Bar George failed on each and every account for Lesley Chesterman at the Gazette this week. Beginning with their Golden Square Mile cocktail which failed to impress, the critic felt it was a premonition of worse things to come.
Hopes were high, of course; the kitchen is after all run by former Montrealer and executive chef Anthony Walsh of the successful Toronto restaurant Canoe, in addition to chef de cuisine Kevin Ramasawmy whose résumé includes Maison Boulud. However, the restaurant’s promised British fare came out poorly executed and timed in Chesterman’s eyes. “...In June,” she writes, “hearty British dishes are about as appropriate as a tweed overcoat.” While not one to knock food from the U.K. outright, the menu came off as a jumbled mix of interpretations on classics when considering a Yorkshire pudding served with steak as opposed to roast beef. Other disappointments included a mushroom soup that had nary a taste of fungus and a gem lettuce salad whose buttermilk dressing added no flavour. Above all, the issue of too much salt was raised in her review several times. Guilty culprits include the appetizer of a pork hock terrine with a “dewy texture” but “oddly fishy” bannock chips, and two mains consisting of a birch-glazed piglet shoulder and halibut quenelle with Matane shrimp.
Misgivings were, suffice to say, consistent. While the oysters were pleasing, the veal cheek and kidney pie was too large of a portion (“Why not serve a decent-sized portion for half the price?”) and its promised wild mushrooms were all but absent, save for a single button mushroom. As for the puddings served as dessert, a “suet-based roly-poly cake topped with sea buckthorn berries and clotted cream was the worst dessert I’ve tasted in eons. I pushed the plate away after just (again) one salty, pasty bite.”
With service lacking and inconsistent, a wildly vacillating bang-buck ratio, lighting so poor that “two customers behind us pulled out their phone flashlights to read the menu”, and overpriced wine, it appeared to Chesterman that the decor was the only thing worth seeing at Bar George; but even then, the cutlery was mismatched. The restaurant received no stars. Ouch. [Montreal Gazette]
Seeing as critic Ariane Krol also visited Bar George this past week, it just goes to show that variety is the spice of life; even when it comes to criticism. After an informative exposé on the space’s history, Krol had slightly more praise for the restaurant than Chesterman, noting that the pork hock terrine was “tasty” and had the look of a “still life” in terms of presentation, and the appetizer of devils on horseback — prunes stuffed with almonds and stuffed with bacon, topped with a liquer mousse — were “simple and very tasty little mouthfuls.” The haggis croquettes received praise as well with their “surprisingly delicate taste”. Things began to go downhill, however, when she was served the Earl Grey salmon and rollmops (crushed herring). Seemingly pleasing with their blood-red sorrel, radish slices, capers and roe, its advertised earl grey failed to be found.
Now for the bad news: It appears that several criticisms from Chesterman’s visit can be found in Krol’s, with similar comments on the saltiness and structure of several dishes; consistent comments aren’t a good sign. Krol seemed to have enjoyed the veal cheek pie a bit more, but “the juice in which (the meat) bathed, more broth than sauce, was too liquid, and its announced wild mushrooms were missing”. While the roasted cod started out well, its cheese and beer sauce was too heavy to be enjoyed. Finally, it appears that the roly-poly dessert is unanimously one to avoid, as this critic too doubts “that this type of thick, heavy and clammy paste topped with clotted cream delights lovers of desserts.” She does give credit to the whiskey pudding, with its caramel sauce and sponge crackers; some light at the end of the tunnel there.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, it appears that the decor at Bar George has a consistent ability to wow most if not all visitors, but the menu may be containing one too many potential flops to be a rousing success. There’s no star rating here, literally; at least it’s not zero stars? [La Presse]
On a more positive note, this past week has Thierry Daraize paying a visit to the BYOB restaurant Tandem, one of the critic’s “top three (BYOBs) in Quebec.” It’s a meal that’s even better than his first there, especially since the restaurant has reworked its space to include a kitchen that’s open to the dining room and a bar that looks over the cooks in action. He notes that these changes, among others, are a success as the critic was hard-pressed to find a customer who didn’t have a smile on their face.
As opposed to some of Daraize’s latest reviews, this one rants and raves over the food, noting that only a few of their efforts made are a few shades shy of a five-star rating from him; the marrow with thyme and veal juice is well-prepared but lacks proper cooking and its accompanying toast is a tad too “fatty”, for instance. This also applies to their desserts, as the reversed lemon pie is a flat-out “delight”, but a layered dessert cup has raspberries that are “not sliced enough” to harmonize the dish and its matcha flavour is slightly overpowering. Aside from this, the deer medallion is one of the “best eaten in years”, and their lobster macaroni with Piave has seafood “cooked to perfection” with its rich sauce and delicate-yet-tender pasta. It appears that Tandem maintains its glowing reputation in this critic’s mind. Four stars. [Le Journal de Montréal]
Finally, in another special collaboration with Le Devoir, Lesley Chesterman returns to the paper to review the Italian bistro Fiorellino, run by the principles behind the thumping dining club Buonanotte. In a city that once served lacklustre pies with slivers of green peppers, Paris mushrooms and slathered in mozzarella that added more texture than taste, Chesterman feels that all changed when Bottega opened in 2006; with many places now serving pizzas in the classic Neapolitan tradition, pizza has since undergone a “revolution” in Montreal, according to Chesterman.
Fiorellino appears to be no exception. From its bright interior to the pizzaolo in full view working in front of a wood-fire oven imported from Italy, this 80-seater was largely a success in the critic’s eyes as “the highest points of the meal were so delicious that the lows were far less disturbing.” That said, the appetizers of a panzanella salad, stuffed zucchini flowers, bacon asparagus and a soft-fried crab were largely successful, barring comments made here and there; not enough bread with the panzanella; the asparagus’ accompanying caviar was somewhat “incompatible” with the whole dish, save for a few bites; the zucchini flowers contained a tad too much anchovy for Chesterman’s palate. What’s more, the papardelle and maltagliati ordered as mains were both cooked to an enjoyable al dente, but both were found to be too salty. Everything was otherwise enjoyable, she notes.
“As for the pizza, here is why I strongly recommend Fiorellino,” Chesterman writes. The first pizza, the Formaggio di Capra with sausages, goat cheese, onions and pecorino cheese, was “sublime” for its combination of flavours. The second — roasted broccoli with speck and smoked provolone — was just as good, if not better, being deemed an “inspired combination.” To top it all off, Chesterman notes that a dessert of tiramisu is worth the excess for its creamy texture. Three stars. [Le Devoir]
- All Week in Reviews coverage [EMTL]