Restaurant Review: Laurie RaphaŽl Montreal
Published: February 2012
In Montreal GARETH DAVIS checks out a Quebecois star...
Four years ago I experienced one of those rare Damascene moments when I stepped into the unprepossessing Laurie Raphaël in Quebec City and emerged changed by Canadian cuisine. (See August 2008) The revelator in question, Chef Daniel Vezina, recently celebrated 20 years at the top and it was with huge anticipation that I sampled his 5 year old offspring, another Laurie Raphaël, at the Hotel Le Germain in Montreal.
It’s on the first floor of a modern build which is innocuous overall though the space itself is cosy with lots of light from the stretch of windows that run along one side. Retro 60s mobiles move imperceptibly in beams of light. Dark woods, mirrors and plenty of flashes of red evoke a seductive, almost illicit, atmosphere. The room is two thirds dining and one third bar, the latter cleverly tucked away.
I settled into a beautifully bitter Negroni, thoughtfully served with a small glass of soda to cut through it. It’s this attention to detail that is a signature of Laurie Raphaël. The bar menu is brief, the elements change with the seasonal whims of the chef though I’m told there’s at least one new item a week. I was given a taster of lobster risotto ($28) which was absolutely spot on; great depth of flavour, salty with sticky risotto cooked in the bisque. I’d suddenly gone coast. Also there’s a tapas menu sporting sharing nibbles like fries and mayo ($6) and salmon tartare with potato chips ($12).
In the dining room the main menu doesn’t trumpet its Quebecois produce as much as its progenitor though it’s all there. For example the lobster I’d tasted was from the Îles de la Madeleine just up the St Lawrence. The absence of labels however leaves more than enough room for evidence of flair; “wild mushroom tartlet with bone marrow, garlic flower persillade, mushroom royale and foie gras sauce” ($21) or “nitrogen foie gras, rhubarb puree and confied fennel” ($28). The Frenchness of it all is like a steak through the heart.
The wine list is truly global with a smattering of Canadian though one thing I was noticing on my trip to Quebec is that the same local labels crop up over and over. Good to see a fair showing of sparkling alternatives to champagne though. And my water, Eska sparkling from the northwest of the province, had a beautifully soft gas. As for prices, whites start in the $40s and $50s, reds mainly in the $50s with just a couple of $40s options.
There are no main courses. Everything is tasting size so logic dictated that I go for the seven course tasting menu with accompanying wines at a reasonable $171.
The drama started with the amuse bouche of strawberry juice and scallop ceviche seashore style. Nitrogen bubbled and smoked from a recreated shore with scallop sat atop. Inside, there were gorgeous slivers of scallop with strawberry and ginger but in taste terms? Mmm an awful lot of nothing.
Fried crab ravioli with saffron perfumed pineapple and grilled lemon crumble was accompanied by a glass of Cuvée Silice from south western France, near Montpellier. This glass of fruit and huge minerality danced along with a crab served two ways; fresh and lightly salted with pineapple, and cooked encased in a deep fried ravioli. Florid touches like almond powder turned into small snowballs accentuated what this dish was about; freshness and lots of fun.
With nitrogen foie gras, rhubarb puree and confied fennel we were finally up and running. An apple green Mosel Riesling fired up a frozen foie gras that looked like a fossil, cold on touch but shot through with deeply comforting flavours. Add the gin shot of rhubarb sweetness and tremendous!
More lobster from Îles de la Madeleine in a seasonal asparagus soup displayed wonderful flavour though I felt the Sancerre Pinot Noir Rosé was a little too sour for the dish. La bergerie des Monts Lamb in vandouvian jus with grilled squash puree and radish confied olive oil was a pretty dish with lovely spicy undertones. I seriously disliked the crumbles of cauliflower that resembled and tasted like gravel on the tongue. The accompanying red Languedoc however was a good balance of smoke and tannins.
The final two dishes triumphed. Strawberries, chocolate ice soufflé, orange cookie, strawberry pudding and white chocolate malto paired with champagne wrapped things up in a big way for anyone with a sweet tooth. This was the dish with the most overt French character. The orange cookie was actually a sponge strip but the slices of frozen soufflé were the highlight.
Which brings me to the Tomme de Marechal melted, with olive crumble and sweet pepper pudding. Basically, this was melted Quebecois cheese meets goat’s cheese and olive ice cream. The pepper is actually a coulis with a crunchy crumble base. But the wine pairing was simply extraordinary. An 07 Jacques Puffeney Arbois Cuvée Sacha from Jura was like lamp oil on the nose and dry as a bone desiccated fruits on the tongue. It complemented the cheese perfectly where the sort of sweet wine you’d expect would just be flabby. Loved it!
There’s no denying this is creative cooking with a huge sense of fun. And without a doubt, these were some of the most interesting wine pairings I’ve had in a while. Laurie Raphaël wherever it may be is a destination in its own right. It doesn’t always score a bull’s-eye but that’s besides the point. As a diner who loves to be excited I’m happy to play guinea pig wherever there’s a promise of magic. And for anyone who may have been wondering, yes, there was the option of that wonderful LR candy floss-take on maple sugar pie...
Restaurant Review: Laurie RaphaŽl Montreal
Gareth has been with TRAVEL CHANNEL since its launch in 1994. He has produced and presented on TRAVEL LIVE and THE TRAVEL BUG, produced ESSENTIAL... and reports on TRAVEL TODAY. He is a regular contributor to the website. In 2010 he produced the hit series THE HOLIDAY SHOW which he also co-presented with Ginny Buckley. Garethís passions are history, culture, food & drink.