La Bremner is Chuck Hughes latest restaurant venture. Located in Old Montreal near the Bonsecours Market, it offers a wonderful atmosphere and some fantastic inventive food which is mostly seafood focused. Highly recommended.
361 St. Paul East
Montreal H2Y 1H2
Le Bremner must be the most low key restaurant opening in recent history. No web page, no announcement, and not even a sign on the restaurant. However, with Chuck Hughes successful restaurant Garde Manger, plus a cooking show on the Food Network, other televised appearances and a cookbook, he didn’t need to go crazy on the marketing. I found it by doing a search on Twitter, and then having a colleague who lived nearby make a reservation in person. Annoying, but worth the effort. And the restaurant itself was about 90% full which is a testament to his popularity. Wondering how anyone would have ever found it, our waitress said a lot of the customers were people who could not get a reservation at Garde Manger.
The restaurant itself reminds me a lot of Garde Manger except it is in a basement. Stone walls, very small (I think inside sat around 40), and a buzzing atmosphere. There is a very cute covered terrace in the back that has it’s own bar, so near fear of being abandoned by servers. The lamps are mismatched, and he threw in a few 80’s chandeliers. Very cute.
The menu is amazing, and for the first time in a long time I was very excited to see what the food would be like. The menu is made up of different sections of plates meant for sharing. They are all the same size so no appetizers vs mains. The menu itself is split into Chilled Items (ex. raw albacore tuna), From Outside (ex. oysters), Bread & Cheese (ex. bacon cheddar focaccia with scallions), From the Stovetop (ex. naan pizza), From the Broiler (ex. spicy bass with edamame), Vegetables (ex. rapini with anchovies and chopped eggs) and Dessert. Items range from $10 – $40. In addition, the items under the From Outside section can be ordered in single units meaning that you can choose a certain number of oysters, scallops or clams. The cocktails are made using the restaurants own home made sodas which was a nice touch although we did not try them. The wine list was a touch on the expensive side starting at $40 up to $120, and the Sparkling Wine started at $35 up to $140. The Chenin Blance we chose at $53 was super. Our server recommended about 3 plates each, but we only had 2 each and we were full so the portions are substantial.
We started with oysters from Nova Scotia. I insisted on ordering only one as I usually hate oysters (something to do with a bad experience doing an oyster vodka shot I think) but they were so amazing I had 2 and could have probably eaten all 6. A-ma-zing. Next up was a Seafood Terrine served with a sweet relish to balance the saltiness of the terrine. The relish was a nice and necessary touch, and the presentation was lovely but the taste was not as amazing as the other dishes we tried. We then had the Focaccia with Bacon and Scallions (and cheese I think) which again was fabulous. To take something as simple as focaccia and make it taste that good was a revelation. I was expecting some focaccia with baked in bacon in a basket and instead it was a dish on its own. The mussels were excellent, although not as noteworthy, and the bass was good too but not really spicy (or did I miss taking an accompaniment from the dish?). We got some duck fat roasted potatoes which were good, but nothing too special. Surprisingly, the other stand out dish was an avocado, tomato and cucumber salad with buttermilk dressing. The vegetables were unbelievably fresh, and the dressing was perfect. We ended with the Tollhouse Cookie which is made to order (read: long wait) and was perhaps the only letdown as it was super salty (although I am sure some you salt addicts out there would be in heaven). We suspect they used salted instead of unsalted butter. I wonder if this was how it was supposed to be?
The service was faultless. There was a very high server to patron ratio meaning that you were never trying to chase anyone down. The waitress knew what she was talking about and could answer very specific questions which is pretty amazing considering they’d only been open a week and a half. Chuck was there working the room as well, obviously knowing many of the customers. The music was eclectic and amazing adding to the atmosphere. They played everything from reggae (Redemption Song anyone?) to Dolly Parton (Jolene – I was so happy when it came on!). Writing this, it sounds super cheesy, but it wasn’t.
I am always a bit sceptical about going to places which are considered the next big thing, as so often the hype does not live up. However, I have to give credit to Chuck Hughes. The food was very well thought out, and he obviously cares about it. He is not relying on his reputation to draw in the crowds. The restaurant is still very small and cozy where I am sure he could fill a place 5 times the size. There were plenty of staff making each table feel very well served, and the atmosphere had an amazing positive friendly vibe. It was almost as if everyone knew they were trying something new and special and were privileged to be one of the first to try it.
My only gripe, and this is for all restaurant owners (and something I’ve been meaning to say for a while). The bathrooms are in the restaurant and open straight onto the room. The locks are those type where you just turn the button in the middle of the knob. I don’t know about you, but I am always super paranoid the lock does not work and someone is going to open the door and the whole restaurant is going to see me on the toilet. Chuck, it costs about $1 to install a little loop and hook latch. Just physically seeing it is shut will be highly appreciated by your customers. Please consider it!
Wow, longest post ever. If you didn’t feel like reading all that, just go and experience it yourself! Probably one of my top restaurant experiences ever.
Decor: Cozy and intimate. It was not yet as much of a bar vibe as Garde Manger but I can see it heading there.
Service: Faultless and friendly. I hope once the restaurant gets busier he can keep the service level to the same standard.
Prices: One of my friends who visited said for him it came to $75 per person for wine, food and tip and that is exactly what it came to for us too. So, not an every day outing, but I’d gladly pay that again for the quality of food and service. Granted, this could go up quite a bit depending on what was chosen on the menu and the choice of wine.
Food: Excellent. Some dishes shone brighter than others but the overall standard was very high.
Good For: Anyone. I did not find it too loud (although again it was not yet at full capacity, and the music got noticeably louder around 10:00), and it did not have a too trendy vibe. Large groups might be difficult as it is a small restaurant, but I am sure up to around 8 could be accommodated. As a note, I would say if you don’t like seafood it may not be the place for you. There were a few meat items, but it was definitely not the focus of the menu.