The gastropreneur and founder of Dubai’s The MAINE Oyster Bar & Grill, Joey Ghazal, gives us the low-down on Québec’s most sparkling city
By far the most European city in North America, Montreal was founded by French missionaries around 8,000 years ago and is now a melting pot of cultures and ethnicities. Best known for Céline Dion, Cirque du Soleil and the Canadian Grand Prix, there are many other icons worthy of recognition. St-Viateur bagels, Portuguese chicken at Romados, warm pies at Rustique, foie-gras poutine at Au Pied de Cochon or the world-famous smoked-meat sandwich at Schwartz’s, to name just a few.
Home to some of the finest restaurants in North America, the dining scene is packed with renegade chefs and perfect little restaurants like Le Club Chasse et Peche, Hoogan et Beaufort, Bouillon Bilk, Le Filet and Garde Manger. If you want to brunch like the Québecois, don’t miss Martin Piccard’s take on the Cabane à Sucre Au Pied de Cochon (Sugar Shack), where maple syrup reigns supreme.
Avoid the overhyped, guidebook-recommended sites of Expo 67 and Stade Olympique and only make your way to Ile Sainte-Hélène for the electronic-music scene at Picnik Electronik – every Sunday, from May to October. If culture is what you’re after, Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal never disappoints. Montreal is also full of emerging artists; get a glimpse of what lies ahead at Never Apart or DAX galleries.
The city’s relationship with music is no secret and no story is more famous than John Lennon’s 1969 bed-in at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel, where Give Peace A Chance was penned. The cultural centre of Montreal is Place Des Arts, home to festivals like the Montreal Jazz Festival and Francofolie, and the summer brims with other offerings like the Just for Laughs comedy festival, Osheaga and the International Fireworks Festival, equivalent to the Oscars of the pyrotechnics world.
An extremely bike-friendly city with over 350km of cycle paths, springtime and summer are perfect for touring Montreal’s architecture on two wheels, taking in Old Montreal, Notre- Dame Basilica, Mary, Queen of the World Cathedral and the Montreal City Hall. The winter, on the other hand, is sub-arctic and partly why Montrealers brag about having one of the largest underground networks in the world. Hockey is to this municipality what horse racing is to Ascot, and the Montreal Canadiens, affectionately known as The Habs, are the city’s raison d’être. If you’re lucky enough to visit during game season, tuck into a pre-match feast at La Queue de Cheval Steakhouse, the ultimate man cave and an ideal pre-game spot.
Fall is my favourite time of year – there’s nothing like discovering the Plateau and the Golden Mile as the leaves turn brown. Try brunch at Beauty’s then stroll down Rue St Denis and stop by Atwater Market just off Rue Notre Dame. Vibrant and historically rich, you need at least five days to discover Montreal properly, and make sure you go hungry.