A media tasting is a tricky thing for a restaurant to pull off. Balancing the number of guests with a kitchen that needs to be prepared to serve everyone at about the same time can be a daunting task. Fortunately there are places in the city like Henri St-Henri that are more than capable of pulling it off. A couple of weeks ago we were invited to St. Henri’s latest restaurant to give it a try before opening to the public. For years St. Henri, Little Burgundy and Griffintown have become home to some of Montreal’s most innovative, trendy and daring restaurants. Henri St-Henri’s addition to this growing list is a little different in its own right. If I had to use one word to describe the restaurant it would be, fresh. Big bright windows surround the creatively yet modestly decorated space, filling the restaurant with loads of natural sunlight during the day and gives clients a well lit view of the area at night. The restaurant is almost perfect in size, a bistro that can fill up quickly on a Thursday or Friday night but isn’t so hectically loud that you can’t enjoy yourself. For example, we were a full house on media night and the conversation was pleasantly audible. The décor is simple and natural but as mentioned before. Creative in its use of practical piping that adorns the walls which also flows into the clever lighting over a few of the tables. Giant fish hooks and decoys hover above the windows while repurposed wood is used for the tables. An impressive middle-earth inspired mural also spreads delightfully across the walls. The restaurant’s bar is lined with some of the best seating in the house, it’s well stocked and the bar service was quick, funny and friendly. My guest and I arrived late due to our capacity to always get the cabbie that doesn’t appear to know where he’s going. Upon our arrival the bartender saw that we needed a drink and whipped up a couple of welcome cocktails right away. The owner of the restaurant was at the door when we arrived and welcomed us warmly as well before we were brought to our seats. We joined a table of frigid bloggers who were busy snapping up pictures of crab legs with their iPhones and didn’t really have much interest in us (eventually one of them, a lovely woman with a lovely blog, came to say hi and restore my faith in our table). Things eventually warmed up at the table once the next courses started to arrive. The food is the principle reason why I would describe Henri St-Henri as fresh.
We started with an assortment of tangy shrimp sliders, fried ris de veau, tartar, fresh tomatoes and creamy mozzarella. It was enough to work up an appetite for what was to come next. The samples of main dishes were quite something. We tried three different dishes including a wonderful smoked chicken, part of which was fried and part which was simply baked in delicious glaze and both are served on the same plate. We also tried a beef shoulder steak which was cooked to perfection and when cut remained firm. Last, we came around to the arctic char, which was fresh, flavorful and cooked just right. The chef knows how to please the palette.
Each dish was served with a selection of roasted vegetables and the chicken was served with smooth mashed potatoes. Despite having sampled more than our share of food, when desert came we all perked up once again. Once more we sampled three offerings that included a fun Dr. Pepper and ice cream mix, a homemade key lime pie and delicious chocolate mousse. Needless to say, there wasn’t much left of either dessert once we had finished. The guys that put Henri together have given us Quai No. 4, Mr. Smith and handful of flawless hotspots dotted around the city (with more to come; I have the scoop on that too). They have all the ingredients to the exciting recipe that makes places like Henri work so well. With its proximity to Atwater market, downtown and all the places in the area, Henri is sure to make its name heard around the city.
Photo credit: David Major-Lapierre and Henri St-Henri