NDG is one of those Montreal neighbourhoods that stand out as something truly different. The area is one of the most culturally diverse in the city, there’s a laid back easiness to the people that call NDG home and along Monkland, the neighbourhood’s main strip, you will find some of the best restaurants, bars and shops in the city. Hopkins, one of Montreal’s most gorgeous new restaurants, recently opened on Monkland and they are set to make their mark on Montreal’s fine dining scene. At a media dinner earlier this week several journalists and bloggers were invited to get a taste of what Hopkins will be serving up to their clientele. A tasting menu was designed especially for the evening, whetting our appetite with 5 courses of food created by head chef, Liam Hopkins (pictured below). Here are few thoughts on that experience.
From a design perspective Hopkins stands out as a polished pearl of perfection in an area that’s used to wooden pubs, comfortable eateries and dark taverns. Not to take away anything from other restaurants in the area (there are a few really good places on Monkland) it’s just that Hopkins is like nothing NDG has ever seen. Every detail has been painstakingly thought out, creating a one-of-a-kind space that feels casually sophisticated with a modern opulence. From the chair upholstery and the sand blasted tables to the mirrored ceiling and the marble bar, everything has been chosen to make the space unique.
Montreal is a city that approaches fine dining from several different perspectives and a restaurant’s service staff is essential in setting the tone. From tuxedo wearing waiters to tattooed oenologists, there’s no wrong way to guide a guest during a night in your restaurant. The key to great service is having knowledgeable staff that respects and informs their guests while not being stuffy or snobbish about it. Hopkins service strikes the balance between casual and approachable to informed and professional. There’s a certain ease to how the staff works together, helping maintain a relaxed, contemporary atmosphere.
The food prepared for the evening was nothing short of extraordinary. It should be noted that Hopkins approach to food is communal which means we get share and try even more. We began our meal and wine paring (they have a lovely selection of private imports) with a marble slab covered in savoury homemade charcuterie meats, cheese and accoutrements.
A flavourful plate of beef wellington tartar (see a featured photo at the beginning of this article) and a pickled mushroom and endive salad arrived at table for our second service. The tartare was one of the best I’ve ever had (so well-seasoned!) and the sautéed mushrooms that topped it were perfectly cooked. I found the mousse de volaille a little overpowering because it was so salty but it’s a personal taste. The pickled shimeji and enoki mushrooms were fantastic. The plate also featured shaved asparagus, grilled endives, pickled blueberries and grapes, mâche, salty maple herb nuts and a grapefruit espuma vinaigrette. If you’re looking to start your meal with something lite, either of these options are great.
Seafood was the star of the third service with a plate of scallop fish and chips and lobster a l’American being served. I only recently started eating scallops but this dish was one of the stands out of the evening for me. A perfectly seared scallop sat atop a bed of crispy popcorn polenta, a truffled potato velouté, fennel and apple slaw, tartar sauce and a corn crumble. The lobster I tried at Hopkins was the first I’ve eaten in years. The dish, which consisted of butter poached lobster, a wonderful lobster bisque that had been soaked up by seasonal asparagus and lobster risotto chips. I am not a big fan of lobster but if I had to eat it again I would go for this.
For the fourth service we were served a New Zealand rack of lamb and a roasted vegetable garden. The vegetable garden was a plate of expertly roasted seasonable vegetables (radishes, Brussels sprouts, parsnip puree, squash etc.) and a curious black bread crumble. The purees had great consistency and were not overly salted, letting the vegetables natural flavours shine bright. The seared rack of lamb was well prepared and came with lab sweetbreads, confit onion mascarpone, pickled red onion, sweet potato fondant, Cipollini and the edge of the plate was dusted with a scallion ash.
Despite having filled up on dinner, there’ll always be plenty of room for dessert. I’m usually way too full to indulge in dessert but in instances such as this, there’s no way to say no. We were served a chocolate lava cake and a deconstructed carrot cake. The deconstructed carrot cake separated the cake into carrot puree, fried halloumi cheese, nuts and a creamy mascarpone sauce. For those who like intense flavour, this could be an interesting departure from the traditional dessert but I prefer the real thing. It wasn’t my favourite but I am sure there will be those who will rave about it. The lava cake was spot on with deliciously sweet, warm melted chocolate soaking into the chocolate cake. I would have asked for more if I wasn’t scared of being judged for it.
Hopkins isn’t just a great addition to a neighbourhood in need of a little fine dining. The restaurant is a not-to-be-missed addition to Montreal’s creative restaurant scene and I am certain that we will continue to see more great things come from this team in the future.