The story of Robin Hood is familiar to us all. The galant vigilante who robbed from the rich to give to the poor was a symbol of defiance and a hero to those downtrodden and helpless against a system build to keep people in their place. In Montreal, Robin des bois, a restaurant concept unique not only in Canada but around the world, is a little more nuanced and definitely worth checking out.
For 10 years, Robin des bois has successfully operated as a not-for-profit restaurant in the heart of the Plateau. To underline their decade in business, the restaurant has updated its image, colourfully renovated the dining room and spruced up the menu with exciting new items. We gathered last week for a media tasting with the founder and general manager of Robin des bois, Judy Servay, and her warmth, energy and effervescence resound in every inch of the wonderful restaurant that she has created.
Robin des bois is a colourful and bright space. The design of the restaurant has gone against the grain of the latest, darker trends in the city and instead has housed something modern and spectacular. The chairs are upholstered with bright red, blue and green patterned fabrics that catch the eye, always leaving the restaurant’s guest something to look for. The decor is stripped down and spacious with various sizes of tables allowing for intimate dinners for two or larger group outings. The restaurant also features a space that can be reserved for larger groups. Upon entering the restaurant the decor feels warm and inviting and that in itself is a breath of fresh air.
A media tasting usually means a table full of wonderful food to share, family-style, and Robin des bois didn’t disappoint. The new menu features a plethora of new items while retaining a selection of their more popular dishes. We kicked the evening off with a small serving of Dahl that burst with flavours of Indian spiced lentils, paprika and coriander. We followed this up with a spicy plate of tilapia ceviche which was flavoured with avocado, cucumber, radish, corn and tomato and piping hot deep friend polenta. Next, we were served a plate of succulent watermelon topped with feta, basil and olive oil and a salad with baby spinach, orange, grapefruit, fennel, almonds and an apple and dijon dressing. This was a perfect start to the meal.
Moving into heartier fare, plates of carbonara and burgers arrived. It should be noted that 99% of everything served at Robin des bois is made in-house. That means everything from burger buns to dressings are made from scratch in the kitchen. The only thing they don’t make is the pasta that goes into their beyond delicious carbonara. Judy was sitting with us for the meal and she explained to us that people travel from all over the city to try the carbonara and having wolfed down mine I can understand why. The burger is equally delicious and comes topped with sweet pickles that add a distinct flavour to the burger. Up next we sampled their “Chinese buffet” which was a selection of octopus, marinated tofu, a Japanese omelette (Okonomiaki), salads and more. The last of the main courses included a wonderful duck confit with homemade mashed potatoes, beets all in butter, thyme and shallots and a bowl of lentils (mujadara) seasons with berber spices, seasoned vegetables and fried onions. In the short couple of hours we spent eating at Robin des bois, we travelled the world with each dish we tried.
Of course you can’t end a meal without dessert and Robin des bois didn’t disappoint. We tried their mango and lime covered rice pudding, a green apple pavlova with lime meringue, kiwi compote, tarragon, lemon and green apples, a cold strawberry soup and a chocolate brownie. I never order dessert in restaurants because I am always too full but I am very happy to have saved space for this.
Robin des bois isn’t just a socially responsible restaurant. It’s a meeting place where friends and family can gather around a table and enjoy authentic and wonderful food. They also prepare lunch boxes for those can’t sit and stay and they feature a section of homemade bottled goods that you can take away. Most of the staff at the restaurant are volunteers who want to help the cause. Whether you are new to Montreal or you wish to try your hand in the kitchen or serving food, the restaurant is an excellent school for those who want to push their knowledge of the restaurant business a little further. This adds a deepened sense of joy to the experience because we are all there to help and of course enjoy great food.
For more information on Robin des bois, visit their website here.