With thousands of restaurants to choose from in Montreal, to stand out in the crowd, you must offer something extra special. In Griffintown, HVOR has taken the normal restaurant formula and changed it up slightly, offering something a little different which has led to a lot of curiosity throughout the city. A couple of weeks ago we caused a little commotion at the restaurant and tried out the food and drink. There was a lot to see and taste.
Design and Sustainability
It’s an undeniable truth that HVOR has “wow-factor” written all over it. From its art gallery design to sustainable concepts, the new restaurant located in trendy Griffintown wants to show the world that it will stand apart from all the rest.
HVOR opened earlier this year, as most restaurants in Montreal do, with a packed-house VIP event. From the second you walk into the space you feel the Scandinavian influence in the design of the space. Clean, straight lines and the use of raw materials such as wood, metal, marble and concrete keeps the space relatively uncomplicated. HVOR was designed was conceptualized by Catherine Bélanger, Tania Perreault and Tania Morrison of Lovasi. HVOR is a brightly lit, clean cut and mature next step in restaurant design.
This design concept flows from the restaurant out to the raised terrasse where we find a garden that is capable of growing over 2000 varieties of plants. The restaurant will cultivate these vegetables, herbs and spices from April to November and will harvest them on a daily basis for use in the food they prepare. Additionally HVOR houses a beehive on its rooftop, adding to the biodiversity of the city as well as sourcing fresh honey that they will use in their dishes. Homegrown produce and beehives is forward thinking at its best, a concept that all restaurants could be doing more of. The garden terrasse also has one family style chef’s table that overlooks the street and will without a doubt be highly coveted.
From a design perspective HVOR has come out of the gate running. At the opening we tried a couple of the cocktails (the concepts are just as far reaching as the restaurant’s concept) and more recently we popped back back in to try the food. At the opening we learned that their menu is seasonal and that they compliment their homegrown garden with products sourced from local farms. Even their cocktails and herbal teas are infused using the garden’s herbs and spices. It was this fresh approach left us very curious to sit down to a dinner prepared by Chef S’Arto Chartier-Otis.
Dish Depth – The Plate As Art
Food doesn’t just nourish our bodies. It can captivate and titillate our soul. Food bursting with distinct flavour and textures that tickle our taste buds creates sensory pleasures that transcend our physical need for nourishment. It reaches inside us and creates a warmth that makes a us smile, the second food touches our tongue. S’Arto Chartier-Otis and his team in HVOR’s kitchen have a clear understanding of what food means and not just as a necessity. They approach each dish as a work of art that’s first devoured visually. Each plate is composed in a way that places each ingredient like brush strokes on a canvas. Beyond the visual composition, each plate is impressively balanced with flavours of the moment that deepen our dining experience. Let’s get into the details.
We shared a table for six at the front of the restaurant where a large window let in the last moments of dwindling light from the summer sun. Before taking to our table we paid a visit to the rooftop garden where the restaurant grows all its herbs, flowers, spices and some vegetables that are used in their dishes. Since my first visit to HVOR the garden has matured and flourished. Their bees have been busy making honey and we finally had a chance to taste it. Returning to our table we started the evening with a couple of cocktails to whet our appetite.
The way things work at HVOR are a little different than in other restaurants. First of all there’s no set menu as they use ingredients of the moment to inspire their food. We were there for a five course tasting menu and wine pairing and the waiter simply asked if we had certain allergies or intolerance to certain foods. Everything else was going to be a surprise. This is an element that they pride themselves in. Though some of you might not feel like you’d be open to this concept, I tell you that it adds an excellent storytelling element to your evening.
Our very first bite came in the form of a sushi-style, swiss chard wrapped roll that was filled with avocado, crisp cucumber and other vegetables and topped with a dollop of sauce and a flower. It was a fresh start to the meal that left us aching for more. The second service, which was composed of shaved ham, beets and mustard was a little more robust. At first I wasn’t so sure about the dish. Shaved ham is far from exotic but the way it was treated made all the difference. The mix of savoury ham and zingy mustard led the way for wonderfully earthy flavours from the colourful mixture of beets. This was our first real taste of what they could at HVOR and they eased us into it.
The third dish to reach our plates was a smoked swordfish with a delicious potato salad. As I’ve said before, I’m always cautiously optimistic when I see fish on my plate because I never know what my reaction will be but this was brilliant. The wrapped fish had a deeply delicious smoked flavour that paid perfectly with the potato salad which itself was brought a few steps forward with crunchy radish and caviar. The creamy salad was sensational. One of the best dishes of the night came out fourth. A homemade pasta dish topped with a ratatouille composed of fresh summer squash, garden zucchini and peppers all mixed into a savoury tomato sauce and topped with zucchini blossoms was out of this world. It’ hard to describe exactly out I felt but elated may be a good way to start. Everything was so fresh and each element complimented the others.
The last of the main courses was a perfectly seared piece of rib-eye steak that was accompanied by fresh burrata (an excellent yet surprising addition to the plate), heirloom tomatoes and edible capucin petals and leaves. The meat stood out on its own but was completed when blended with a little taste of each of the ingredients.
Before dessert was served we needed to cleanse our palettes. On my first visit to the HVOR a few months earlier, I discovered that they curiously kept Newfoundland Screech as part of the liquor contingent. It’s very rare to see Screech off the Rock so when I have a chance to have my mainlander friends
cringe enjoy a shot of Newfoundland’s second most famous export (after myself of course – I apparently, like Screech, am also best enjoyed in small, infrequent doses) I can’t pass it up. A round of shots for the table and the poor waiter were ordered up and ordered to drink down as quickly as possible. The love for Newfoundland Screech around the table was unanimous.
The desserts came out shortly after. We were treated to a Montreal speciality, a vanilla creme filled bagel topped with honey covered sesame seeds. One of our lucky dinner partners was the ever special Diva #2 from the Montreal Food Divas and it was also her birthday. She was treated to an additional dessert, an orange sorbet served in a hollowed out orange, topped with a crisp meringue and finished off with flaming Chartreuse. It was a spectacular end to a wonderful meal.
Although some people may not necessarily be ready to give control of the their meal choices over to the Chef and his staff, I heavily recommend that you do. This is the ultimate way to step outside your comfort zone in a environment that put the emphasis on quality. HVOR is a special experience that doesn’t need a special occasion to enjoy. Every night out in Montreal is a special night out but HVOR adds something extra special.
Image credit: David Major-Lapierre