During my recent birthday weekend, spent in beautiful Montreal, I managed to have a somewhat impromptu celebratory dinner at one of the city’s trendier bistros: Holder. Being one of the restaurants that I had stumbled upon during my pre-trip online research, I was excited to physically stumble upon it as well, while taking a snowy stroll through Old Montreal on the Saturday night of our long weekend. The frigid temperature and proximity of Holder to our accommodations, the W Montreal, might have also played a part in our quick decision to jump in and try Holder – that, and the fact that a customer just leaving the restaurant, who eyed us eyeing the menu, excitedly approached us to vouch for the bistro as a must-try. We were sold.
We entered Holder with cautious anticipation, it was eerily quiet on the streets of the city and it wasn’t exactly tourist season, even in Montreal – we weren’t sure what kind of atmosphere awaited us behind those doors. Once through the entrance, the loud bustle and conversations of an absolutely packed restaurant erupted in our ears. We walked into a full-on, middle-of-a-Saturday-night rush, in downtown Montreal – and there wasn’t a seat in the house. Actually, there was ONE left… a high-top for two on the bar side that we happily accepted.
The menu was very French, which was absolutely fine because I had a desire to try salmon tartar for the first time on this trip, and Holder was one of several bistros I noticed had it on their menu in downtown Montreal. My mind was made up on that pretty quickly. To begin the meal, I chose the salad of new potatoes and marinated octopus. (Pardon the photos – all done on my trusty iPhone).
My dinner date started with Holder’s take on insalata capresa, throwing in arugula and figs for good measure – a very nice addition. My potato and octopus salad featured a surprisingly nice grainy mustard vinaigrette with lots of tang; enough to balance the rich texture and flavour of the octopus, as well as the starchy potatoes.
The salmon tartar was done with yogurt and Mujjol caviar, and served with a lovely baguette crisp and micro greens. The flavour was decadent and rich, the perfect match for the crisp bread. I love the texture of raw fish and the essence of salmon, so I also had no troubles eating it straight from my fork with no accompaniment. My date opted for a very French beef cheek bourguignon with mashed potato and mini green beans. Our server had assured him the beef cheeks were actually a Holder specialty, a dish that had been helping them to earn their reputation. I don’t think a bite was left on the plate when he was done.
As you know, I’m not easily sold on dessert. To be completely truthful, I couldn’t even finish my tartar, however, it was my birthday dinner and so I was talked into splitting something sweet. We ordered the chocolate mousse with coffee ice cream, and were presented with a very cute dish – the perfect size in my opinion. The mousse actually wasn’t a mousse at all, and after asking our server about this he explained that there isn’t quite a direct translation from english to french for the word mousse. This was more of a ganache, the texture being much more dense than a real mousse, and the flavour very decadent. The house made coffee ice cream was very nice, and the tiny chocolate-covered coffee bean on top an adorable touch. I suppose I was happy after all that we finished off the meal with a little something sweet.
Back out into the frigid streets of Old Montreal, softened by wine consumption, full bellies and the sight of that beautiful drifting white snow against the frozen cobblestone sidewalks.