A new restaurant has just opened at Hotel Saint Paul in Old Montreal, and the news couldn’t be better. Since its unveiling on April 30, the Hambar has rapidly replaced the embers of the vacated Vauvert. The place was taken over by the former sommelier of the Pied de Cochon, Philippe Poitras. Keen to offer a lively, chic and casual restaurant in Old Montreal, Poitras will no doubt succeed with this trendy place that’s popular among the people working in this business district.
At the Hambar, find a deli counter, a dining room to sample chef Antoine Beriault's menu and a bar where one might taste some of the many choices from the restaurant’s prized collection of private imports. At the entrance, we were immediately impressed by the glass refrigerator and the raft of Serrano hams that was enticingly hung there. In the area where the deli meats are prepared, it’s possible to see two beautiful Tamagnini wheel slicers imported from Italy. These slicers produce almost no heat, thus preserving the subtle flavours of the delicate meats. Behind the slicers, a wall lined with jars of marinades made on site only added to the charm of the place. The decor is very effective with its wooden tables, all-white walls and large windows that let the sunlight pour into the space.
When we visited on a Friday for lunch, the customers were trendy types who clearly had more than an hour to indulge in the meal. In their mid-thirties and nicely outfitted with Louis Vuitton bags and iPhones, these were diners who were here to be seen.
We started with a small plate of charcuterie : serrano ham, prosciutto, two tiny slices of chorizo, parmesan cheese, homemade terrine, young pig liver paté and a touch of mostarda, which is really a house marmalade. Everything on the board was delicious and of the highest quality — worth the $24 we shelled out for it. Next, it was time for the terrine of chicken liver. A real delight. Creamy and flavourful, it did not need more then a little lettuce and citrus vinaigrette to set it off. The brandade of cod that my guest ordered, however, it was another story. While it’s notypicalrmal to find this dish a little salty given the natural saltiness of the fish, this was excessive. Indeed, when it overpowered even my salty-inclined preferences, I had to wonder if there might have been an error in its preparation. The three pieces were served on a bed of lightly spiced mayonnaise with a few small tomatoes. It’s worth noting that the caviar of ham, the famous pata negra (black-hoofed) ham, is available here on request.
Given that the owner of the Hambar is a sommelier, it’s no surprise that the wine list here is splendid. The prices, however, are less so. When we arrived, our server offered us a two-ounce glass of Sancerre for $20. When he saw the shocked expression on my face, he quickly realized that I was looking to drink wine that was a little more reasonably priced. He came back and we were served a four-ounce Cuvée des Messieurs, a very respectable sauvignon blanc, priced at an equally respectable $12.
The service here is undertaken by well-trained young men who know the menu and demonstrate a tremendous attention to detail in all of their customer-facing efforts. For example, if a client appears to be looking about for his server, any one of the serving staff might approach to take care of the demand. All made good suggestions regarding food and wine. And all, from the phone reservation through the front-door host and all of the wait staff, were courteous and efficient throughout the experience.
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