When I heard that a new restaurant had replaced the Joli Moulin on Van Horne and that the inspiration had come from France, Spain and Japan, it made me very curious. Three influences, but which one dominates? I mean, come on. Chorizo, sushi and all manner of French delicacies under a single roof? I had a lot of questions.
A restaurant with a private room and bar is always head and shoulders over its less well-equipped comrades, right out of the gate. A restaurant where tapas is king but French influences (via giblets) and Japanese flavours (via various injections of raw fish) make themselves known is better still. Prices are reasonable here, with tapas selling from between $8 and $12 a plate, for example. Indeed, so tempting are all the combined forces that come together to make Influences a unique dining opportunity that I suggest you book quickly. This place will be popular when word gets around.
The decor is simple, elegant and refined. High-ceilinged with exposed ventilation pipes hovering over our heads and a warm wood floor taking the vast space down to cozy size, this well-lit dining room is modern and inviting. The furniture is comfortable and the cloth-covered tables are very well mounted. Some decorative items on the walls recall the days of the Joli Moulin — a nice touch.
It was a rainy afternoon and we were on site that day to celebrate with my wife's 50th birthday — an event she preferred to forget. Only five tables were occupied in the place, then barely a month old. Still, even with few customers, the staff were able to put forward just enough atmosphere, good humour and excellent advice to make us all feel the most cherished patrons in the land.
Most of the customers visiting Influences on this afternoon were in their fifties, likely area-resident diliettantes who didn’t bother returning to work after lunch.
The wine list chosen by sommelier Patrick Lesort is dotted with a mix of both special, privately imported products and regular offerings that lack a little in imagination. Check out the 2008 Mouton Cadet or the Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais in the Bordeaux section, for example. I suspect the sommelier was very deliberate with his choices, wanting to keep these selections to build fresh loyalty in former Joli Moulin customers for the new restaurant.
I must admit that this restaurant’s menu set off the skeptical bells in me from the start, as it’s probably the only eatery in Montreal that offers so many choices from so many continents. The eclectic offerings feature inspired dishes from France to Japan and back to Spain, and the range, predictably, varies a lot. We opted, to start, for some classic dishes, like steak au poivre flamed with Cognac and rack of lamb à la Dijonaise. And we ordered a glass of Sauvignon Blanc from Chile to go with our tapas order of beef carpaccio. These thin slices of beef were very fresh, with only salt, pepper and olive oil to garnish. Starkly simple, and probably the reason I appreciated it so much. With the second service came a trio of fried shrimp coated with three kinds of batter: tempura, simple flour and spices, and Japanese panko. All three were popular and served with the same aioli. Next up? Albacore white tuna sesame. Beautiful white flesh and seared for only a few seconds. For the balance, I ordered the chorizo from Sergio — a seemingly obvious choice given that the chef is Spanish. A real meaty sausage that’s been baked and soaked in its juices, the chorizo did not disappoint. To complete the round of tapas, what better than the octopus primavera? Also just seared and served with a drizzle of olive oil, this flawless fresh fish literally melted in your mouth. For dessert, we shared a pouding chômeur as well as a chocolate mousse cake. In conclusion, we were delighted to have ordered tapas and to have been so capably guided by our young waiter, who is also one of the owners, Keiko. The only improvement would probably be presentation. The same uninspired quarter of lemon and leaf of plain lettuce adorned all of the plates. A little originality, please.
The greeting and service here are both professional and warm. It’s remarkable to mention that you get served by the owners at Influences, a unique treat. When booking by telephone, Keiko took note that it was my wife’s birthday, and that I would like to mark it with dessert. He was attentive on this front, and made sure my wishes were carried out as planned and that they included coffee. What I appreciated even more was when the server brought the bill and mentioned that he was charging us for a bottle of wine, even though we had drunk by glass. It was a considerate, money-saving gesture and, if only for this reason, I want to come back to Influences.
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