How do you measure a decade in Montreal restaurants? That’s about 10,000 meals, give or take a breakfast. Maybe it’s best to break down the last 10 years into a “then and now” of the most popular dishes and ingredients. For trend-following foodies, that might mean a couple hundred lobster poutines, tiki cocktails and pork belly tacos in the early 2010s, followed by oat milk, avocado toast and more plant-based foods in more recent years (with pit stops for rose-coloured lattes, offal and gourmet mac ‘n’ cheese).
Montreal is the ideal city in which to take the temperature of a food’s popularity. With such a high number of restaurants per capita, short-lived trends are snuffed out as quickly as you can say “cronut.”
With that in mind, we hereby salute fallen fads and new recruits. Come what may, it’s going to be another delicious decade.
Then: Asian fusion and dumplings
While Montrealers’ devotion to Qing Hua shows no sign of abating and the banh mi pork belly tacos at Grumman ’78 are still bestsellers, there’s less soy sauce being tossed willy-nilly into non-Asian dishes these days. And now a number of international bubble tea and Asian dessert chains have come to town, from Taiwan’s The Alley, Presotea, Meet Fresh and Chatime to New York’s Mango Mango Dessert, with its Instagrammable fresh mango parfaits with tapioca pearls, glutinous rice balls, sweet red beans and lychee and herbal jelly. (The best deals are the combos with two parfaits and mini mango pancakes or mochi.)
Then: Gourmet comfort food
Now: Small plates and vegetables
You’ll never get the lobster mac and fried Mars bars off the menu at Garde Manger or the sliders off Pullman’s — nor would you want to — but generally, menus have veered toward vegetables and a slightly more judicious use of bacon.
Then: Canning and foraging
Now:Fermenting and zero-waste
Pickles, foraged foods and sustainable everything are well established on menus (for example, sea buckthorn in everything from butters to beef to brownies). And many have come to appreciate a good ‘kraut. But nut-based, miso-like pastes, “jangs” and fermented starches are the next big thing. “Fermentation is probably the best way to preserve food,” says chef Jeremiah Bullied, who ferments potatoes and black garlic for his sauer frites with black garlic mayo at Cantine Poincaré. “It keeps it ‘raw’ and improves nutritional value. Most things taste better sauered, plus it opens up the possibility of surprise flavours.”
When Montreal’s food truck pilot project started in 2013, people didn’t mind the lines for Queen B’s merguez and saffron burrito bowls and Zoe’s pork belly sandwiches with quince mustard and fennel slaw. But in recent years, trucks have been switching to private events and festivals only, meaning they’re not around as much when you want them, if they’re around at all. “I cater now,” says Zoe Dalakas, who sold her truck in 2019. Her pork is still a favourite on her corporate lunch platters.
Now: Food halls
First came Le Central. Then came Time Out Market, which turned the Eaton Centre into a surprise foodie destination. Time will tell if Le Cathcart Restaurants et Biergarten can stack up when it opens this month.
From vegan pub Le Bowhead’s dressed-up Beyond Meat burger and Frito pie to upscale Hello 123’s roasted kohlrabi with charred tomato, watercress and barley, “plant-based” is the trend of the day. Yet beef is back at places like Provisions Bar à Vin, where enormous farm-to-table steaks from the connected butcher shop are cut to order and served to the whole table.
Then: Quinoa, rice bowls and poke bowls
Now: Avocado toast
The open-faced sandwich boom of the mid-2010s seems to have climaxed at avocado toast. The irrigation needs of avocados and reports of Mexican cartels extorting protection money from farmers, however, are already making some reconsider their healthy breakfasts.
Then: Unsustainable seafood
Now: Slightly more sustainable seafood
With more restaurants and grocers sticking Ocean Wise symbols on menus and products, you’re more likely to see sustainable farmed trout from Quebec and Ora King salmon from New Zealand — the current Montreal upscale sashimi and tartare salmon of choice — on fine dining menus. RIP unsustainably farmed Atlantic salmon from Canada’s east coast.
Now:Natural wine, sake and zero-proof
First came cocktail bars, then tiki bars, then speakeasies. Now, it’s natural wine and sake. But as the latest edition of the cocktail competition Made With Love proved in November, cocktails aren’t over — they’re just often less sugary, low- or no-alcohol (thanks to customer demand and a sobriety trend among restaurant workers) and less front-and-centre on drinks menus.
Then: Soy milk
Now: Oat milk
One of the first to offer oat milk (or “mylk”) in Montreal, Aloha Espresso Bar made waves when it opened in 2017. The option is now omnipresent, at places including the Standard in Westmount and Dispatch Coffee.
Now: Bread with locally milled grain
Since 2010, Montrealers have been star-struck by Boulangerie Guillaume’s sourdough baguettes, miches and bûches. Automne Boulangerie took things a step further in 2016 by installing a Quebec-designed and -built mill to grind their own flour daily. Other places grinding their own include La Meunerie Urbaine and the recently opened Boulangerie Jarry.
Then: Industrial chic
Now: Light and airy
Move aside, dark and brooding restaurants with steel pipes and dangling lightbulbs, and make way for pastels, velour and draping plants. For proof, see Maman, Marcus and Bar Pamplemousse. Since these trends come courtesy of designer Zébulon Perron, it’s a safe bet he’ll play an important role in defining the decade of restaurant décor to come.