HAMBAR, Montreal – This meal was perhaps too pricey for what was on offer

Click here for a recap of  my picks of all Montreal’s top fine dining & best Montreal’s bistrots. 
Also: My  3 and 2 Star Michelin restaurant review web site
Most recent reviews: Maison Boulud, Café Sardine, Restaurant Helena, Brasserie Central, Restaurant Mezcla, Hotel Herman, Lawrence,
Park, Kazu .

HAMBAR is one of the latest big entries on the Montreal restaurant scene.  The restaurant is situated inside the trendy Vieux Port’s boutique hotel St-Paul. It  has a pretty modern hip bistro feel, with no tablecloths, beautiful  use of wood and glass and a nice long bar right in the middle of the room. 

It was extremely busy on this thursday evening, which added to the lovely electric  ambience (For those in search of a hip 5 to 7 place, the happening is here on thursdays) I experienced during this meal, but the wait staff explained that this was a particularly busy night.

Food: I picked their star item, the charcuterie platter, along with a fluke ceviche, grilled octopus and a beef tartare.
Food rating: Exceptional (10), Excellent (9), Very good (8), Good (7), just Ok (6)

The charcuterie platter consisted of a  poultry liver mousse (stunning for both its remarkable palatability and fantastic texture), cauliflower, local ham (ok), prosciutto di parma (ok, although it does not help that I still have, freshly in mind, its far better version sampled at Salumeria Garibaldi in Parma this past June), okra, Iberian cheese (ok), sausage (ok). This is one Ok charcuterie plate (at the exceprion of the poultry liver mousse, an exceptional item on this evening), with perhaps the one at Comptoir charcuteries et Vins appealing a bit more to me. The components seemed, to me, as good as any ordinary restaurant charcuterie in town. A matter of personal taste, as usual.  7/10

 Fluke ceviche came with a cream of avocado, jalapeno, lime emulsion, crème fraiche and puffed rice.  I appreciate the efforts. They try hard as obviously observed by the thoughts put in their dishes and obvious determination to be creative. I just found it unfortunate that the results did not blow me away:  I mean, it is a good riff on the ceviche, and I can’t remember many tables being able to pull out such appealing intensity of acidity (either the citrus was an exceptional one or an exceptional palate was behind that brilliant ceviche marinade), but the overall was just decent to me. Pleasant enough ceviche yes, but alas, unremarkable as far as I am concerned. 6/10

 Beef tartare  came with home made chips (Jerusalem artichoke, parsnip; among the better home made chips I have sampled at a restaurant in Mtl), a topping of sunny side up egg, and horseradish. A decent tartare, imo. Simple dish   like a tartare has no other choice but to be stellar in order to be noteworthy, which means stunning ‘beefy’ flavor, remarkable work of the texture,etc. Which I failed to experience with this beef tartare. Again, pleasant enough but not great, and I found this pretty much frustrating for them…yep, not even for me, the paying customer.. ..but for them…given the amount of efforts they have invested (plenty of accompaniments, logical touches to elevate the tartare such as the addition of the egg, etc).     6.5/10

Grilled octopus – The octopus was tender, but overwhelmed by a puttanesca vinaigrette that was way too thick. The octopus was mixed with that vinaigrette, and that did not help the seafood at all. In this particular case,  the puttanesca  would have been a better idea as a side dipping to the octopus. I know, the idea is to mix it with the seafood..and I had far better ones made with just that theme of mixing the puttanesca with the octopus…but on this occasion,  it just took the appeal of appreciating the octopus away.   The octopus also lacked enough heat to be  enjoyed  at its best, especially since it is  grilled. A world away from the octopus dishes I had recently at Kazu, or  Lawrence in September. 3/10

Service was really cool with perfect attitude from young and fun wait staff, although  I should note that I did not appreciate that the priciest wine glass offering appeared to be the one which bottle was not presented to me.
 
Pros: A focused palate won’t fail to find the touch of acidity of that ceviche memorable. Alas, that touch never elevated that ceviche to what my palate and all other senses would have perceived as a great ceviche. This was also the case of that stunning poultry liver mousse, almost close to the better ones one would enjoy in France,  but again…not enough to save the rest of my evening’s charcuterie platter from passing as  just Ok , as far as I am concerned. Then there was the effort put in each dish, the very nice homemade chips,  the hip ambience.
Cons: I found this meal way too pricey for what was on offer. My meals at Lawrence, some of the finest I had at Bistro Cocagne or Kitchen Galerie on Jean-Talon were certainly not cheap, but I never mentioned prices because the food made the price an afterthought. In contrast, on this evening here, none of the 4 food items of this meal was remarkable, whereas the bill …was!  This evening’s meal of mine lacked better work of textures, it lacked mouthfuls of succulent bliss.

Overall food rating: 4/10 From what I am accustomed to at equivalent eatery in Montreal (charcuterie-based Modern Intl bistrot cuisine in this case). To me, this evening’s meal (I judge my meals, not restaurants)  was nothing more than  just some Ok food. In the genre, charcuterie-based eatery offering their takes on International modern bistro food, Comptoir Charcuteries & Vins fared better to me on the aspect of food.

Conclusion: I know Montreal is generally ridiculously pricey when it comes to food at restaurant, and yet I still found this meal overpriced for what I was enjoying on this evening. As a comparison, solo dining meals (I was dining solo there, on this evening)  with equal quantity of food items and wine by the glass   at restaurants that are among this city’s very best like Bouillon Bilk, Lawrence and Kitchen Galerie on Jean Talon  cost me less than what I have just paid.  Yes, I do understand that I did splurge, but that was equally the case at the other mentioned restaurants. And just in case I did not make myself enoughly clear: even  without splurging (so no wines, just tap water), and at whatever price, I still would have found this meal too pricey for what I was having on this evening.

WHAT I THINK MONTHS LATER: When you have cooked for so long (which is my case), you are confident about certain things, others not. Of course, it happened that I stumbled upon average meals and had no doubt that the same brigade of cooks could surprise me with better meals on  subsequent visits (for example: Maison Boulud in Montreal gave me that impression. I had an initial overall average meal there, but I knew the next meals would be better, And I was right.  but in the case of Hambar, deep inside of me, with the same cooks that have cooked that meal, I doubt there could be a radical improvement. Still,  the beauty with  cooking is that you can indeed be a better cook. You need to find out how, though. I won’t return to Hambar because I do not believe in it, but see for yourself. Who knows, they are probably proving me wrong. Which I hope, for them. But I’ll tell you right off the bat: I am not going to find out and i just could not care less!
 

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Montreal – Where to find the best roasted chicken?

For the record, I have gathered a recap of all my reviews here (this is an easier way to get  to them rather than scrolling the entire xanga web page).

Food rating: Exceptional (10), Excellent (9), Very good (8), Good (7), just Ok (6)

Yeah, we all can cook chicken.
But for those occasions when you happen to be out and are dying for a roasted chicken,
this could worth your attention. As what I did with this city’s sushi-yas, I went touring  almost all Mtl’s roasted chicken spots. Same old method: I am reporting only about those that stood out during this tour.

I found this round up a bit frustrating. Among those I liked the most (ones that I am listing
below), I wished there would have been some kind of considerable difference that could make my choice
of going back a bit challenging. Something like ‘hmmm…this one is stellar to this respect … and that
one as stunning but in a totally different way’. Instead, as you’ll realize … my favourite  roasted chicken places in Montreal are virtually of same appreciation (oddly enough, all places of this top 5of mine  have performed to the exact same rating-level  of 8 over 10, which is “very good” on my rating scale. I haven’t yet sampled a roasted chicken  in Montreal that I could rate with a 9 over 10 (excellent) or a 10 over 10 (exceptional). In comparison, most roasted chicken I’ve tasted in March in San Sebastian  were 9/10, and most grilled and roasted chicken  I sampled in some parts of Africa, Mumbai and Bangkok  came close to what I’d personally consider as a 10/10 for a roasted chicken (I’ve never visited Portugal though,  so I’m excited at the idea to try — one day — theirs.

My top 5 best roasted chicken places in Montreal (all those places sell their chicken at a decent price,
varying in  between $11 to $12):

Romados  115 Rue Rachel E Montreal, (514) 849-1803
Their charcoal-grilled chicken is moist and flavorful, a very good one indeed but the star is their spicy sauce,
one of the best chicken’s sauces I ever sampled in Montreal. The cooks are friendly, the service pleasant,
the grilling space is shared with a bakery counter. You have only 2,3 seats next to the entrance
(it is mostly a place for take out). 8/10

Piri Piri on Mont Royal street, not far from the corner of St Denis
I’ve read that they are not that great in comparison to  Romados, but I disagree: once in my mouth, it’s the exact same  chicken the exact same tasty piri piri sauce.  To me, this is as great as Romados! They have several tables where you can sit,  and the service is generally friendly when I go there (I always go there around 7pm on weekends). 8/10

Coco Rico 3907, boulevard Saint-Laurent Montreal, (514) 849-5554
I was leaving for years at a stone throw of CR. I went there on numerous occasions, a proof that I loved this place.  I think that both Romados and Coco Rico are considered as the top contenders of most Mtlers when it comes to roasted chickens,  and indeed they are among the tastier ones you’ll find in town. And yet, I find both as equally enjoyable.  Both would be an 8 over 10 of my assessment. A very good chicken indeed, but not excellent (9) or spectacular (10). Service here is good enough (nothing to complain about).  PS: CR is the only place of this top 5 that roasts its chicken. The four others offer charcoal-grilled chickens.

Chez Doval 50 Rue Marie-Anne Est Montreal, QC (514) 843-3390
It’s a cute rustic looking Portuguese restaurant at 2 street corners from Romados. The service on this evening was a mix affair,  and I can’t  refrain myself from dropping couple of words on my experience here  on this Aug 23rd evening. It was laughable: I passed the small dining room, went at the back to order my charcoal-grilled chicken for take out.  A dude, standing behind the counter, welcomed me with a facial expression that could be translated into something like  ‘wtf do you want?’. It’s the facial expression. Not what he said, but you should see the ‘killer-face’. Perhaps an ex mercenary in Angola  and certainly  one of the few occurences when I happened to be in a restaurant and felt the urge to surrender . The dude was really determined to wipe away all the basics of the hospitality business (one fascinating act was when I was sitting there, waiting for the chicken to be grilled, with him right in my face gloriously pouring water in his own glass, not one single ‘would you like a glass of water’. That’s class redefined, hospitality re-invented, the best way to impress your diner  — easy to detect the sarcasm, does it?). The rest of the 50ish all-male restaurant team seemed fortunately better informed about the basics of the hospitality business: smiling does not seem to be their forte from what I’ve  sensed, but they were all polite and the cook was a true gentleman. The roasted chicken, you ask? It’s cooked on a tiny charcoal grill facing their small bar.  Mine was slighlty  drier than those I had at Romados and Piri Piri (also: the sauce is less daring, here – tasty enough  but not stunning) and could have been a 7.5 over 10, but it had a more memorable charcoal-flavored kick that easily made this chicken as great as my previous duo. Bottom line, an 8/10 (A no repeat for me. It’s really the depth of charcoal-grilled taste —- I know, imparting a depth of charcoal-grilled flavor is no rocket science, but during this round up, they are the one that did it — that made it for me, making this grilled meat as interesting as what is listed in this top 5,  the rest was ordinary as I explained earlier on).

Braseiro 8261, boul. St-Laurent Villeray-Saint-Michel
It’s a laidback place with a cool service. I felt good everytime I went there, it’s the type of hospitality
I expect from portuguese: their warmth, their down to eath charm. I found the chicken here as good as at any of the  previous mentioned places. Certainly an 8 over 10 for taste and cooking. It’s a restaurant but you can also order for take out.  I see nothing to complain about here. It is what is it: a down to earth, cozy, fun little place where food is well cooked.

PS: keep sending me your votes for your  favourite Montreal roasted chicken. I’ll try them as much as I can and will add to this current list — any new finding  I’d  estimate as standing out (to my palate)  as those already mentioned here.   Thanks, Aromes!

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