As those of you who have been bothering to follow my diet-change journey know, I have been trying to eat in a way that is more restrained. This meant going cold turkey (seasonal pun alert) on my restaurant reviewing. I’d lost my eating-out excitement and my tasting-menu tolerance. I was (and remain) happy to have got rid of all that extra fat and I want to keep it off and staying in makes that easier. But I missed writing and I missed the pleasure that a good restaurant can bring and hell, I missed my readers.
Perhaps I won’t revert to the fifteen or so times a week of eating out, but I will choose my restaurants in a more measured, considered way. Proving that you can eat out and stay healthy, by which, let’s face it, I mean slim. I’m not a fat-shamer so don’t lay that on me. I just know that carrying too much fat doesn’t make me feel good. You? you’re a grown-up. Do what you wish.
So I find myself back at Bouillon Bilk for lunch, for the second time. I know, you’ve never heard of it, right? Unless you’re a food person and have been to Montreal or indeed live there it’s likely that these words have no meaning. I mean, you know what Bouillon means, but Bilk? I wonder if it’s a Canadian sense of humour thing, because Bilk isn’t a word I’d necessarily choose.
There’s a haulage company in Ontario, the Fluke Transportation Group, whose slogan bears the legend “If it’s on time, it’s a Fluke.” So a restaurant chosing to use a name which effectively means Soup of Swindle is perhaps on point for Canada.
Looking on their website, I see that the English translation does not extend to the “Description” section. Not that this would help you much as it comes out of the Identikit school of restaurant terminology. Neighbourhood vies with good time vies with research and minimalist decor. So far so standard. And you would drive past it, if you didn’t know, particularly as they have left a tacky sign for “MULTISYSTEMS ELECTRONIQUE” above the door, presumably from a previous incarnation. They could lose that now.
Décor is your fairly common minimalist simple, with lots of plain white walls and tablecloths, a very large square bar taking up a fair amount of the floor space and offering an alternative to standard table dining. I’d last been two years ago and a memorable poutine followed by excellent homemade chocolate cookies created a siren call which I was bound to answer on my return to the city.
But whilst the décor may be simple, let that not fool you as the food is anything but.
The menu is of the key ingredient school and I am inexorably drawn to this:
pork, xo, clementine, cashew,
I am of the can’t-have-too-many-sprouts school so I am slightly confused by the paucity of the mini-brassicas in the dish. Maybe the clue is in the title and it is a literal interpretation. But that is my only cavil, as this is a dish of pure joy. Richness in the form of crisp braised pork, with a nutty flavour to the dressing and a depth and complexity given by the XO sauce. What’s that, some of you may ask. Kosher readers look away now. Actually I had you at the pork, but no matter. XO sauce is, according to the world’s most used research tool, a spicy seafood sauce made of dried scallops, chilli peppers, dried shrimp, garlic and canola oil. Funnily enough, canola oil comes from rapeseed, which is also a part of the Brassica family. Who knew? Never let it be said I leave a stone unturned.
This was a brilliant combination of flavours, good and nutty, with adequate heat and so well seasoned that I forgave the lack of condiments on the table and I didn’t have to reach for my secret salt stash. Zing went the strings with the sweet clementine segments. All of it was just enough. Nothing out of place. When you eat something you immediately want to recreate at home? That.
I am, it must be said, a sucker for squash. I don’t really entertain potatoes all that often these days and certainly not as a main event, but I will fight you for a lovely Delica squash, which I’m guessing is what this next course contained.
This time, the words
Hallumi, quinoa,pistachio, pomegranate, shiitake
do the business for me. I was completely vegetarian for a decade. Not many people know that, but now you do. The legacy of that is that I will always be slightly more drawn to the vegetarian option than your average punter and when it promises some promise, I am going to order it. Here, the vegetarian dish isn’t some sort of consolation prize for the non-meat-eater, it’s a dish that might convert a carnivore.
I know, quinoa or keen-wa as you have to say it. Dotted, or (cliché-alert) bejewelled with pomegranate and pistachio, this might be a bit healthfood shop for some tastes. Please put aside your prejudice. It’s the perfect foil to the roast slices of squash, crisp-with-bits, like the best roast spuds, deep-fried cubes of heavenly hallumi on the side and a piquant herbal sauce/dressing below the quinoa. The sauce (which I tasted a few times, with fingers, elegant as ever) gave the dish a degree of sophistication rarely found in what is often an afterthought for those of us who eat our greens and quite a lot of them.
I notice that the table next to us has the same dish, but with lovely crisp red chicory leaves scattered over the top. Not so much FOMO as actual MO, I would rather not have seen it.
Chicory disappointment aside, I have trained myself to order the right thing before my mouth lets me order the thing I really want (here, the home-made cookies) and thus I have the cheeseboard of joy in front of me.
This eating régime involves telling the server that no, I don’t want some more of the magnificent sourdough and could I please have some sliced apple or similar instead. It involves ordering the right thing before I sabotage myself. Sometimes I don’t know who I am anymore.
A marvellous selection of local cheese in perfect condition is served with some maple-toasted hazelnuts and almonds (yes, of course I did, there are limits) and we polish off the Josmeyer Alsace Dream (I know) which was fine and one of the safer choices on a rather interesting list. I wanted the Meursault but hey, price.
This is my sort of place. Sure-handed cooking in a relaxed atmosphere. Good ingredients. Interesting combinations. A lack of stuffiness. I booked dinner before I’d even finished my starter, because, sometimes, more is more.