Au Pied de Cochon, Montreal

This is a quite spectacular world-class restaurant which somehow combines new world informality with a completely unique focus on quality. Nothing could express more fully, intensely and joyfully the spirit of its home. If Michelin came here, it would definitely get a star. The question of whether it got two would depend on whether they said “but this is not Paris.” Of course, we don’t want it to be Paris. We want it to be Quebec. On that basis, it would get two stars. (You don’t want three. That means six staff standing behind you at all times and a “cathedral of food” atmosphere. Here it would presumably be three ice hockey players and some big dogs pulling a sled full of ice wine, which would be less disturbing…but that’s not the ideal approach…)

The evening began with a couple of Canadian wines which were the only part of the evening which was less than stellar. These one would have put in the category of “I am glad I tried some Canadian wine but there is more development time needed.” Both lacked a little structure and depth. However, this was instantly forgotten when our amazingly friendly and informed maitre’d, Sam, brought out a Canadian white which could stand up to competition from anywhere.

This was the Stratus 2014 White from VQA Niagara Lakeshore from winemaker J-L Groux. Chardonnay-led, it had an extraordinarily satisfying viscosity without losing punch and sharpness. This turned out to be because of an unusual combination of grapes. The list was headed by Chardonnay at 52% but was then followed by a significant 32% Sauvignon Blanc component. There were further floral notes added by minor but important elements of Semillon, Viognier and Gewürztraminer.

Then to the food. You can order from the menu, but why not let the experts do their thing? Sam offered to just bring us stuff and we agreed.

Poutine is a legendary Canadian dish made up of fries, curd cheese and gravy. In snowy climates, one needs fat, salt and sugar and this dish does that and does nothing else. The version at Au Pied de Cochon however, is the Rolls Royce variant, because it adds their signature element of hot foie gras. This combines a light crust with an intensely flavoured liquid interior and matches perfectly the underlying poutine elements. Naturally, the fries were cooked in duck fat. And the punch through of the Sauvignon-assisted Chardonnay was clear in a wine very well chosen by Sam.

This was combined with a quite extraordinary salad which had citrusy zing, apple, walnuts, cabbage and blue cheese. A very arresting combination which managed to be intense but also very light so as to offer some good contrast with the poutine. There was also a very intense mushroom dish to round this section off.

For the main courses, Sam brought us items we would never have ordered, which was another reason to let him make the choices to both showcase the items of the day and match them with each other and the wine. There was a pig’s trotter from which the meat has been extracted, braised and reinserted coated in breadcrumbs. This was accompanied by a mushroom/tomato/herb led sauce of great depth and intensity. We drank a Burgundy with it which was superb but I am not going to say anything about it because we’ve all had good Burgundy. Though note that Jancis says 80% of Burgundy is disappointing and this wasn’t…

We then realised we had not had one of the signatures: Duck in a Can. We were told that this would need another 32 minutes but that was fine. In fact, leisurely pacing of courses was perfectly done throughout the evening. Rushing a sequence of what are after all some very rich foods would be a terrible mistake.

This duly arrived and was spectacular in a fatty yet well-contrasted manner. Again it had elements of depth added to it by foie gras which was perfectly placed in the context of the dish.

And the final wine of the evening was really remarkable. I had a lot of trouble answering the challenge from Sam as to whether it was New World or Old World because it was extraordinarily complex and interesting yet came in a. screw cap. (I have nothing against screw caps, it’s just it almost always tends to be a New World method. And this wine drank like it had centuries of experience behind it.)

Here is what I wrote about this wine:

Le Cigare Volant Central Coast CA 2012 Mourvèdre/Grenache/Syrah/Cinsault nose: dark cherries, vanilla and a quite extraordinary amount of smoke. Plus forest floor/mushroom (on advice!). Palate: again remarkable yet well integrated smoke reminiscent of a high end Pauillac.  Strong but balanced acidity, fruit back in the mix somewhat so well aged.  Very subtle tannins. Quality: outstanding — great balance, length, intensity and complexity 18.5 

A massive wine like that needs massive food to complement it and this was there.

Further highlights: some insanely deep Italian spirits, some dark shots, amazing pecan pie with caramel ice cream, and the world’s only dessert with foie gras. (It worked.)

The wine list runs to six pages (Burgundy, French Red, French White, World Red, World White) and is brilliantly chosen but if you have a great Sommelier like Sam you can just let him decide and read the list for fun.

In sum: one of the best restaurants in the world yet totally informal. This place is only about the food. It doesn’t care about the inessential. It isn’t even that expensive. Being anywhere in North America and not coming here is a mistake. Actually, being on the planet and not coming here is a mistake. Vive le Québec.