Although the majority of our institutions serve more or less classic French cuisine, there are a few exceptions, such as Estiatorio Milos and Aleppo, among others. In 1996, Carlos Ferreira made it his mission to make Portuguese cuisine shine in Montreal. Almost 28 years later, we can say that it’s mission accomplished.
The beginnings of the chic Peel Street address were not necessarily easy. “If the food in this restaurant lived up to its decor, it would be a resounding success. Unfortunately, he has more plumage than rowing,” wrote La Presse critic Françoise Kayler in 1996. Fortunately, his second official experience, in 2002, was much more positive. And for a long time, we can say that the plates have caught up with the frame.
Due to its location, right in the city center, it is a business clientele supported by generous spending allowances which has come to constitute the main fauna of Ferreira. That still seems to be the case today, with the addition of tourists, celebrities and restaurant workers looking for classic experiences.
If the very rigorous Carlos Ferreira continues to stop by the restaurant every day, it is now his daughter Sandra who holds the reins. His other daughter Claudia is dedicated to “special projects.” The current chef, supported by a stable team, is Natalia Machado, whom we met around ten years ago at the now defunct Atelier d’Argentine.
“It takes a chef who is ready to perform our classics,” says Sandra. Because yes, some seasonal dishes are added to the permanent menu, but Ferreira does not do signature cuisine. It is a showcase for beautiful and rich “Montrealized” Portuguese cuisine and for a restaurant made according to the rules of the art, with warmth, but without too much familiarity.
The month of November 2023 is particularly difficult for a large number of restaurateurs, who have to deal with a drop in attendance and customers who do not honor their reservations (those unfortunate “no shows”). But not Ferreira. When I push open the solid wooden door of the Peel Street institution on a Wednesday evening, the beautiful symphony of a dining room full of life fills my ears.
The hostess leads me to the back section, where my dear mother is already installed. We feel a little isolated in this part of the restaurant where the groups are placed (there will be two of at least 10-12 people in succession right next to us). But we are at the heart of the action in the kitchen. Only a glass wall separates us and there is quite a spectacle going on along the large stainless steel counter, especially when we tackle the preparation of an enormous turbot for the table of six next door.
Ferreira is a fine, well-established machine. Thanks to a large team (75 employees) and high level, both in the kitchen and in the dining room, the establishment succeeds in generating volume while offering a professional and personalized service. The sommelier, Tristan Buisson, for example, takes all the time necessary to ask us about our wine desires and to listen to the answer. He returns from the cellar with Luis Seabra’s Mono C 2018, based on castelão planted in the Douro Valley. With its salivating acidity and subtle fruitiness, the wine will go well with our choices of somewhat heterogeneous dishes. The cellar is ambitious here. You’re sure to find a bottle to suit your taste buds!
Should we still eat octopus? At Ferreira, the answer is yes, three times rather than once. Unable this time to resist the call of the crispy tentacle, I opt for the delicious starter composed of Portuguese bean puree, marinated pearl onions, salsa verde and smoked paprika oil. It’s soft and textured at the same time.
In front of me, my more reasonable mother enjoys her watercress and roasted squash salad, enhanced with basil pesto and topped with a crisp São Jorge cheese tuile. This is because she had previously spoiled herself with six oysters opened impeccably and served with cuteness.
In main courses, we honor both the land and the sea. The wild mushroom risotto with confit duck leg and port sauce is served from a casserole dish. It’s a particularly rich, autumnal dish, and the portion is so generous that I take two-thirds of it home.
On the other hand, there will be nothing left on mom’s plate – also very copious – which for a brief moment will have contained a beautiful piece of black cod, whose pearly flesh when perfectly cooked falls apart into large flakes. It’s a house classic which, with its mashed potatoes and port reduction, takes care of the November blues.
The maritime delights come in a host of other dishes: bouillabaisse, seafood rice, numerous fish of the day and even carabineiros (giant shrimp) extra, for around $30-40 a pop. There is also a grilled beef section on the menu, including pieces aged by Marchand du Bourg, Montreal’s king of steak.
For dessert, you may be tempted to opt for the tasting plate like us. But he who kisses too much hugs badly. If I had to do it again, I would stick to the classic natas or fritters.
Between oscietra caviar, tomahawk and bottles from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, luxury has no limits here. And all it took was two cocktails as an aperitif and a bottle of wine in the 100s to rack up a bill for two of $500 (with tax and tip).
The fact that this institution was full to bursting on a Wednesday evening in November led me to several observations. Firstly, the Ferreiras are hard workers who have never compromised on rigor. Second, safe values are popular. Third, wealthy customers are not experiencing the financial crisis. She would also do well to go and spend her money in the many small restaurants of inspired chefs who are going through tough times.