Through the good times and, sometimes, the not so good, our restaurant critics tell you about their experience, present the team in the dining room and in the kitchen, while explaining what motivated their choice of restaurant. This week, the new darling of Quebec: Melba.
In a city with no shortage of interesting new restaurants, Melba is on everyone’s lips. I had only one dinner in Quebec, on a Monday evening, which has become a bit cursed for anyone looking for a good, lively restaurant. What luck: Guillaume St-Pierre’s second house (Battuto), open for almost a year, receives guests from Monday to Friday. When the stars align, we go for it! Three days later, Melba found herself in enRoute magazine’s pre-selection of the best new Canadian restaurants.
Chef Guillaume St-Pierre joined forces with two friends, two former members of the Panache brigade, where he was sous chef before opening the very popular Battuto: Charles Provencher-Proulx and Alexandra Roy. On a daily basis, they are the ones who cook. The couple worked in France for two years. Today, Charles and Alexandra have fun modernizing some classics, both well-known and lesser-known. Added to the trio is sommelier Marc Lamarre, unfortunately absent the evening of our visit.
When we arrive, the room is empty of the first service. It will only be half full. It’s Monday night, after all. The average person eats earlier. So much the worse for the atmosphere, but so much the better for the little pampering, because our engaging waiter Patrick Bovoli has plenty to lavish.
The superb space designed by Apparel Architecture is in complete contrast to the street. From my cozy bench, in the peach and wooded cocoon that is the Melba, I see the Saint-Sauveur district in action: a few lost souls wandering around alongside carefree people on skateboards and young professionals on bikes. Like many others, the sector is undergoing transformation.
My gaze returns to the map. Good start: the menu is mouth-watering. There are three sections: Appetizers, Shareable, and Desserts. A large table could go through the proposals, but since there are only two of us, we start with three choices from each of the first two sections.
The hors d’oeuvres all arrive at the same time and it’s a very nice sight. Placed on a standing plate, the Apicius duck skewers are particularly attractive. The meat is intertwined with dates and apple and seasoned with a mixture of spices (fennel, coriander, cumin), for a very successful sweet-salty-exotic result. This little marvel is a nod to a creation by chef Alain Senderens, himself inspired by a recipe from Roman times, chef Alexandra Roy later told us.
The finger sandwich, filled with a firm mousseline with ham and trumpets of death, is even porkier than the now classic scallop croque-scallop from Mon Lapin, with its well-buttered crust. Funny in theory, the PFK beans (so breaded) with honey dijonnaise are in fact a bit too vinegary, but not enough to abandon them.
We continue to share with a beautiful piece of soft char placed on a generous portion of chanterelles in a creamy aroma. Between the fish and the mushrooms, a little lettuce seasoned with vin jaune. The oxidative notes of the emblematic Jura drink are very subtle, but they are very present in the wine we chose to accompany the meal, a white from Roussillon aged under veil (Alquimia du Roc des Anges). More than perfect agreement, therefore.
Pressed poultry is currently having its moment of glory in Quebec. The chicken thighs from Lundi au soleil and Espace Old Mill are two excellent examples. At Melba, guinea fowl legs are also served this way. It is first cooked sous vide with its seasoning, pressed, then, just before serving, roasted on the skin and lacquered. This comforting delight is served with tasty carrots, fries and béarnaise. It is undoubtedly the most generous dish on the menu.
Melba’s Provençal tomatoes are a beautiful and refreshing version of a great classic. The blanched cherry tomatoes are bathed in a tasty roasted tomato broth, served cold. The parsley is present in the form of an emulsion and the usual bread crumbs are a bread crumble. A few pieces of marinated garlic flower and a little greenery top it all off. We finish the dish by dipping a “small buttock”, the exquisite homemade bread sprinkled with sesame, oats and poppy seeds.
At this point in our appetite, dessert is officially an indulgence. Maybe we should try peach melba to keep with the theme? Instead, let yourself be tempted by a hot plum clafoutis. It is served with chamomile ice cream sprinkled with flaked almonds. It’s soft and much airier than the average flan.
Marc Lamarre, the very first Sommelier of the Year from the Lauriers de la Gastronomie, in 2018, while working at the Bell Tower, composes the liquid menus at Melba. There are six simple cocktails (Effet Miroir is a nice variation of the negroni, with its sage syrup and celery bitters), three inspired “mocktails”, beers (including a few Auval) and lots of wine. The glass choices are not numerous, but they are probably sufficient, with around ten options in all colors. By the bottle, on the other hand, around fifty references are listed and that’s without counting the sixty vintages “from behind the fagots”, which Marc leaves to age in the cellar. He releases this side card from time to time, for real enthusiasts and those who are willing to spend a little more.
We’ve seen worse! Especially in these times. Granted, the appetizers are small portions, but at $10-12 each, it’s reasonable. The Shareable section features dishes of varying portions with prices starting at $18 and topping out at $29. Desserts are $12. On the current wine list, glasses are $12-15 and bottles start at $49.
Melba is open Monday through Friday, 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. Reservations for each month open at noon on Friday of the previous month (e.g. October 27 for November). Located on the ground floor, Melba is ultimately accessible for people with reduced mobility, despite the small steps to access the restaurant.