Glazed pork osso bucco, Savoy cabbage, russet bechamel, mustard and dill
It’s tough to get a reservation at les Deux Singes de Montarvie. The Mile End restaurant, with its steampunk light fixtures and tasteful selections of paintings by local artists, has only nine tables and seven counter spots where patrons can watch chef and co-owner Murray Smith and his team at work. Aesthetically, it’s hardly Dorcia, but what it lacks in space and white-tablecloth pretension, it makes up for with sheer demand. Thanks to its ranking as Montreal’s #1 restaurant on Trip Advisor and, presumably, a number of loyal repeat clients, there is never an empty table at les Deux Singes.
Whether or not you trust sites that rank restaurants based on consumer reviews is another story, but the impact of such ratings is undeniable. (The Gazette wrote a business story about this very issue, using les Deux Singes as their primary example, back in 2014.)
Regardless of your point of view on that question, it’s hard to argue with these numbers. Les Deux Singes ranks 4.5 out of 5 on both Trip Advisor and Yelp, but it got there based on 44 Yelp reviews, whereas 444 people took the time to review the restaurant on Trip Advisor. Can 444 amateur critics be wrong?
Whatever the seasonal ingredients may be, your options at les Deux Singes are invariably a vegetarian ($50) or non-vegetarian ($65) tasting menu — my companion and I ordered one of each. Winter was still in full force at the time, so naturally root vegetables were in play, but the portions of each of the four courses were never too heavy.
Following an adventurous little amuse-bouche of greens, quail egg and sauteed mushrooms and eggplant, both meals began with a hearty but relatively healthy take on a poutine, with perfectly cooked and cubed squash and beets filling in for fries, a generous portion of cheese curds and a charred onion gravy that married the elements beautifully.
His shrimp and octopus cocktail with tempura vermicelli roll and horseradish was another winner, with its contrasting textures, flavourful sea critters, crispiness and bite. Meanwhile, I was served a parsnip gratin in an escargot dish, the richness of the gruyère tweaked and twisted with a honey and champagne vinegar mousse. (Red wine would have further complemented this dish, among others, but having had a rough night, we abstained. The cocktails were enticing, too — next time I’ll certainly order the spicy mango mojito.)
Our main courses were glazed pork osso bucco, Savoy cabbage, russet bechamel, mustard and dill for him, and fresh spaghetti, pine nut pesto and leeks for me. I can’t speak for the osso bucco (though I’m told it was top-notch) but the spaghetti was delicious: the pesto tangy and just creamy enough to lightly coat the noodles, the leeks dosing the dish with that lightest of onion flavours and the garnish of greens and edible flowers (which were used on many of the dishes) bringing a necessary dab of bitterness to the plate.
The final course was also the weakest, but even that was not half-bad — maybe only a quarter bad. Dessert consisted of dollop of fennel and vanilla ice cream, cara-cara orange and oatmeal tuile. The ice cream was great, the fruit and tuile balancing the dish with tartness and caramel-ly crunch, but a ring of what looked like cream at the base was actually stiff, flavourless meringue, a little let-down at the end of what was otherwise an exceptional meal.
Given that the restaurant’s menu changes every few weeks, repeat visits would be required to gage whether Smith and company can really work their magic in every season. Based on my one experience, a return trip is a no-brainer — if I can get a reservation. ■
Les Deux Singes de Montarvie
176 St-Viateur W.