Living in Saint-Henri, I passed by this establishment practically every day without suspecting that what I was going to discover something so striking. I visit restaurants on a regular basis so my critical sense is, I could say, a little higher. Although I enjoy simple and unpretentious restaurants, gastronomic places also have a special place in my heart since they manage to make dishes come to life and create memorable moments on many points.
H4C is definitely the best kept secret in this area of Montreal and it's perfect like that. Let me explain...
It is in a former post office building dating from 1893 that this restaurant took place, designed by the two architects of the architectural firm, Dimension 3 and the incredibly creative chef Dany Bolduc. The mystery that reigns around this establishment greatly increases the effect of being surprised when you decide to try it for the first time, because believe me, you'll be surprised! When the weather permits, a magnificent terrace is installed at the front of the restaurant. Upon arrival, we felt that the evening was going to be special, although a rather calm and soothing atmosphere reigns on the premises. It is the sommelier Pascal Gerrits who welcomed us and took care of us throughout the evening. The professionalism he showed was remarkable, we learn later in the evening that he worked in very famous institutions now allowing him to offer impeccable service.
Having chosen to sit at the bar, we had an interesting view of the kitchen, thanks to the glass wall serving as a "back bar". The idea of having a kitchen where guests have access to without spoiling the intimacy that cooks need to concentrate on preparing the menu's delicacies, is very well thought out. Considering that two out of three owners are architects, the decor reflects a lot of thoughtful work without going too far and get lost in a concept. We are therefore entitled to a clean decor, which reminds us of an interior of a beautiful rustic but modern house, with stonewalls and large beams. One of the most striking elements of the restaurant is clearly the old vault from the former post office which has been transformed into a splendid cellar, and this for the greatest happiness of Pascal.
Now let's move on to the most important part, in my opinion, the food of course. I still find it difficult to compose this article; because I really want to value the dishes we ate by the way I choose my words. H4C is above all, an experience; chef Dany Bolduc and his team literally take you on a journey. Each of the ingredients is chosen and worked with care and rigor.
We started the meal with lucky lime oysters, served with a traditional mignonnette, but also absolutely delicious and unctuous homemade ketchup. We also indulged ourselves with the chicken liver mousse served with sea buckthorn purée that brings a pleasant acidity that harmonizes with the bolder appearance of the mousse. We loved the special touch of this dish; a thin, firmer layer reminiscent of a « crème brulée » that covers the mousse.
Before going through the appetizers, we were treated to a very tasty « amuse-bouche ». Served in a hollow bowl, we really loved the small clams in brussels sprout leaves bathing in a salted cod broth, which I could literally drink with a straw for how tasty it was. For the final touch of the « amuse-bouche », mini cod cakes completed the dish. If it was possible, I could eat a whole bowl filled with these small delights.
Let's move on to the appetizers; I wanted to continue with the seafood since the « amuse-bouche » had greatly charmed me, I stopped my choice on the scallop plate. Wrapped in thin slices of celeriac, the scallop was perfectly cooked, tender and juicy. A slightly creamy mussel broth was at the bottom of the plate, thus enhancing the taste of the seafood. Grapefruit pieces were also part of the dish; the little acid side of the fruit brought a very pleasant touch of freshness. Finally, small pieces of brioche bread dotted the plate creating another texture to the dish.
The second appetizer was a veal carpaccio served on a crunchy papadum (thin Indian wafer usually fried). The veal was of an incomparable quality, and fitted perfectly with the wafer on which tamarin sauce, coriander mayonnaise and pickled mustard were placed. These small drops of flavour created an explosion of taste and the meat was literally melting.
The main courses were just as impressive and delicious as the entrees. The first plate was mainly composed of deer and beets, and was incredibly beautiful. The plate simply had two generous portions of deer cooked to perfection, placed on a colourful explosion of beets. As a sauce and in pieces, the beets brought a vinegary side, a sweet touch and also a little earthy note that went perfectly with the taste of the wild meat. The sumac spices sprinkled on it were the perfect finishing touch. This plate is clearly an imperative for red meat lovers.
According to the chef, the tandoori octopus dish is unanimously one of the favourite meals of the H4C clientele. Served in a very unusual way for octopus, the spice mixture in which it was marinated was to die for. The plate had a range of flavours, the vacuum-sealed cooked yogurt took a pronounced goat's milk taste, which was perfect to match with the coconut milk and cashews served in the beet juice marinated onions. The side of spicy rice was the perfect finishing touch.
Time for dessert! First, a pre-dessert was served to prepare our taste buds for what would come next. Served in a really simple and delicate way, a beet ice cream with lemon mascarpone and lemon oil on the plate. It was fresh, tasty, simple, perfect.
The pistachio dessert was above all beautiful, a mixture of white, pink and green colours on the plate. Composed mainly of a pistachio parfait, in the form of a small ball stuffed with cherry, this dessert was sweet, but fresh. The coffee sugar that covered the ball was coming to sway the tastes. There was also a cherry gel on the plate and a coffee meringue. To decorate it all, white chocolate was grated to make the effect of a fine snow covering the dessert.
Let’s end with my personal favourite of the evening. Being a huge mushroom lover, you will understand that when I saw that an ice cream made from candy caps (a kind of mushroom) was available on the menu, I did not hesitate a second. Hidden under a porcini tile, the ice cream was placed on mashed chestnut, accompanied by small pieces of apple and crisp black bread. Smoked butter was grated on top of the tile and drops of pine oil finished this dessert in style. The most interesting flavour mix I have eaten so far in my life. This plate is the result of incredible work by the H4C kitchen team, just like the menu in general.
The menu has changed a bit since our visit; a new concept has taken place at H4C. It is now possible to choose a large menu consisting of 9 courses or a small menu consisting of 5 courses. Dany says that his tasting menus are designed to not only make the customers discovering dishes, but also to give them an experience, a culinary journey reflecting from first to last bite. To live the complete experience, I find it imperative to also opt for the wine pairing, which allows all the aromas to marvellously complement each other.
Our evening at H4C was filled with beautiful moments and we came out smiling ear-to-ear, first, because the food we were served exceeded our expectations, but also by the service and the attention received by the employees. The team is composed of passionate people eager to pay tribute to the food on each plate. Considering that it's important sometimes to treat yourself, what are you waiting for to make a reservation?