1237 Rue Metcalfe
(between Ste Catherine/René Levesque)
Telephone: (514) 507-9207
Cost: $ 121.74- (wine, tax & tip included)
Le Balsam Inn is a diamond in the ruff, behind its façade is a modern urban casual pub that serves a mix of Italian food with local influences in a setting reminiscent of yesteryears. A little cached gem, there are not many restaurants downtown that can achieve this these days. While yet contemporary, you can’t help but feel you are in another era. It also hits all the marks on good food, décor, ambiance and genuine hospitality.
Opened in November 2014, Le Balsam Inn is a well thought out process and like its sister restaurant the Dominion Square Taverne located next door, it merits accolades in design and decor. Brainchild of Alexandre Wolianski, Nicole Lemelin & Alexandre Baldwin, of Whisky Café fame and Bar Henrietta (formerly Baldwin Barmacie), they bring their experience and plethora of knowledge on running these types of establishments. They have created yet another fabulous dining spot with the same principals of décor that govern the Taverne, using vintage recycled items from various defunct businesses and in keeping with the elements of Montreal’s historical value.
The building that Balsam Inn is in, was built in 1864 and was part of the Dominion Square Hotel which was ravaged by fire during the Great Depression. What remained of the edifice was a section that became known as the Roxburgh Place, a boarding house. Over the years the locale changed many hands but it was last home to the short lived iBurger joint that incorporated a high-tech concept to food ordering.
While renovating the Balsam Inn word is that they found traces of the original kitchen and incorporated and restored it into its present space. The ambiance and décor today bring us back to a nostalgic era with its rich dark paneled walls, flooring and shelves. Rustic and relaxed with subdued lighting, a long bar with recycled brass foot railings, it has enough stools to accommodate every member of the press gallery from The Gazette across the street, who lunch here frequently. The atmosphere is so heartwarming that you want to sit there all day and have cocktails and some pretty good strong spirits.
Towards the back of the restaurant is a wood burning stove and glass encased kitchen that if seated close enough you can watch the chefs in action. The mood and feel of the place is still very masculine but with a vintage chic gastropub feel. The food concept is basically Italian with a few French local classics like Salmon Tartar and Tuna Confit. The wine list and prices are reasonable and the cocktails amazing, their specialties are Scotch and Whisky. Hospitality is professional and courteous from start to finish. Our reservation was confirmed the same day, our questions were answered and everything was done in a quick manner within a reasonable time frame. All very low key with no stress or worries on my part.
The evening we dined at Balsam Inn, we got a lovely table in the back near the wood fire oven for an early dinner. It was quiet, and we were the only ones there so we got special undevided attention from our waiter. We ordered our wine and perused the menu. Two of our dining companions shared a bottle of Abruzzo Tollo Rosso 2014 Montepulciano for $ 39.00, a bio-vegan wine that paired well with their pasta. I had a glass of Abruzzo 2014 Trebianno for $ 8.25, another bio-vegan wine that went well with fish. My dining companion had the Chardonnay Navarre Vega Sindoa -Spain for $ 10.75, with vanilla notes, with pear and apple flavors which paired well with the fish they ordered.
Most of our friends ordered from the table d’Hôte at $ 27.00 which comprised of a salad of arugula and parmesan shaving with a perfect balance of light oil and balsamic vinaigrette. It was perfectly seasoned and flavored.
The other option for the table d’Hôte was a soup of the day made with what I believe was cream of vegetables and squash and topped with herbs and pepper.
As an appetizer I started with my favorite Italian entrée Arancini for $ 10.00. I received four small rice balls sprinkled with Smoked Cayenne Pepper and served with marinara sauce. They were heavenly pockets of creamy rice and so absolutely deliciously creamy and tender. The marinara sauce was also delicious and not overly acidic. I shared these with my sidekick but could have ordered another round as they were so good and two were really not enough.
For Mains most of our guests had the Pappardelle pasta with lamb. Beautifully presented with seasonal local fiddleheads, pickled beet radishes, and large chunks of lamb and served in a red pepper infused sauce topped with parsley. A good price point for a quality dish and a generous portion.
I ordered the Confit White Tuna for $ 25.00 which was a pleasant surprise. I received a nice portion of tuna that was poached and cured in a citrus marinade. Topped with white raisins on a bed of celery root puree and garlic rapini.The dish was divine and hit all the right notes, a mix of sweet, bitter and a powerhouse of flavors that exploded with every bite.
My sidekick had the Salmon Tartare for $24.00 which she enjoyed immensely. It was well seasoned with garnishing of dill and pickled cucumber. Served with a side order of fries, baguette crisps and mayonnaise and a drizzle of truffle oil. The salmon was fresh and smooth and there were ample hints of dill, which make it very refreshing to the palate.
We topped off our meals with espresso coffee, Orange almond Cake and Peanut Blondie for $ 9.00 which were both fantastic and heavenly. The desserts were just as good and comparable to the main meal.
Check out was smooth, the prices quoted can vary from what is indicated in their system, but once mentioned the situation was rectified accordingly and with no issues. As the place filled up with revelers celebrating a Bachelor party the noise levels climbed, but we were on our way out anyways.
As we spilled into the street, I spotted at the doorstep another one of Montreal’s famous chef admiring the bottle display on the upper ledge. We stopped to talk and admire as well. That is just what kind of place Balsam Inn is, innovative and great.
I loved the Balsam Inn and regret not coming here sooner. I felt totally at home and very comfortable. I can see myself sitting alone at the bar enjoying a drink and some entrees. I need to make it my go to place downtown. I definitely will be returning.