Le Mount Stephen
1440 Drummond St,
Tel: (514) 669-9243
Cost: Brunch -$ 88.40
Chef Hats: 2.5
Bar George, can be found housed in the refurbished Mount Stephen mansion which is now called The Mount Stephen Hotel. Located downtown Montreal at 1440 Drummond St. between Sainte Catherine and De Maisonneuve, this historic heritage residence was once owned by Scottish railroad magnate Sir George Stephen. Some of us, will remember this place as the Mount Stephen Club, a private-members only club for the business elite that opened to the public on Sundays’ for brunch circa 2000’s. It was the place to go for those who wanted to sample the feeling of what it was like to hob knob like “les riches de Montreal”.
The Mount Stephen ‘s mansion was built in 1880, the Italianate style home was designed by architect William Tutin Thomas, it took three years to complete at the cost of $ 600,000. A hefty price tag at the time, but a beautifully ornate masterpiece that has become highly symbolic and played a major role in Canadian history and that of Canadian Pacific Railway. George Stephen was not only a major investor in CPR, but its president till 1988. For many years, Stephen was embroiled in a very public battle over the argument that the CPR owed its existence to the government. Many discussions took place in the fine Cuban mahogany & Ceylon wood hallways and rooms of the Stephen mansion. Lord Stephen lived in the home briefly till 1888, disenchanted with Canadian politics, he returned to England and sold the property to his sister Elsie and her husband Robert Meighen in 1900. Since 1929, it has been a private club catering to businessmen for the last eight decades. Its eventual demise was due its declining membership, high costs of renovations, and the death of many exclusive private clubs in Montreal. In 2011, the Mount Stephen club closed for good for six years until we heard of the news that Oliver & Bonacini group from Toronto was spearheading a project to build a new 12 story hotel attached to the old estate. They would revamp the old dining space turning it in to a bar restaurant that would serve British fare with a Quebec influence and open it to everyone daily.
Bar George and its adjacent dining room opened in 2017. They offer brunch, lunch and dinner to hotel guests and all Montrealer’s who want to enjoy its food and ambiance. It is a place to go if you want to experience eating in a swanky elegant setting in a turn of the century building that is reminiscent of old days of yore. The house which is a patrimonial heritage site is basically the same as in 2011, with a few upgrades and a new annex. The façade of the main house has been cleaned up, it’s dazzling ornate roman columns and minute detailed brick work are a showcase in itself. A newly added 50-seat capacity terrace open in summer on the left of the building is perfect for those coming out of hibernation after Covid.
Once inside the heavy doors leading to the foyer with its winding staircase, stained-glass windows, is like teleporting to another century. The building divides into different rooms, big and small, with the main attraction being the oval bar on the left and its adjacent dining room. The 40-seater bar has been decorated in marble/ granite top and a large chandelier hangs above. It is spacious and bright, chic and comfortable. The walls are completely covered in stunning wood paneling and it was voted as one of the most beautiful Montreal bars.
In the 80-seat dining room is done in the tones of mostly green and black. A long, comfortable leather khaki bench seat marks the center of the room. Chairs are grouped around the tables and the walls are covered in tapestries and frames. It also evokes a bygone era, hard to find in Montreal these days. The other smaller rooms have been renovated to accommodate private dining, bigger groups and upstairs hosts conference rooms for meeting. On the right of the foyer down a long hallway, is where you will find Le Mount Stephen Hotel. A new chic boutique style hotel done in modern themes of white & black marble, large glass floor to ceiling windows and splashes of color. It is a sharp contrast to the old house, yet still beautiful with its shiny marble floors and reception area, the lobby has plenty of comfortable seating, an old piano and beautiful flower arrangements. It exudes style and class.
The new corporate Executive Chef at Bar George is Anthony Walsh, a Montreal native who has been working with the O&B group since 1996. He now oversees all the kitchens of the O&B group in Toronto & Montreal. The executive chef is Kevin Ramasawmy, who was born in Mauritius, but has lived in Montreal since the age of 19. He has had prior gigs working with Chef Stelio Perombelo at Leméac and also worked at NYC- Daniel Restaurant with Daniel Boulud. He met Anthony Walsh in 2001, who has been his mentor ever since.
We decided to make reservations at Bar George for Brunch just before the year end to celebrate the holidays. When calling to book a reservation for 15 people, I was automatically referred to the sales department to book a private room with hefty price tag. We cut our group down to 6 people, made up of only family and close friends, to which we got a place in the main dining room on a Sunday just before the holiday. We managed to find metered parking in front, waited a few minutes in the foyer and then made our way to the dining room. We started by ordering Earl Grey Tea, that came served in a silver carafe.
We started with the Cream of Mushroom soup, Haddock Hash, Eggs Benedict and Organic Salmon. The soup was delicious, it was made with a mix of Shimeji & Maitake mushrooms fricassee on a bannock Melba toast wrapped with microgreens and drizzle of olive oil.
The Organic Salmon dish comprised of a Kedgeree-a classic British dish that comes from India. The dish is considered traditional British fare and usually made with curry, rice, eggs, and smoked fish. You can see the influence of the chef’s Indian roots in this dish. This dish contained, hen’s eggs, lime chutney and apple gastrique which is basically a sauce made with apple juice, cider vinegar and honey. The organic salmon sat atop the kedgeree. Our dining guest ate it, but I cannot remember at this point, what her specific comments were in regards to taste other than she had better.
The Eggs Benedict were another story. The dish consisted of two English muffins with bacon, spinach and poached eggs. The Hollandaise sauce was substituted by a Charon sauce, which is a Bearnaise sauce usually made with a touch of tomato puree, wine, shallots, herbs like tarragon & chervil and peppercorns. I had a few bites, which tasted fine and after that “j’ai eu mal au cœur”. I could not take another bite, the sauce was not pleasant, it had an acrid bitter vinegar taste that upset my stomach. Others took a bite to sample and said the same thing. My dish lay there not eaten and when the waiter came around, one of the bolder women in our group whispered to him that I didn’t like it. I am not one to complain, as I abhor drama in public places and a whole scenario soon ensued. The waiter disappeared into the kitchen and upon his return tells me the chef says he makes his sauce this way with mustard. Now, anyone who is a classic cook knows you don’t put mustard in Bearnaise sauce. But who am I to argue with the chef? My favorite brother in law has a good adage, he told me once, actually a few times when he hears me complain. Someone can hand you a slug, but you don’t have to eat it. So, I didn’t.
The Smoked Haddock hash, which is their signature dish had no complaints. It came served with Eggs made to your liking, Keen’s mustard cream, green onion. It came with your choice of toast, crumpets and jams and served in a skillet.
The service was hospitable and efficient, aside from the Benedict Arnold situation all went down smoothly and we really enjoyed our visit. After brunch we wondered around looking at the building in all its magnificence. Would we return to Bar George? Two years after its opening, Bar George still manages to miss the mark. The food reviews in the beginning were not favorable, and many friends who dined there, also told me they were disappointed. Everyone knows British food is nothing to write home about, but I beg to differ, as I have had some good English pub food in Montreal. One thing that does not disappoint at Bar George is the ambiance and décor. If you are not craving that exceptional foodie experience, this is definitely a spot to hang around the bar with some serious friends just for drinks, absorbing the scenery. You’d solely be amazed with a slice of Montreal history. The rest can get to be a tad high falutin, as someone once told me.