August 2017. This was our very first time in Montreal and didn’t really know what to expect. The travel articles and vlogs I had watched were all raving about a lively city, with great food and culture scene and it seemed promising.
Under normal circumstances, I would have planned my itinerary with details and it would be packed with sightseeing activities and tours. But on this occasion, we were travelling as a family with our 11-month-old boy and we would spend most of the time only the two of us –our dad had to work! – so I knew I should take it really slow and just go with the flow.
We were staying at the InterContinental hotel in the Old Town and we got to explore predominantly this area of the city. Apparently, that’s one of the city’s most touristic parts but we did manage to find many lovely places to dine, to drink coffee and to simply enjoy life as it comes.
Here are my top experiences after a week spent in Montreal’s Old Town:
1. Mandy’s Gourmet Salads
Guys, I swear, if Mandy’s were a person I would just hug her for real! And she would be my friend, for sure. This is such a classy spot in Montreal’s old town: the patio is adorable but inside is the real charm: the steep stairs lead to a foodie’s heaven where you enter through a vintage door which reads “Bienvenue”, Welcome! Every little detail inside Mandy’s place is well thought of: the blackboard signs showcasing the menu, the little deli shop, the counter, the ananas even the water corner and yes even the toilettes which are just incredible. Every-little-thing. And this makes you feel amazing in an instant. And then you read their menu, which is packed with healthy options such as salads and fresh juices and there is no doubt left that this is a truly special place.
Their motto is “Gourmet Salads” and they are not kidding: they come extra fresh and in a huge bowl. We tried the “Superfood Salad” with baby spinach, kale, arugula, quinoa, fresh mint, Italian flat leaf parsley, avocado, broccoli, cherry tomatoes, roasted sweet potato, pomegranate seeds, apples –yes, all of that!- and is served with their house dressing: delicious. We also got the “Wolfe Bowl” with mixed greens, arugula, kale, brown rice, cherry tomatoes, avocado, shredded carrots, toasted walnuts, toasted sesame seeds, shaved parmesan and served with their tamari dressing and it was very tasty as well. They also have a wide range of soups available and you can create your own soup or salad, adding as many ingredients as you want.
Who created this heaven? I wondered. As their website states “In 2004 Mandy and Rebecca Wolfe opened up Montreal’s first create-your-own salad bar in the back of a women’s clothing store. With no prior food, business, marketing or advertising experience, the sisters played their strengths: Mandy came up with an original menu while Rebecca designed the interior of the restaurant. They crossed their fingers and opened the doors… Against all odds, it worked!”
No surprise for me. This is one of the happiest places serving healthy food I have been to. Today, Mandy’s has 5 locations in Montreal and a food truck but most importantly, the two sisters are still in charge of the business. I would probably go back to Montreal again just for this place alone.
I think I must mention that this is not a sponsored post!
One Week in Montreal’s Old Town – Where to eat & drink coffee
Very close to our hotel, there were so many interesting places to eat. LOV, was one of them. Local, Organic, Vegetarian are the three words characterising LOV’s cooking philosophy. We showed up without a reservation and luckily there was still some space at one of the stands. We also had Marios with us in the stroller and they were very welcoming.
The interior space resembles a botanical garden and the décor is playful with big, wooden swings at the back, typewriters, one of my favorite parts. We got the Big LOV burger –which didn’t seem so “big” to be honest- with onions, tomatoes, pickles, sauce and vegan cheese and a salad. We also tried two of their desserts but I have to admit I was more impressed by the interior and the atmosphere rather than by the food. That said, I would definitely go back again to try their brunch –locals told us it’s one of the best – and a few other options from their regular menu.
3. Venice Restaurant
This is the very first place where we dined once we arrived in Montreal. Exhausted from a very long flight and feeling the jet lag already, we asked our hotel’s concierge to propose a place nearby with healthy food. And he sent us to Venice, which didn’t disappoint us!
The place has a Californian vibe with loads of colours and a feel-good decoration. The staff welcomed us with a friendly smile and even though they didn’t have high chairs for babies, our stroller fitted perfectly inside the restaurant. Plus, the pleasant buzz meant we wouldn’t disturb anyone if Marios would be loud.
Their motto is “Best Poke in Montreal. Made locally and with love.” This was the first time we tried poke, which is essentially a Hawaiian raw fish salad served as an appetizer, or even as a main course. We got a salmon poke, a tuna poke, guacamole and fried sweet potatoes and they were all delicious. The menu also offers gourmet salads, tacos, soups and fresh juices.
A few days later I returned for their take away, which is just next door to the main restaurant and essentially offers exactly the same menu as the restaurant. Plus they have some jaw-dropping ice creams to try while waiting.
There is also a door leading to Boho, Venice’s cocktail bar that, unfortunately, I couldn’t check out because I had Mario with me. Funny laws!
4. Crew Collective Cafe
Clearly the grandest of the coffee places I have been so far and yes, this is mainly due to the 1926 building where it is found which was the former Royal Bank on St-Jacques street. All the grandiose and the opulence of the building remain unchanged and the architect, Henri Cleinge, managed to design seamlessly the space which today offers not only the café which is open to the public but also a co-working space and office space for a tech startup.
Throughout the space, there is a harmony between the traditional and the modern, but also between those who rent working spaces here and the public who comes just for the café.
The ambience alone would justify a visit here. But the reality is that the coffee is also amazing. Plus, there is an option to order online –with a very sophisticated and easy to follow online system- and get your coffee and food delivered directly to your seat, Personally, I didn’t want to miss interacting with the people working here so I didn’t try their online order system, but I probably would have, if I was a regular. There are also a few pastries and healthy options for lunch.
I also spotted a food tour taking place here, during which the lucky participants had the chance to taste a unique foodie creation while admiring the interior.
If I lived in Montreal, that’s the place where I would be working at. And drinking coffee. And eating. Very often. De facto.
5. Alter Eco dark bio chocolate (60% cacao) with toasted quinoa
I found this chocolate bar in two places, both at Mandy’s Gourmet Salads and at Crew Coffee Collective. The second time I couldn’t resist so I bought this bar along with my coffee and kept it for an evening dessert. I liked the taste so much that I ate it all– I rarely eat a complete bar of chocolate in one go these days because I mostly go for the dark ones –and went back to get another one. And now that I am thinking about it, I wish I could have one more piece.
6. Tommy Café
This is another gorgeous place to get your coffee fix but also for your apéro (which is essentially a drink with food bites) in Old Montreal. Found in the British Empire Building with its Victorian architecture, they serve good coffee with pastries, sandwiches and salads. I loved the light from the huge windows, the flowers and the countless little corners, all of them perfect for Instagram photos. There are lots of stairs included and the café actually has 3 different levels so if you are coming here with a baby, it’s a good idea to have your baby sling instead of the stroller. They also offer brunch.
7. Flyjin café
A cute, tiny coffee place tucked away in one of the Old Town’s streets serving take away coffee from its window –so cool!- while there is also a small indoor space to sit and enjoy your coffee. I loved how they proposed latte with maple syrup for those who need more sweetness. Why not? I got a cold latte, which was ok, but I would probably try their cappuccino next time around.
417 rue St-Pierre Suite 10
8. Intercontinental’s Hotel Restaurant & Concierge Service
Our stay in Montreal was truly impacted by the hotel’s great services.
First of all, we had recently started solid foods for Mario’s lunches and as we weren’t keen on having ready-made baby meals –I am trying to avoid that as much as possible even when travelling – the only other option was to order from the hotel’s restaurant. Even though our baby’s diet at the moment was quite particular – no salt, only herbs, lemon and olive oil vegetable puree – they were very accommodating, preparing our lunch every day and even bringing it to the room once. The prices were quite reasonable as well.
The concierge’s service was also invaluable. We would show up anytime at their desk, describe what we wanted to eat –healthy, nearby, kids-friendly or take-away – and they would always propose something new and truly worthwhile. We went to Mandy’s Salad Bar & Venice restaurant following their recommendations. A truly great service for the hotel’s visitors.
9.The interaction with the locals
People in Montreal were unpretentiously friendly and very kind. Well, most of them at least! We also met the grumpiest person working at the metro station but I guess he was the one exception in the entire city. Everyone else was so friendly and willing to help. It was the first time that so many people were genuinely interacting with Marios, talking to him with respect as you would (or should!) to any person really. I was surprised in a good way.
Montreal is not the most stroller-friendly city in the world, especially the area of the Old Town where we spent most of our time. For example, there is no elevator or escalator access to the metro (only a few central metro stations offer these services). I didn’t even ask before heading there because I thought it’s a no-brainer. Well, it appears it’s not. Thank God, locals are so kind that I quickly found people willing to help me carry the stroller up and down the stairs.
10. Walking around the Old Town
It’s pretty compact and yet big enough to spend a few hours walking around and enjoying the lively atmosphere, with or without a stroller. It’s also next to St Lawrence River with its beautiful promenade where you can find family bikes for rental, many picnic spots and green areas with fountains. One day, I also spotted Bota Bota, a river ferry which has been converted to a floating spa and will be definitely added to our itinerary next time around.
Notre-Dame Basilica is also located here and whenever we passed by, there was a huge queue which made me wonder. Searching on the internet, I think I found the answer: AURA, the luminous experience is a spectacular show probably worth queuing for so you might want to check it out if you are heading to Montreal soon.
Just opposite Notre-Dame Basilica, the square “Place d’Armes” was always buzzing with people and great musicians performing in front of the public, which was also pretty impressive in its own way.
Have you been to Montreal’s Old Town? Which were your favorite experiences and places to visit? Share your tips with us!