My first thought when I walked down the mismatched concrete steps of Le Bremner and through two hand-painted wooden doors into a tiny space simply marked “Restaurant” was “I hope I meet Chuck Hughes.”
My second thought when I walked into the cozy, dimly-lit restaurant and looked around at the bar, loaded with fresh fruit, alcohol, people picking at appetizer-sized meals and a good-looking bartender was “There are a lot of hipsters in here.”
Then, as we passed the kitchen en route to our spacious booth in the main eating area, led by a friendly hostess wearing red Keds, I thought to myself, “If Chuck Hughes is in that kitchen I’m going to ask him to marry me.”
If you have no idea who Chuck Hughes is, it means you have never watched more than three hours of the Food Network in a row, a feat which I accomplish daily. He is the youngest Canadian chef to win Iron Chef America, owns two successful restaurants, has his own television show on the Food Network and is from our wonderful city. To top it all off, he has a French accent, boyish charm and an adorable smile.
Naturally, as soon as my two friends and I sat down, we asked about the drinks. The menu boasts homemade tonics and syrups, fresh fruit, unparalleled cooking techniques and mixed drinks that “pay homage to the genius of history.” Our energized waiter explained that Le Bremner has three specialty drinks every night, depending on the fruits and vegetables found at that time of year. This ensures that every customer gets fresh juice in their drink, which makes a huge difference taste-wise.
We ordered one of each specialty cocktail, along with three plates of appetizers: kimchi snow crab with crispy rice cake, giant garlic fried oysters and cheesy garlic bread topped with arugula.
The drinks arrive first, and each one is more delicious than the other. We took turns sipping from each other’s drinks, unable to believe the mix of fruit, alcohol and sugar. The spicy ginger and carrot juice mixed with a splash of Cointreau, which I, admittedly, expected to taste like blended baby carrots mixed with cheap vodka, left me pleasantly surprised; it had a smooth taste, like the alcohol wasn’t even there, and a spicy aftertaste from the ginger. The two others were a blend of pineapples roasted in coconut oil and sour limes, proving that opposites attract when it comes to Le Bremner cocktails.
After the drinks, the food seemed less exciting. The cheesy bread was good, with a spicy marinara spread under the mountain of cheese, giving it a kick you were not expecting, but at $16, it was overpriced and not worth the spare change. The seafood was cooked perfectly, but lacked the flavour and the je ne sais quoi that you would expect from superchef Hughes. I would recommend reserving a space at the bar rather than in the dining area; the prices of the plates do not lend themselves to the budget of a struggling student.
Despite the lacklustre food, the space itself was enough to convince me to go back. It was quirky and cozy. A plastic fish hung on one wall and crystal chandeliers lined the other. The bar was a monstrous wooden structure with apothecary vases full of vibrant, colourful fruit and a sign that read “Bar Rules: Rule #1 The bartender is always right. Rule #2 If the bartender is wrong, see Rule #1.” The bathroom counter was made completely out of dimes, and old-school radiators lined the tiny space. Despite the restaurant’s small size, it has a big personality.
Near the end of the night, after finishing more amazing drinks, we mustered up the courage to ask our waiter where Chuck Hughes was.
“You just missed him,” our waiter said, smiling at the three tipsy girls who have a tiny crush on one of Montreal’s most famous chefs. “We get that a lot.”
Le Bremner is located at 361 St-Paul St. E. in the Old Port.