If you were to ask the well-heeled Old Montreal business crowd to name their favorite establishment for a three-hour weekday lunch, many would choose Verses, located on historic Saint-Paul Street. It is popular with tourists as well. Their contemporary French cuisine is delectable, seamlessly blending traditional with new. Not surprising, since that combination reflects the very building in which Verses resides: the Nelligan Hotel. Old stone walls meet brick over a dark wood floor featuring spacious half-moon booths and intimate lighting. The bar area is at once avant-garde yet warm, facing an impressive wall of wines selected by the house sommelier that are imported from private wineries and tasted by the two maîtres d’hôtel before being allotted a spot on the prestigious wall.
My dining companions and I ordered from the well-priced lunchtime table d’hôte ($20) and began with an array of appetizers: a deliciously fresh crab and celeriac rémoulade that wasn’t overly seasoned, with generous chunks of crab meat; a beautifully presented three-beet salad that was finely diced with onion and lightly tossed in a squash and caper sauce—it was perfectly textured with just the right amount of crunch before melting away; and a parsnip and potato soup-of-the-day that was creamy and rich, but featured pleasant bits of vegetable texture to add a hearty feel.
For the main courses, we enjoyed the bavette de boeuf and the wrapped salmon. Again, Verses proved the adage true that one “eats first with their eyes”; the grilled flank of beef was served, artistically presented on a bed of Swiss chard with a side of molten regional Oka cheese in which lay a fan of potato wedges. The beef was cooked to perfection as requested and the chef allowed the cut’s natural flavors to come through by keeping it simple without excessive saucing or seasoning. For the wine, our server suggested the red Barolo Fonatanafredda 2004, which rounded out the beef dish nicely. The salmon was enveloped in a crispy goat cheese phyllo wrap and served with honey butter-coated bok-choy and confit potatoes. It was one of the best flavor pairings I’d experienced in some time. As an accompaniment to the fish, the suggested wine was the white Sancerre Château de Sancerre 2008 Marnier Lapostolle, well-priced at $14/glass. It subtly enhanced the fish without being overpowering.
For dessert we ordered the crème brûlée, the molten chocolate cake with a sorbet-size scoop of banana ice cream, and the almond cake with honey ice cream. The crème brûlée was the perfect portion size, with a pleasingly crunchy caramelized crust that gave way to a creamy, silky cream below. The chocolate dessert …how to describe it? The cake was like a chocolate bar, only softer; one bite and it melts away, causing you to chase it with another forkful. The accompanying banana ice cream was a refreshingly light burst of flavor that balanced out the richness of the cake. Lastly, the almond cake was moist and flavorful, with the slight bitterness of the almond countered by the lightly sweet honey ice cream.
Not to be forgotten during the warmer months is the Verses Sky rooftop terrace, featuring spectacular views of Old Montreal on one side and the Vieux Port (Old Port) on the other. It’s the perfect place for a light lunch or dinner, or simply to relax with a drink at the end of a long day indoors.
Daily lunch table d’hôte from 12:00 p.m. - 2:00 p.m. ($20)
Specialities: Braised lamb (seven hours over a light flame); steak tartare
Rooftop terrace (seasonal)