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Located in Downtown Montreal, Montreal en Lumiere, or Montreal’s Festival of Lights, is an annual celebration taking place in February that’s one of the largest winter festivals in the world!
Did you know? There are over one million attendees for this festival.
During the festival, the city comes alive and becomes magical! There are so many things to do during Montreal en Lumiere including activities and gastronomy.
Watch the full YouTube video of Montreal en Lumiere (Festival of Lights) here.
Montreal en Lumiere Outdoor Site
The heart of the Montreal Festival of Lights is the free Outdoor Site which is accessible at street level or the Place-des-Arts Metro station. The site has lots of cool activities including zip-line, urban slide and Ferris wheel.
Best of all, they’re all free! I highly recommend to visit the site at night because that’s when everything comes to life with all the lights and sounds.
You’ll want to come earlier if doing the free activities because the waiting line can be pretty long.
Free entertainment is also available at the site like the RBC Voltigo, but be sure to check for the schedule of performances.
On-site and nearby, you’ll get to experience Illuminart, a circuit of 13 projects fusing art, lighting and technology. This brings the Festival of Lights to a whole new level!
Also Read: 3 Day Trip in Eastern Townships, Quebec
Montreal en Lumiere Shows
The outdoor site is not all there is about Montreal en Lumiere. There are a variety of shows and concerts happening all over the city during the festival including circus, dance, theatre and classical music.
Happening on the last night of Montreal en Lumiere is Nuit Blanche, the best-attended single-day event in Montréal every year.
Montreal en Lumiere Gastronomy Program
I was most surprised in learning that the Montreal en Lumiere is also a festival that’s perfect for foodies.
The gastronomy program during the Festival of Lights is impressive with over 500 chefs, wine producers and speakers taking part in workshops, tasting and conferences. Overseas chefs come to the festival to collaborate with local chefs on a unique menu specifically for the festival.
These are the gastronomy programs I got to experience, and they are but a taste of what’s offered during Montreal en Lumiere. This allows you try to some of the best restaurants in Montreal.
Also Read: Nova Scotia Food Guide
Air France Finest Tables
The main attraction for foodies during Montreal en Lumiere is the Air France Finest Tables which offers a wide array of gastronomic activities with some of the world’s best chefs working together with local chefs and restaurants.
Here, you get to journey around the world right in Montreal! What makes this experience even better is the offerings are only available during Montreal Festival of Lights which makes the opportunity much rarer.
In its 21st Edition, Montreal en Lumiere 2020 took place from February 20 to March 1, 2020. I was there from Feb 28-Mar 1, and here were the tasting menu experiences I was able to try.
A Chef and His Graphic Novel at H4C par Dany Bolduc
At H4C, Chef Dany Bolduc welcomed Michelin Chef Phillip Foss from Chicago’s El Ideas for a 9-course tasting menu and 8 wine pairing for $305 ($200 without wine).
This exclusive tasting menu for Montreal en Lumiere was called “a chef and his graphic novel” because Chef Phillip had just published “Life in El”, a graphic novel about his life as a chef with illustration drawn by his cousin Timothy Foss.
For the tasting menu, both teams from Le H4C and El Ideas worked together in the kitchen to deliver the dishes, which were made by both El Ideas chefs Phillip and Joshua. The drink pairing was made by Le H4C sommelier Jonathan Benchetrit.
Chef Phillip’s goal with the tasting menu is to play on comfort food we’ve come to grow up and love. I loved the creativity and the use of molecular gastronomy on the dishes.
First course was a play on Mimosa. What was particularly special about this course is they brought the El Ideas tradition of making the guest pick up the plate with the first course to lick, which is a good way of loosening up the room.
Next course is Walleye, a play on the Waldorf Salad in the popular Waldorf Astoria in NYC. The Walleye was poached inside with a Dijon mustard beurre blanc, and was paired with a light red wine, Vino di Anna Février 15.
The next was a play on Bagel & Lox. The salmon was gently poached with a little bit of olive oil, then topped with some bagel crumb and everything spice.
Below the salmon was a bagel puree. Around it were compressed cucumber, dots of a pickled onion gel, fried capers, and dill and cream cheese meringue.
This was paired with a white wine, Weingut Edgar Brutler’s Grunspitz (a rare local Romanian grape).
The next course was Mussels, which was a play on two things. The first was one of the chef’s favourite things to eat: a good bowl of mussels in a beer broth with a good sourdough bread.
The second one was a guilty pleasure based off Panera Bread’s famous broccoli cheddar soup inside of a bread bowl. This course combined both.
The drink pairing for the Mussels was Le Darling Beer that’s made with champagne yeast. It’s creamy like a chardonnay but has great acidity to through the richness of the soup from the aged cheddar.
The next course is one of the most popular dishes at El Ideas: the French Fries and Frosty, inspired by Chef Phillip’s two daughters’ favourite snack of dipping french fries on milkshake or ice cream.
We got to see on the spot as Chef Phillip made the “milkshake” using liquid nitrogen and did a demonstration on what to do once we receive the course. You can check that out on the YouTube video.
The next course is Nachos, a tribute to one of Chef Joshua’s favourite dishes, a big plate of nachos. This elevated version has guajillo chili, black bean puree, seasoned sour cream, avocado mousse, freeze-dried cheddar cheese, scallion powder, pickled peppers and house-made fritos.
And by elevated, it meant using A5 Kobe Wagyu Beef instead of ground beef.
For the Nachos wine pairing, the Weingut Edgar Brutler’s Foldi orange wine has a meatiness that paired well with a very complex dish like nachos which has a lot of flavours going on: the guacamole cheddar, bean puree, tomato gel with chili and the wagyu.
The next course Lamb combined two concepts into one: The first concept is a French onion soup and the second one is a lamb wellington.
The seared lamb loin was smothered with caramelized onions, then wrapped in Swiss chard and Gruyere cheese. It was then rolled inside a puff pastry, baked off, then topped with more caramelized onions and gratinated Gruyere cheese then finished off with sherry vinegar to provide acidity.
The wine pairing for Lamb was Kora Bella by Pivnica Brhlovce, a lush wine from Slovakia which added spice and peppery notes to an already rich dish.
The first dessert, Sweet Potato Pie, was inspired by sweet potato pie: on the bottom is whipped cream and on top is the sweet potato pie filling that’s been cooked out with maple syrup.
This was topped with an egg yolk that has been cured inside of a coffee syrup. And then outside, there were candy pecans and pie crust that’s been turned into a crumble.
The Sweet Potato Pie was paired with Sherry Fino which is the palest and driest of Sherry to balance the sweetness of the pie.
The last dessert was their version on a Baked Alaska, which was Baked Alaska but having all the flavours of a black forest cake. They took some cherry ice cream, rolled it in a flourless chocolate cake then topped with toasted meringue.
This was flambeed over the top with cherry liquor and rum, which you can see on the YouTube video. On the right side of the plate is a black cherry compote with dark chocolate.
The pairings from sommelier Jonathan Benchetrit had been on point throughout dinner. I also loved that I got to try quite a bit of uncommon wines and beer that I haven’t had before.
To end the amazing dinner, the petit four was Mom’s Chocolate Batter. Just like the first course, we lick off the mom’s chocolate batter off the spatula.
Watch the full YouTube video of the tasting menu with Chef Phillip Foss at H4C par Dany Bolduc here.
Website / Address: 538 Place Saint-Henri, Montréal, Quebec H4C 2R9
Michelin Guest Chef Christophe Bellanca at L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon
I’ve been a big fan of Joel Robuchon restaurants, having been to the ones in Las Vegas, Macau and Montreal (during my first time in Montreal Festival of Lights). I got to give them A+ for consistency, delivery and quality all throughout my experiences.
I was very excited to dine at L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon again. This time Executive Chef Stephane Galibert and his team hosted Michelin Chef Christophe Bellanca, culinary director of Joel Robuchon USA.
The exclusive Montreal en Lumiere Tasting Menu was 9 courses with 7 wine pairing for $355 (or $255 without wine).
- Pour Commencer
- In-House Made Bread
- Le Caviar Et Le Crabe Royale
- La Truffe Noire
- Le Homard
- Le Bar
- Le Trou Normand
This black truffle ice cream is a black truffle lovers palate cleanser/dessert! I thought it would be just a hint of black truffle, but it was very strong.
- Le Boeuf
The wagyu beef comes from Wyoming because Chef Christophe loves this beef with a nice balance of lean and fat unlike Japanese wagyu which are known for being predominantly fat.
This course also came with the best mashed potatoes you’ll ever had, a signature dish by Joel Robuchon. The staff saw how much I loved this dish that they gave me another one after.
- Le Gin <<Dandy>>
- Le Cafe
- Petit Fours
I cannot stress again how well executed and perfectly presented this meal was. It’s not surprising they are No. 47 in Canada’s 100 Best Restaurants in 2019.
Watch the full YouTube video of the tasting menu with Chef Christophe Bellanca at L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon Montreal here.
You can also read the tasting menu experience for Montreal en Lumiere 2018 with Michelin Guest Chef Alain Verzeroli below.
Website / Address: 1 Avenue du Casino, Montréal, Quebec H3C 4W7
Also Read: Kame Omakase, Best Omakase in Las Vegas
Menu From The Sea at Restaurant Ikanos
If you’re a seafood lover like me, you will love Restaurant Ikanos, a restaurant specializing in seafood. For Montreal en Lumiere, they focused their tasting menu on what they do best: seafood.
The Menu From The Sea tasting menu for $94 featured 6 courses crafted by Chef Constant Mentzas using products exclusively from the sea. Wine pairing can be added for $49.
I really enjoyed the creative use of seafood in the tasting menu since their regular menu focused more on grilled seafood. An example is the first course which is a tart made from oyster.
I also loved presentation here. Most restaurants don’t leverage the fact that the shells from seafood can be used creatively for plating like the do at Restaurant Ikanos.
The chef was feeling extra generous that night so I got lucky and received this fresh shrimps from Spain.
One of my favourite courses was the grilled Dungeness crab served on a tabletop smoker. This is presented table-side and opened in front of you.
When opened, the delicious smell takes over your senses. And the taste was equally delicious with hints of truffle and chickpea miso.
I had the best Dungeness crab dish when I was in Seattle. This would be my second best overall, and the best in Canada.
Restaurant Ikanos specializes in the wood burning Josper Oven to grill their meat and seafood, and you can see the results. Aside from the Dungeness crab, the Josper grilled sea bass was breaming with flavours.
Rossini is a French steak dish topped fresh whole foie gras. For the tasting menu, Restaurant Ikanos did Monkfish Rossini which means Josper grilled monkfish topped with grilled foie gras.
This was my other favourite course, and the taste still haunts me.
Going back to the creative use of seafood, the dessert was a welcoming white chocolate cake but with oyster foam and Moscato gel which was very interesting.
This dinner was indeed a seafood heaven! Restaurant Ikanos will be one of the restaurants I will be eyeing when I visit Montreal or attend Montreal en Lumiere again.
Website / Address: 112 Rue McGill #1, Montréal, Quebec H2Y 2E5
Also Read: BC Seafood Festival in Comox Valley
Caribbean Brunch at Agrikol
I honestly never thought I would come to Montreal for Caribbean food, but I’m glad I went to Agrikol because it definitely changed my mind.
For one, I was amazed with the vibes inside the restaurant as it took me back to my trips in the Caribbean. Second, I haven’t seen anything in Toronto quite like this.
For Montreal en Lumiere, Agrikol served a 3-course Caribbean Brunch with 2 rhum cocktails and 1 glass of Haitian rhum for $70 (or $40 without the drinks).
This meal was the most value I had during the festival because they actually let you feed you like in the Caribbean for the Caribbean Brunch. Aside from the 3 courses actually being made of 6 dishes, each dish was generous in portions.
The appetizer course consisted of three plates and a rum mimosa.
The main course was two plates (a plate of meat and a plate of carbs) and a glass of soursop juice with rum.
And the dessert course is the smallest one with one plate and 1 glass of Barbancourt Rhum.
I left very full and very happy at Agrikol. During my trip, I also visited Time Out Market, but didn’t think to try Chef Paul Toussaint’s spot there at that time. But after this, I can’t wait to check it out.
Website / Address: 1844 Rue Atateken, Montréal, Quebec H2L 3L6
Black Truffles Brunch at Brasserie T!
For Montreal en Lumiere 2020, Brasserie T! was back again with their Black Truffles Brunch. I also went here back in 2018 and am happy to be back since I love black truffles.
For $41, you get a 2-course Truffle Brunch featuring Tuber Melanosporum Black Truffles from the Drôme region in France. The menu was different from my first experience so it didn’t feel like a repeat.
You can add extra 4 grams of truffles for $18, which they shave on the spot. The Perigord Truffles they have are A Grade so it’s worth a splurge if you love black truffles.
Travelling Foodie Tip: Try to ask for any special things they’ve done with the black truffle to take into consideration when ordering.
One thing I learned after ordering is they had stored the black truffle in a jar of eggs because the egg shells would absorb the truffle aroma into the egg. Had I known about this, I would’ve ordered the dishes that used eggs because I’m curious how different it would be.
Another interesting thing they did was cut a brie in half and placed a slice of black truffle in the middle then aged it for 4-5 days.
Website / Address: 1425 Jeanne Mance St, Montreal, Quebec H2X 2J4
Montreal en Lumiere 2018 took place from February 22 to March 4, 2018. It was my first time attending the festival that time from Feb 22-24.
Here are the experiences I tried.
Michelin Guest Chef Alain Verzeroli at L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon
Canada’s first Joel Robuchon restaurant is L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon in Casino Montreal. After loving the experience in the Las Vegas location, I was looking forward to the dinner here the most.
For Montreal en Lumiere, L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon hosted Chef Alain Verzeroli, from Joel Robuchon Restaurant in Tokyo, to conceive a 7-course tasting menu with wine pairing ($300) with Executive Chef Eric Gonzalez.
The dinner was reminiscent of what I loved about my experience in Las Vegas. The dishes were well-executed, inventive and beautifully presented!
This scallop and caviar dish at L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon truly feels like an artwork that should be framed!
The taste itself is one for the taste buds with the hint of citrus from the carpaccio, salt from the caviar, and the contrasting creaminess of the scallop with caviar and the crunchiness of the radish.
The lobster macaroni dish was a playful one with the lobster chunks being inside a wall of macaroni timbale.
The most mind-blowing dish that night at L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon was the Halibut filet. It looks so simple but the flavour is one you don’t expect at all.
The addition of the key ingredient, turmeric, to the lemongrass cream created a totally new flavour profile.
Opposite to the simple looking halibut was the Bison dish with foie gras and truffle. Though you can’t really taste the black truffle, all was forgotten with the bold flavours coming from this dish.
Desserts came after this with the orange dessert being a great palate cleanser for the rich chocolate dessert to end the dinner.
Website / Address: 1 Avenue du Casino, Montréal, Quebec H3C 4W7
Winter Brunch with Black Truffles at Brasserie T!
Black truffle is usually something that catches my attention in menus. So when I saw a program called Winter Brunch with Black Truffles, I definitely wanted to check it out.
Located at the Outdoor Site, Brasserie T! has a two-course winter brunch menu for Montreal en Luimiere, featuring black truffles from the Drôme region in France.
Did you know? Chef Normand Laprise is the owner and head chef of Toqué! and Brasserie T!
For $38, you get a choice of appetizer and main dish. Choices for appetizers were venison terrine, scrambled eggs and salmon rillettes.
Rillettes are meats slow-cooked long in their own fat. I definitely wanted to try salmon rillettes, which I haven’t had before.
It was such a treat especially with the strong tasting truffles that I was looking for.
Choices for main dishes were mushroom omelette, croque madame and french toast + fruit. Since I’m in Montreal, I’m definitely trying a French brunch item so I got the croque madame.
Did you know? The sandwich is called croque madame because the egg on top is said to resemble a woman’s hat.
The bechemel sauce was outstanding. I was kind of hoping the black truffles were used to enhance the sandwich, but instead they were on the potatoes except for the one slice on top.
Travelling Foodie Tip: Take the fine shaved black truffles from the potatoes, mix them with the bechemel sauce, and thank me after!
Website / Address: 1425 Jeanne Mance St, Montreal, Quebec H2X 2J4
Also Read: BC Seafood Festival in Comox Valley
Dinner at Le Blumenthal
Le Blumenthal is another option for fine dining at the Outdoor Site. It’s located behind the zip-line on a century-old building, which used to be called Blumenthal before becoming the Maison du Festival (House of the Festival), the headquarters for Festival International de Jazz de Montréal (Montreal International Jazz Festival).
Start off with their signature cocktail, Martini Blumenthal, which is one of those drinks you’ll want to keep drinking because you don’t feel like you’re drinking alcohol.
It was my first time seeing deviled eggs with caviar so I definitely wanted to try it.
A must-order at Le Blumenthal is the salmon tartare which was very fresh. I love that they provided thin bagel chips instead to add a nice crunch to the dish without taking from the salmon.
Everyone will have something to eat here: vegetarian (squash, burger), fish (trout, macherel), shellfish (mussels), poultry (duck, cornish hen), beef (steak and burger) and game (rabbit).
For dessert, I tried the Rum baba which was one of the better ones I had.
The cake was both moist and wet but still having the spongy cake texture. You can also taste both the toffee and rum in the syrup.
Website / Address: 305 Saint-Catherine St W, Montreal, Quebec H2X 2A1
Also Read: Air Canada Vacations to Portugal
Knowledge Conference with Nordic Food Lab
Though the Knowledge Conference took place after my visit, I had the opportunity to meet and learn from Michael Bom Frøst of Nordic Food Lab about combining scientific and humanist approaches with culinary techniques.
Michael wants to disseminate their ideology and philosophy on how people should interact with and develop food in the future. Their goal is to use deliciousness as a lever for changing the way people interact with food.
In this way, there is a much better chance of making substantial change in the world into a more sustainable way than using the argument of doing something because it’s good for the planet or good for your health.
They believe that if they develop new food that appeals to the three levels (sensory, functional and nutritional), then they would have created food that is powerful enough to convince people to change.
Michael also talked about the Omnivores Dilemma where people love to try new food, but are also afraid to try them. Whenever they approach making new food, they demonstrate some of the ideas on how they work, and they try to balance it with principles of novelty and familiarity.
This creates something that’s both stimulating and interesting, which would make people want to try the food without being intimidated by the novelty of it because there’s a familiar element to it.
They do this by using Taste as an entry point for learning with lessons designed so people can see what goes on with the cooking, and there is interaction with the food and people.
Their ultimate goal is to reduce animal consumption, or animal protein, by increasing deliciousness in a sustainable way using existing local resources. You can learn more about Nordic Food Lab here.
Street Food at the Outdoor Site
While you’re at the outdoor site, you can opt out of traditional restaurants like Brasserie T! and Le Blumenthal.
There is one unique sit-down restaurant on-site specifically setup for Montreal en Lumiere. This is the SAQ Bistro which you won’t miss because the venue is made of three cool looking igloo tents.
There is also a variety of on-site food vendors. You can’t miss the World of Incredible Maple area because that’s where the Ferris wheel is.
Here you’ll get to discover, rediscover, Quebec Maple’s range of culinary uses as you try various treats from maple syrup snow candy and maple glazed nuts, to savoury items like maple butternut squash soup.
One interesting I learned from Nathalie Langlois, Federation of Québec Maple Syrup Producers (FPAQ) Director of Promotion, Innovation and Market Development, is that there are four distinct grades of maple syrup based on the degree of light that can pass through: Golden, Amber, Dark and Very Dark.
Learn more about Quebec Maple here.
At the Outdoor Site, there are also food truck-type vendors including Beavertails, Grilled Cheese, and Greg’s Diner. The vendors may change yearly.
I had the lobster roll at Greg’s Diner in 2018 and was actually surprised how good it was coming from a food truck.
Obviously, you’ll have to have poutine when you’re in Montreal. Luckily, there was a poutine truck during my 2020 trip and I was able to enjoy this delicious steak poutine.
Address: Place des Festivals, Place des Arts Esplanade, and Ste. Catherine in Montreal
MAP: Montreal en Lumiere
Hope this festival guide to Montreal en Lumiere gives you an idea on things to do and where to eat during the Festival of Lights. It’s seriously one of the best events not just in Montreal, but in the world, during winter.
Huge thanks to Montreal En Lumiere for hosting this trip. As usual, reviews and opinions are entirely my own.