Hotel Herman opened in the summer of 2012 in the same space that was previously home to La Montée de Lait. In the increasingly restaurant-friendly neighborhood that surrounds the corner of Fairmount and St Laurent, Hotel Herman joins other popular spots like Lawrence, Fabergé & Cafe Sardine, breaking up a seemingly endless stream of expensive furniture stores and contributing to a burgeoning food scene on the border where the Plateau meets Mile End.
Dominic Goyet who, in addition to Hotel Herman also remains co-owner of another Montreal favorite, La Salle à Manger partnered up on this endeavor with Ariane Lacombe and Marc-Alexandre Mercier. When cooks progressively move their way up the ladder of a kitchen brigade, a ceiling is eventually reached and restauranteurs inevitably must realize that there's a choice to be made. Either they understand and accept when young talent outgrow their environment and must look outside the restaurant for career advancement, or if they're financially capable of doing so and confident in the prospect they expand, grow, and invest in the talent of the young man or woman they've had a hand in cultivating. For Goyet, that talent was chef Marc-Alexandre Mercier, who prior to Hotel Herman spent time working under chef Samuel Pinard at La Salle A Manger, eventually further honing his chops at NOMA in Denmark, regarded in recent years to be the world's best restaurant.
The focus at Hotel Herman is seasonality and terroir. Not unlike NOMA, the principles that govern Mercier's menu are looking inward rather than outward for inspiration, exploiting that which is native to your surroundings rather than relying on importing goods from abroad. With abundant summers and meager winters it requires a great deal of flexibility to work with the bounty native to Quebec, depending on the season, creativity becomes key.
The restaurant is well lit with fixtures over the bar reminiscent of the shape of shade you might find over a pool table except these ones are clear. The space makes use of several building materials bringing texture, depth and tasteful contrast to the room. A large U-shaped bar topped in an unnatural, white, melamine-like material is central, seating approximately 20 diners. Tables and rigid metal chairs seat just as many, if not a few more in the surrounding space. The crowd was young, and hip, but there seemed to be an equal amount of smartly dressed young professionals as there were mustaches - if you catch our drift.
Though the wine list didn't present many familiar bottles, it did offer tremendous value with more than half of the available options at 55$ or less, and at least four whites and four reds offered by the glass. The cocktail list is classy and traditional. The gimlet we ordered was splendid. Gin and lime juice shaken vigorously with an egg white gave the cocktail volume, topped with a bright punch of lime zest it proved perfect to whet the appetite.
The menu kicks off in a customary fashion for this type of restaurant where dishes, somewhere between appetizer and main dish in portion size, are meant to be shared. Bread, charcuterie, oysters, are first in line but the shallow end rapidly deepens plunging into seriously interesting but simplified descriptions highlighting the main ingredient like northern shrimp, blood sausage or marinated trout. Costars are listed below each item in an equally concise manner. We began our meal with some bread, baked daily on premises and a dish simply labelled potato, served with bone marrow and mullet caviar. A sizable bone full of piping hot roasted marrow was served next to a puddle of delectably rich potato purée, a handful of halved, sautéed new potatoes and a few dollops of black, mullet caviar. Nobody in their right mind orders bone marrow expecting a light dish, but the presentation was elegant enough to give us the short lived impression that it might turn out to be deceptively delicate. We enjoyed it very much, but the only real textural contrast was the firm nature of the halved potatoes. It lacked something, anything crisp, and having been dolloped over the potato purée, the caviar was awash in it's accompaniment's fatty, buttery nature. Placing the fish eggs around the potatoes rather than on them could have given the product a better opportunity to assert its briny essence; just a thought.
Potato, Mullet Caviar, Bone Marrow - 12$
Jerusalem Artichokes, Seared Duck Hearts, Dried Magret - 15$
Stanstead Rabbit, Kidneys, Brussels Sprouts, Black Mustard - 18$
Vension Tartare, Smoked Eel Cream, Young Juniper Berries - 15$
Manjari Chocolate Terrine, Marrow Caramel, Hazelnuts - 8$
5171 St Laurent blvd, corner Fairmount