Jellyfish is one of those places that will sink or swim (no pun intended) depending on whether or not it can build and maintain a loyal following. Once the novelty of being the new restaurant in Montreal’s Old Port wears off, it’s the experience that will bring people back. Most of the menu doesn’t change that often (the main dishes are usually variations on a theme – grilled salmon with jerk seasoning one time, Asian sauce the next; hanger steak with chimichurri or Parmesan and mustard), so you’re probably not coming to discover what the chef has come up with that week.
But there’s comfort in knowing that the roasted half cauliflower with perfect poached 60˚C egg and hummus (or chorizo-Mascarpone mousse for non-dairy-free diners) is going to be awesome.
And I dream of the shrimp ceviche: sweet and sour from the puréed base of spicy banana, topped with Peruvian amarillo chili pepper and lime-based leche de tigre and lined with barely cured, juicy shrimp. The dabs of spicy mayo completely unnecessary.
I’ve been twice to Jellyfish now, and the wow-factor upon entering is definitely a big draw. The space is large, elegant and dark and there are levels that add depth to the place. The long, central bar helps too, behind which there’s plenty of room for larger groups at long tables at the back of the restaurant. It’s romantic, but you could also go for a business dinner.
The menu is divided into “raw,” “hot,” “vegetables” and “charcoal” and is all small plates except for the meat, chicken and fish cooked on the charcoal grill. The first time I came, I had three small plates from the raw and vegetable sections: the ceviche ($18), the half cauliflower ($13) and the heart of palm salad ($13). The first two were awesome. The cauliflower wasn’t greasy like the Vin Papillon version (though that has its appeal, too) and the ceviche was heavenly. The only thing I ate that wasn’t awesome was the heart of palm salad, which tasted like a can of heart of palm doused in bland mayo. Now, the same salad comes with a passionfruit emulsion instead. I haven’t tried it, but judging by how lacklustre it was before, I’m sure it’s better now.
I came back hoping to have something from the grill, because that half chicken looked like a heck of a chicken. It really was a giant half of a chicken grilled to perfection (think Foxy, not St-Hubert) with creamy boursin cheese and yellow miso butter ($31). It doesn’t come with vegetables, so you have to order them on the side. Unfortunately, the kitchen couldn’t do a dairy-free version, which makes sense because the chickens might be marinated in the butter – a delicious decision, but unfortunate for me.
In fact, there was nothing on the charcoal part of the menu that I could eat because of my gluten intolerance and lactose intolerance, I was told. It was a Friday night, so not a slow night where the kitchen might have time to adapt a dish. But then the server came back and said they could in fact do the salmon (which on the current menu is served jerk style with coconut-bacon-white bean emulsion but at the time was supposed to come with a soy-based sauce). They swapped out the sauce for something simpler and gluten-free, I think it had something to do with verjus. The char on the salmon skin was the important part, though – and it was delicious, the fat under the crunchy skin melting into the tender flesh. I normally don’t eat Atlantic salmon, because all the stuff you can buy is farmed, but since the kitchen was offering to go out of its way for me, I relented and enjoyed it as best I could without feeling too bad about all the antibiotics going into the water.
We also tried the tuna crudo ($23), which comes in large cubes rather than diced like tartare – the better to taste the flavour and appreciate the texture of the sashimi-grade maguro tuna. It’s not amazing tuna, but it’s the best we get in Montreal and the serving was generous (it ought to be, considering the price). It came with spicy avocado milk, puffed rice, radishes and sprouts. The whole thing was a bit boring flavour-wise, so it’s nice to see that the current menu serves it with nori tempura, black radishes and sweet soy. That means, unfortunately, that I could no longer eat it.
I couldn’t eat the salmon tartare either, because soy sauce was the base of the lemongrass and ginger sauce too. The puffed rice and marinated vegetables would have been fine. Too bad the restaurant doesn’t use a gluten free soy sauce for every dish. It’s not much more expensive than regular and you’re not using much of it. The flavour’s slightly different, yes, but not earth shattering/dish destroying. And for the number of people who’d be able to eat much more of the menu, it might be worth it.
And look how pretty those big chunks of salmon are with a glass of natural wine below. I’m sorry I can’t remember what the wine was, because I didn’t pick it, but I have it on good authority that it’s well made.
The 8 oz. hanger steak ($33) came with a mustard sauce and thinly sliced Parmesan. Now it comes with an Asian chimichurri. I couldn’t eat either versions, but was told it was just fine as far as hanger steak goes. The frîtes served with it were textbook. I could eat those. At $33, it’s a lot less of a meal than the half chicken.
I also ordered the green beans to share, because I needed a little more green in my life. They came with cherry tomatoes and lardons (bacon). The kitchen adapted the dish for me by skipping the soy sauce, but they forgot to salt the beans as a replacement. So the beans were pretty bland despite the bacon flavour of the lardons. They were nicely al dente, though, and a little charred from the grill.
I can’t remember the last time I actually asked for salt in a fancy restaurant. It feels embarrassing, because it means you think the kitchen under-salted something. In this case the kitchen did. But it was a Friday night and they were busy. So we asked and the beans improved.
Would I go back to Jellyfish? Well, I did. But it underwhelmed the second time because there wasn’t much else I could eat that I hadn’t already tried. If I were able to eat more of the menu, I’d definitely go back. It’s gorgeous inside, the food is usually exceptional and the menu mainstays have developed into winners.
If you haven’t been, it’s worth it just for the ceviche, cauliflower and half chicken.
Jellyfish Montreal Crudo Charbon
Address: 626 Rue Marguerite d’Youville, Montreal, QC
Hours: Lunch Mon-Fri 11:30am-2:30pm, Dinner Mon-Wed 5:30-11pm, Thurs-Sat 5:30-11:30pm
How much: $70-$100 per person with tax, tip and a glass of wine