I hate winter. Yes, that’s a strong statement and no, I don’t use the word hate lightly or often, but I do hate winter. Nothing puts me in a worse mood than being cold. So what was I doing at a snow village and an ice restaurant, you ask? Curiosity and also the fact that one of my favourite chefs in the city, Eric Gonzalez of Auberge Saint Gabriel, is at the helm of the Pommery Ice Restaurant‘s kitchen.
Snow Village is a Finnish concept that has been popular in Nordic countries for about 10 years now. This year’s Montreal’s Snow Village is a North America premiere. Apart from the gastronomic 60-seat Pommery ice restaurant, it will feature a 30-room ice hotel, a bar, a terrace, a conference center, some fun family activities and a chapel if you’re so inclined to getting married surrounded by ice. The village opened its doors to the public this past week, although it is still not complete and the official opening will only be happening on January 18th.
I walked around the village in amazement this past Monday. Amazement that such a thing could exist and that people were willing to spend the night sleeping on a bed of ice! But I digress… I visited the hotel lobby with its seats carved out of ice, the frigid guest rooms done in different Montreal themes (think Stanley Cup, Formula One and Jazz Fest), the bar, which is actually the only space that made a bit of sense to me, and finally stopped in the Pommery ice restaurant for lunch. The restaurant is actually the most beautiful room at the ice village with its circular plan and its curtains that lend a bit of visual warmth. The temperature is maintained at around -5 degrees indoors, no matter how cold it gets outside. We were seated on an ice bench with a piece of faux fur on it to enjoy our warm butternut squash soup and grilled beef and caramelized onion sandwich.
The lunch interlude at the Snow Village was a spur of the moment decision. And even though my dining companion and fellow blogger Andrea and I literally froze our derrières on those ice seats, I will be going back for dinner soon because the dinner menu concocted by chef Gonzalez seems too good to pass up. I had a short chat with the chef yesterday.
WTFF: Did you have any apprehensions about this project or about spending your days in the cold?
EG: I was actually very excited to be asked to be part of this North American premiere! And I am very proud to be doing this. It has been a great experience so far.
WTFF: What was your inspiration for the menu?
EG: I believe that part of being a good chef is being inspired by the site or venue. Just like my menu for Auberge Saint Gabriel is inspired by the 100 year old walls and the sense of history, my menu for the Pommery ice restaurant was inspired by the site. I was also inspired by the Nordic countries – Norway and Finland mainly – because after all, that’s where this great concept comes from.
WTFF: What were some of your concerns in taking on this project?
EG: My main concern was resolving the cold problem of course. I want people to enjoy themselves. That’s why my menu includes comfort food that will warm you up. I even serve the main meal in a mini casserole dish to keep it warm table side.
WTFF: Did you have any constraints?
EG: We are very well equipped on site. Even though the kitchen is small – only 23 feet long – it is extremely well equipped and organized. We do cook everything offsite but we put the finishing touches on all the dishes on site right before serving ot to you.
Eric Gonzalez’s $69, 5-course gastronomic menu:
- Duo of Atlantic salmon, one prepared Gravlax-style with vodka & lime, the other à la tamari with Mujol caviar
- “Chantilly” butternut squash soup with hazelnut truffle and crispy bacon garnish
- Inn-inspired venison pot roast, braised 7 hours in red wine (can be replaced by a vegetarian option of medley of the day’s vegetables, including a few long-forgotten ones, served with spelt risotto)
- Selection of cheeses according to the availability of tradition and modernity
- Norwegian vanilla and raspberry omelette flambéed at the table
There is a 3-course, $59 menu also available, as well as a children menu for $20. The prices do not include taxes or tip but do include the entrance ticket to the village.
Even though spending my lunch hour sitting on a block of ice eating my soup with ski gloves on might not my idea of fun, I am still happy to have had this unique experience. The snow village is truly a great sight to walk around, if only to admire the hundred of work hours that went into sculpting it. It is also a constant engineering feat to keep the whole thing from melting away or freezing over. And if you’ve ever wanted to go on an adventure to the great white north or wondered what it would be like to spend the night in an igloo, now’s your chance! As for me, I went, I saw and I got conquered…
130 ch. Tour-de-l’Isle,
Parc Jean Drapeau, Montreal, H3C 4G8
514 788 2181 or toll free: 1 855 788 2181
514 788 2181 or toll free: 1 855 788 2181
Monday to Sunday: 11 am – 3 pm
Thursday, Friday & Saturday 5 pm – 11 pm