Holder: Be warned
I've wanted to try this place for a while as an alternative to L'Express. Went last night, very poor starting with being ignored at the door for some time, to the wrong main being served and then showing up on the bill in addition to the correct one subsequently served. The food quality was mediocre at best and the service amateurish. Perhaps it was a second-string team serving on a Thanksgiving weekend but would good management do that to their clientele? Won't ever go back. On the other hand, Chasse et Peche was wonderful the night before.
My wife and I visited Holder with a couple friends last Thursday. I've posted my review here for anyone interested. Similar complaints about the service, even 2 1/2 years later, but the food was definitely better than mediocre.
Housed in the former building of an old Bank of Montreal is the well-established bistro Holder. Upon entering the building you’re greeted with the lobby of what could feel like a modernized 19th century bank. The second you open the doors comes a surprise change in ambiance, as an amazing supply of sound billows out from the restaurant. I am more than slightly amazed at this level of sound-proofing and am tempted to play with the doors childishly, relishing in the, “Now it’s quiet! Now it’s not!”
You’ll either identify with Holder the moment you open those doors or you won’t. The restaurant and bar combined must seat around 200 people at capacity, and I don’t believe a single seat was empty until we were getting up to leave around 11pm. This, on a Thursday night, mind you. Although the bar is comparatively smaller, it is certainly spacious, and offers an equal billing between after work drinks and nibbles, and a proper meal.
We observe somewhat uncomfortably from the doorway, standing awkwardly next to the coat check with several other parties, also waiting to be seated. Clearly although reservations are mandatory, they’re also not accurately enforced.
As I’m beginning to ponder other restaurants nearby that might have availability, our host comes by, rushing us with a wave of his hand, like he’s been waiting on us, not the other way around.
Although there might be the impression that a restaurant with an old Montreal address in the residence of a former bank might have prices that reflect greed rather than value, they are actually quite appropriate.
We sampled some sliced baguette that tasted to me as though it’d been previously frozen. It is no huge secret, I don’t think, that restaurant bread is often previously frozen, it just doesn’t usually taste like it.
I start with a salad of greens, parmesan flakes, pine nuts and tomatoes ($7.75). Nearly a dinner in itself, this was actually my favorite part of our meal. The lettuces were varied and surprisingly fresh, and lightly dressed so that their flavor really shone. The parmesan and toasted pine nuts, combined with the herbal notes from the greens, gave bites a delicious pesto essence. For an $8 salad, this was definitely more than your standard mixed greens and balsamic drizzle. The only drawback here was the cherry tomatoes, which seemed out of place. Their flavor was pale after being cooked to reduce their acidity, without being able to compare in freshness having been offered a touch too early into the summer.
Shannon ordered the fried calamari with parmesan crust ($10.50). This was a unique preparation of calamari, deep-frying entire squid bodies artfully sliced so that either end curled up into itself. This definitely looked appealing, but made the dish harder to eat and scaled down the crispiness. Shannon found a piece of spine in one of the bodies and the accompanying tartar sauce was pre-piped and congealed. Despite these complaints, the flavor was actually quite good.
I had made an effort to check the chalkboard for specials, but had difficult discerning the scrawl. Our waiter made up for my eyesight. I made a split second decision to change from the pappardelle with three mushrooms, pine nuts and pancetta to the grouper with basmati rice.
The fish was cooked beautifully, achieving an excellent crispy seared skin and tender morsels of meat, but the seasoning was quite inconsistent. One bite was so incredibly salty I needed a drink of water, another screamed for a pinch more. Aside from that, it was an excellent preparation. The basmati rice that accompanied it was plentiful and light.
Shannon ordered the lobster ravioli with beurre blanc and truffle oil ($19.75). I had actually contemplated ordering the same dish, but had changed my mind. I’m glad I did, since the one morsel I had was enough to satisfy my lobster cravings. It was a fine dish, but my personal preference for food so rich is that it is cut with some sort of acidity, and I don’t think I would have enjoyed it to its fullest.
Elsewhere on the table, grilled beefsteak with shallots and house fries ($19.75) and mussels marinière, also with house fries ($16.00) are consumed. For just shy of $20 it looks to be a pretty satisfying steak, doused with not one, but two pats of herb butter. The mussels are plentiful and yield no complaints.
I do, however, have one. For a bistro that offers fries as an accompaniment with nearly every dish, they do not make a particularly good fry. They are called house fries, but do not particularly illicit any sort of house preparation when eaten. In a blind taste test, they’d be comparable to the bag picked up the supermarket, rather than what one would expect from a French bistro.
For dessert I opted for the simple, chocolate truffles with a cappuccino. Not to discredit them, but the truffle accompaniment, a sort of mixed brittle, was actually my preferred morsel. For $2.50 this makes a nice, light end to a meal, with a nice cappuccino.
Shannon had ordered the crème brûlée, which had a delicious and creamy custard flecked with the seeds of real vanilla bean and a perfectly caramelized crust. For a dessert so simple, it is done wrong surprisingly often, and Holder does it very well.
I had a few apprehensions about eating at Holder. I think it’s safe to say that their motto and mine is to leave your reservations at the door. Although there may be a wait for your table, it may be worth the wait.
Just finished an early dinner at Holder's and can't figure out what there is to like about the place. The beefsteak was ordered medium-rare and showed up ropy and brown. The mussels marinière tasted fishy and off. I'm sure these mussels were floating before they found their way to our plate. Had no reason to dip the admittedly decent baguette in the broth. Fries were gut-busting and dense. The 15 minutes to prepare butterscotch dessert special (a total waste of calories) showed up right alongside the cheeseplate. The only thing with flavor on the whole table was the bleu cheese.
I've actually just made another reservation at Holder - I accept the fact that service is neglectful at the door. It seems that the policy is that only the host be able to greet people - waiters whisk by without looking at you. It is irritating, I agree. I accept that as part of reality whenever I go, and just take my time putting my coat away, chatting with friends and checking out the patrons. The reason I go back? The patrons, for one - a good illustration of how beautiful people are in Montreal. When I'm in a people watching mood, I'm rarely disappointed at Holder. Otherwise, I find the service friendly (door experience excluded of course) and the food good. Don't go if you're looking for a quite intimate evening - Holder is noisy and vibrant - if you're in the mood for that, and can get past the door issue, you should have a good time.
I do a Montreal restaurant podcast called Montreal Bites with a friend - we have an unpublished episode from Holder, recorded a couple of months back. Maybe I'll be inspired to get around to editing it and getting it out there. When I do, I'll come back and link to it.
Well, I was just there this weekend, and enjoyed the whole experience. We weren;t ignored at the door- actually two different people inquired as to our reservation etc.. and the food was great french bistro food. The dessert, as mentioned in a previous post, was the star, and now my favourite.
An why, pray tell, would you choose to revive a thread that is almost 3 years old, when there are much more recent ones, namely mine from last weekend - don't get it.
Maybe for dinner.. I have always had a great dinner at Holders. I especially really like their Salmon. However, I can't say I was impressed with their brunch. I went there with my boyfriend several weeks ago. It took a waiter at least 10 min to clean our table from the previous customers and they sat us. They should have just had us wait at the front. I ordered eggs and bacon which really isn't that complicated and they arrived cold. I usually don't order sunny side up eggs but the yolk was really cold. I thought that was terrible and the waiter claimed that is how Sunny Side up eggs are supposed to be. I strongly disagree!!! It also took forever to get a simple cup of coffee.
I will definitely go back for supper I really like their dinner menu. The desserts are amazing also.
I don't think ill go back for their brunch though.. Unless it was just an off day.
I am thinking that they might have a different Brunch chef I would like to know. I would never give Holders a bad review because it really is a decent restaurant. It is also fair priced compared to a lot of restaurants in Old MTL.
They should really improve on the brunch though... Brunch is my thing and I was not impressed. I have probably attempted to try every brunch place in the city i can write a book.
Just ate at Garde-Manger and was very disappointed. Seafood platter was excellent, but no bargain at $120. Mains were pathetic given the price. Lamb chops with Merguez included one very nice sausage and four thin, greasy and overcooked chops that looked and tasted like supermarket pork chops, on a bed of perfectly cooked but cold and unsalted sugar snap peas in a watery sauce, served on a dollar-store plate. Truly the worst lamb chops I have ever eaten, and inexcusable at $34. Sampled a fish dish that was merely competent and therefore overpriced. Dessert was free (due to bad service). Some liked the deep-fried Mars bar, but I found it insipid; batter was very well executed but, uh, it's a Mars bar inside. Wine list very short and all over the map but a relatively good deal (2.2 x SAQ). Go there for great ambience and nice crowd, if you don't mind paying top dollar for mainly mediocre food.
Brab experience reminded me of Lesley Chesterman's Montreal Gazette review of Garde Manger restaurant this past Saturday. Highlighted by very very very poor service(including getting a wrong dish), & being totally ignored at the door for the longest time. While she was impressed with most of the dishes that she tried at Garde Manger, they were two diasters in her eyes. Her steak/frites was awful, & the same thing with the famous deep-fried Mars bar. She only gave Garde Manger two stars. I wished she could of made more than one visit(like 2-3 visits) before writing her review(to check if her first visit was a anomaly or not).
My birthday usually falls on the Thanksgiving weekend, and after several less-than-enjoyable restaurant experiences, I have since learned to avoid dining out on Sunday and Monday of long weekends at any relatively decent dining establishment (the worst experience I had was actually at Toque - it was also the last time I visited, as I never plan to return after such atrocious service - and I had gone there regularly before). So, yes, good management does do that to their clientele, unfortunately (This year, I went to Anise - on Friday night, when the service was impeccable, as was the food).
I adore both Holder and Garde-Manger, and was quite surprised at Lesley's review, considering not only has the food at both been consistently good on all of my visits, but the service as well. I guess it also depends on what time you're there, and how busy the place is. But it would be a shame to write off Holder on the basis of one bad experience - did you at least point it out to the manager?
I am sorry to hear about your bad experience. I was also at Holder last night. Sat in the corner under the chalkboard. My wife and I used to live one block away on Notre Dame and we used to eat there every Friday night. I am happy to report that it is as good as I remember it, if not better.
Service was efficient and friendly. The food was always very good- I had a tasy filet mignon special with a crust of blue cheese-great. My wife had the steak frites which Leslie Chesterman recently called the best in town-and she's right!
Chasse et Peche is superb-and aslo $125-150 MORE per couple than Holder.
For excellent bistro style cooking, great ambinace and interesting people (our single friend with us last night had his eyes riveted on the goings-on at the bar!) and a EXTREMELY reasonably price wine list, this remains one of the best casual restos in Montreal.