When I started talking to my colleagues about my love for Sevtap Yüce’s cookbook, some asked where they could find a good Turkish restaurant in Québec City. Unfortunately, the answer is nowhere. There is though an excellent Greek restaurant called Mezzé in the Old-Port where the notion of small appetizers and familiar Mediterranean ingredients are used, but it resonates nothing near authentic Turkish cuisine. Let’s face the fact: Québec City has no Turkish restaurant.
Turkey in Montreal
In 2013, when I started working on Chef Marie-Chantal Lepage’s cookbook Mémoires Culinaires, I started paying more attention to the work of other female chefs in the province of Québec. I learned about Helena Loureiro (PortusCalle now Portus360, Helena, Cantinho de Lisboa), Fisun Ercan (Su, Barbounya), Marie-Fleur Saint-Pierre (Tapeo, Meson) and Colombe Saint-Pierre (Chez Saint-Pierre). These are all Chefs who redefine contemporary cuisine by portraying either their own cultural heritage or influences.
Of these outstanding chefs, I have been recently paying much more attention to Fisun Ercan. Her talent is celebrated from both critics and peers. In 2013, her Montreal Plateau-area restaurant Barbounya was selected by Air Canada’s EnRoute Magazine as a contender for Canada’s best new restaurants.
I was recently able to find the time to make it to Montreal for a weekend to taste Ercan’s cuisine. I was invited by the ever-so-wonderful people of Veuve Cliquot Canada to stay at the ever-so-magnificent Germain Hotel. I have said this before and I have no shame in saying it again, The Germain Group has created my favourite line of hotels in Canada. I am a long-time customer of theirs because they offer comfort, incredible customer service and cater to all types of budgets; from affordable (ALT hotels) to luxury (Germain hotels). The Germain Montreal hotel is located steps from Quartier des spectacles and seconds from the city’s best museums.
Oh, and Germain has Molton Brown accessories! I always have a bottle of the ginger Lilly body wash at home, because it is my favourite scent.
“I grew up in the kitchen and everything was fresh from the garden, farm or sea,” says Ercan. –The Gazette
My partner Marie-Eve and I ate dinner at Fisun’s first restaurant, Su on rue Wellington, the main drag of the Verdun neighbourhood. Wellington is a lively commercial street filled with small, independent businesses caved in brick and cement buildings. A working-class neighbourhood that reminds me of Québec City’s Limoilou where the side streets feature two-storey plexs with brick veneer, built in the 1920s.
At first look, Su’s menu stands out of the Verdun neighbourhood. Poetic dishes featuring vegetables, fish and lamb that don’t have much in common with the food of the average working class man. The restaurant’s décor is lit with pastels of turquoise beige and white; very Mediterranean. It felt authentic and nothing near tacky.
The evening began with the platter of five mezzes to share and selected by the Chef. Fisun Ercan was not in the kitchen that day, she was visiting her family in Izmir, Turkey. Instagram told me. Our platter featured hummus, feta, stuffed leek and tarama. Bite after bite flavours popped into my mouth. We carried on with artichoke and filo dough rolls. Every single mezzes was an adventure in flavour with textures and tastes that I have not often experienced; from the acidity of tarama (fish egg concoction with lemon) to the sweetness of the tomato-stuffed leeks, everything was delicious: light and delicate bites of flavours fashioned with yogurt, mint, nuts and garlic. If senses are a gateway to the soul, Fisun’s is beautiful.
I lived in Montreal for four years. During that time, I worked as a radio announcer at CHOM 97.7 and taught sec 4 journalism in a private high school on the Plateau. The school I worked at is located on Ave Laurier, the same street corner as Barbounya. My heart stopped for a second, because I hadn’t set foot back in the neighbourhood since I decided to move back home to Québec City.
I invited some friends to join us for brunch so they too could share the joy that most have related to when speaking about Ercan’s cuisine. Like most –if not all- Mediterranean traditions, food is at the centre of all celebrations. It’s a question of climate and abundance of nature. In Québec, our culinary traditions are filled with hefty meals made from pork, fat and maple sugar, not at all inspired by celebration. It was for the hardworking lumberjacks who spent days in the forest. But today, we celebrate!
Mezzes are unavoidable in Turkish cuisine, no matter the time of day; brunch is definitely not an exception. Olives, ricotta and tomato salad, nuts, dried fruit and bread greet our tastebuds. Along with the aromas making their way out of the kitchen, I felt like I was in a completely different place and time.
The ambiance at Barbounya for brunch is very lively and a popular destination for families and large groups of friends. One of the walls at the back of the restaurant has an imposing loft-like window which separates the kitchen from the dinning room. Atop, an imposing metal structure with carved-in letters of the alphabet from ”A” to ”N” with the ”B” in an upside down position representing a more modern take on Turkish cuisine.
The decor feels industrial with a much appreciated high ceiling. The back of the restaurant where we sat is dark with little natural light; in complete contrast with the entrance, where a great big counter sitting in front of great big windows. It’s where a much younger crowd hangs out. A brick wall painted in white, long wooden table with fixed chairs and discreet metal light fixtures complete the look. Warmth is in the food.
After 30 minutes in the restaurant, my senses are well-stimulated and awakened by Barbounya’s ambience. A tide of flavours now flows onto our table: char-stuffed filo pastry with feta cheese; French toast with pain brioché covered in chocolate and tahini; incredibly moist chicken served with potatoes and an egg. Food that kept me from talking, flavours that kept me plunging for more.
Every dish had a play on texture filled with bright, salivating flavours: pomegranate to wash away the sweetness of chocolate, olive oil to ease the acidity of the feta cheese and herbs to bring out the unexpected. Every bite was a celebration of the mediterranean, a playful experience where every ingredient felt like a trip to Turkey.
After experiencing Su and Barbounya, Chef Fisun Ercan’s cuisine has conquered my heart. Through her dishes I have nourished my desire to travel to Turkey. Sağol!
I highly recommend you follow Fisun Ercan on social media where she shares many wonderful pictures of her travels and keeps a blog where she shares her recipes.