Three weeks has flown by, and already I feel at home. After 15 days of what I call hard work (though it might not seem so to anyone watching) studying French in coffee shops by morning and trawling bars by night, sweet-talking potential employers, I have a job! My stated mission was always to find a service role in a bar - one that specialised in “artisanal” beer of course - so as to get my bearings in the city, to make some friends and professional contacts for the consultancy AND obviously to earn some money. After four days of training at Le Saint Bock, I feel I’ve hit the jackpot...
It’s a micro-brewery/brewpub with an endless supply of experimental beers made in house and shipped in from state/world-wide. The staff are super-patient and friendly; I’m not sure I’d react as positively to a “beer expert with respectable French” as I was introduced on the Facebook group. They’re also cute, which while not necessary is definitely a bonus... The managers are cool, the working environment is almost exclusively francophone, as are the guests, and I’ll get the chance to work beer festivals throughout the summer which should let me sew my seed aplenty around the scene. I’ve given my word that I’ll work through the summer in the floor manager role, with a view to reassessing when the sun disappears, hopefully to bringing in part of my income through drink-quality.com. To be honest, after two shifts of learning the ropes on the busy restaurant floor, where I spoke 5 hours a night of straight French, I feel fucking great about how things are shaping up this early.
Observations of my new home; first up and tied into the aforementioned job, it’s impossible not to notice the huge difference in service culture here. Servers make at minimum a 15% gratuity on every bill, and often much more. Thus, wherever I’ve gone, I’ve been greeted and seated with a smile, fully waited upon, and witnessed endless examples of staff going the extra mile for me and the other clients. Yesterday, a chap in my regular coffee house Lili & Oli foisted upon me a book of French poetry classics to help make my studies more diverse, and the girl who manages the gym I joined has yet to take a dime from me until I get my bank account in order, solely based on trust. That would never have flown in London’s culture of “trust nobody, suspect malicious intent at every turn”. It’s actually pretty hard to tell if I’m just getting really lucky meeting awesome people, or if it’s a symptom of a more healthy hospitality culture. Everyone IS paid more and works less, so it’s somewhat of a “Chicken or Egg” conundrum in comparing the two cities. Do the underpaid, over-worked staff in London genuinely deserve to make no tips on top of their minimum wage as a result of blanket terrible service? Or do the English not tip due to a rampant, deep-rooted lack of respect for an industry which is in reality the medium by which the majority of all Londoner’s conduct their social lives? I have many columns in me on the myriad of ways in which the UK system is broken (just wait until Brexit to really see what happens when the backbone of under-appreciated migrants are forced to throw in the towel) but this isn’t the time!
It’s always the time, thankfully, for food and drink chat! I’m reminded by my own reverence for my new home that I’ve become a bit like that Stewart Lee “the size of the prawns, Stew…they’re massive!” ex-pat sketch…but I HAVE just eaten an obnoxiously stuffed smoked meat sandwich from the iconic Schwartz’s Deli (see the attached photo) and frankly I’m in heaven. Bagels, also, are something of a speciality of Montréal. I’ve been recommended a couple of “best bagel in the city” candidates so far, and my experience at St Viateur Bagel Shop was pretty special. Surrounded by roaring ovens and sacks of flour stacked 6 foot high, I was handed a paper bag of piping hot doughy delights and a single-serve Philadelphia, and told to fuck off outside and out of the way! I very much enjoyed them on a park bench. Really though, just being able to add a cream-cheese bagel to any order, any place is a god-send for me. The area I’ve kept to so far, the Plateau Mont-Royal is kind of like a French East London, with Mile End roughly equating to Shoreditch (so far with fewer wankers) and thus the independent coffee culture is strong. See also just one example of the amazing street art on every corner. Many Montréalers work remotely, so their need for fast wi-fi and caffeine is served by a plethora single-origin-Guata-raguan-nutty&apricotty-misty-mountain-roast serving spaces. I’m yet to see a Flat White, which I’m taking as confirmation that in fact it isn’t really a thing, fools.
Further to my previous post, I’m seeing a lot of beery experimentation but without the drop in quality that can sometimes accompany it. I’d accuse many UK brewers of trying to sprint before they can even crawl, pumping out 40 new styles and social-media-satisfying collabs in their first year, all while their core pale ale explodes from it’s cans in cellars across the country, tasting different at every pint. Here conversely, you’ll find perhaps a couple of mainstream lagers (instead of 5 or 6) accompanied by 15 or so oddities. Peanut- Butter & Jelly Porters, bison-grass saisons reeking of McDonalds hot apple pie, and, thanks to last year’s legalization, many styles flavoured with cannabis (no cannabinoids) which to me tastes like ginger, nasturtiums and faint anise. Blending and barrel-aging are très a la mode, and the red ale is a crowd favourite (the traditional, toasted nutty, Irish style, NOT the “let’s make it taste like everything” mess that is Liquid Mistress). Leading brewery Dieu du Ciel’s “Péché Mortel” day, completely dedicated to 10+ variants of their award-winning imperial stout, was an insane treat too, once I parted the crowds.
For now then, I’m set up nicely. The uncertainty of waiting for a house and work confirmation has been replaced with a more palatable discomfort around wanting to impress at my new job, which I’ll overcome by just working really, really hard – something I’ve not struggled with since leaving the education system and exercising some free will. Thanks to Astrid for loaning me her flat this past three weeks….I’ll pay you in friendship and cooking.