Restaurant Review: Bier Markt

MenuTonight I attended my first ever Concordia Alumni Relations event: ‘an evening of beer tasting and food pairing at Bier Markt’. Though I had never heard of Bier Markt before registering for the event, I have since learned that it is an Ontario-based chain whose Montreal location has been open for a couple of months. It is located on Rene Levesque where high-end steakhouse Queue De Cheval used to be. Having never been to Queue De Cheval, I can’t say how the restaurant’s appearance has been altered since that time, but I can say that the decor is quite nice. I found the bricks on the ceiling especially interesting.bricks Bier Markt

The place was quite busy when I arrived at about six. I checked my coat at the (free) coat check down stairs, then headed upstairs and checked in at the Concordia table. I eyed the menu which was table d’hôte style for the group and included 3 courses with a beer ‘pairing’ to go with each course, all for a flat fee of $30 which included tax and tip. This was quite a deal, especially when one takes a look at their regular prices. I also scanned the beer menu, which includes over 150 beers, about a third of which are on tap.

Palm Speciale Belgian Ale

Palm Speciale AleThe waiter who took our order was nice enough, and took the time to give us his recommendations food-wise. We received our first beer, the Palm Speciale Belgian Ale. Its menu description reads: ‘Brewed approximately 40 miles outside Brussels in Steenhuffel, Belgium, Palm is a well-balanced, approachable amber Ale that is full-flavoured up front and finishes with notes of spice and citrus.’ I thought it had a good, if not particularly remarkable, flavour,  some bitterness, and altogether was very drinkable. As it was only a half-pint of beer, and the wait for the first course wasn’t short, I drank about half of it before the soup arrived.

Bier Markt Mushroom Soup

The mushroom soup consisted mostly of an oily, lukewarm broth, which was faintly mushroomy in mushroom soupflavour. There were some sliced mushrooms (mostly button) in the soup as well, and some parsley floating on top. Needless to say, it wasn’t very good. I think I could have produced something similar in about five minutes with a mushroom stock cube and some button mushrooms. Okay, so to play the devil’s advocate here: I know that groups can be a pain, and that maybe the cooks thought the people in the group wouldn’t really appreciate/pay attention to the food. However, this soup is on the regular menu (so they should know how to make it), and soup is the easiest thing to prep a large quantity of ahead of time. For those reasons, I think the devil’s going to have to accept defeat, here. Since no beer pairing could have enhanced this soup, the beer-food pairing was a fail.

Service & Beer Pairing Gripes

Service started to get spotty at this point. The wait for mains was, again, not short, but the real issue was that our beers arrived when we were half-way through our main courses. This was an especially glaring faux-pas considering the nature of the event. It is apparent to anyone who has ever poured draft beer that (surprise!) it takes time to properly pour draft beer. Yes, they were busy. However, this problem could have been avoided by either pairing a bottled beer with the main, or offering different beer pairings for each of the three options. Pairing the same beer with each of the three different mains doesn’t really make sense anyway- if you take food-beer pairing seriously- which Bier Markt doesn’t really seem to do. In any case, the food should really have been held until the beer made it to the table.

Bier Markt Main: Salmon

SalmonAs for the food itself, considering the fact the I don’t eat meat, I was forced to choose the Atlantic salmon, something I don’t usually eat due to both sustainability and health issues. That said, the portion was large, and the fish was properly cooked and seasoned, though some fresh herbs and perhaps a wedge of lemon to give it some zip would not have been out of place. The tomatoes were fine, though not flavourable enough to add much to the equation, and the garlic chips, though properly cooked, were too few in number to enhance the salmon.  The quinoa cakes were good, though they also could have used more punch, and the bok choy and wilted spinach were fine…but unremarkable. Concerning the proportions of the dish, I could have done with a smaller portion of fish, only one quinoa cake, and more vegetables.

Erdinger Weissbier

When I finally received my pint of Erdinger Weissbier, I found it quite enjoyable. The menu description reads: ‘This Wheat Bier Erdinger Weissbiercomes from Erding in the heart of Bavaria. Erdinger Weissbier has a beautiful golden-straw colour that owes its Champagne-like effervescence to keg fermentation. Brewed according to the Bavarian Purity Law of 1516, Erdinger is an excellent match with seafood or chicken dishes.’ While it is easily the most bitter wheat beer I’ve ever tasted, it also has some of the lightness and sweetness one expects from wheat beers. While I found it quite enjoyable on its own, I wouldn’t say it went particularly well with the salmon.

Früli Strawberry Wheat Ale

Früli Strawberry Wheat AleThe next beer to arrive was the Früli Strawberry Wheat Ale. Its menu description reads: ‘Früli is a unique blend of high-quality, lightly hopped Belgian White Bier and pure strawberries. This all-natural Bier is a soft, refreshing indulgence that is
perfect as an aperitif, with a salad, or even as a dessert’. The intensity of the strawberry flavour was actually surprising. It reminded me of Fragoli, a wild strawberry liqueur. It definitely makes an interesting dessert pairing.

Chocolate Cake

The dessert itself, however, left a lot to be desired. I chose the chocolate cake, seeing as how late February is not exactly the season for strawberries in Montreal. It was okay, though I ate it more out a sense of duty than anything else. Though described as being a dark chocolate cake, the depth of flavour just wasn’t there, and I could taste no hint of mocha.

Chocolate Cake

If coffee or tea was eventually offered or not, I don’t know, but by the time I left, it still hadn’t been. Having only visited Bier Markt this once, I can’t comment on any of the other menu items, but, personally, I’d recommend steering clear of the food. If I do go back, it will be for the beer, and perhaps the oysters (of which they offer four different kinds).

‘Till next time!

Restaurant Reviews & The Industry in General

I’ve struggled with the idea of posting in-depth reviews of restaurants on here for a while, due to the following reasons:

1) I know that working as a cook can be difficult, and don’t want to unduly criticize anyone.

2) I wasn’t sure whether I should risk being ostracized for any potentially negative remarks I might possibly make.

However, presumably, there are people out there (like you) who are interested in my opinion. My opinion represents my view of an experience I’ve had, and since someone else may have an entirely different experience, their opinion may diverge quite violently from my own…and that’s okay. What is important to remember is that my opinion is just that; nothing more, nothing less.

In regards to the second reason listed above, well, I highly doubt I’ll ever want to work in another restaurant in this city (as a cook) unless they magically start paying their employees decent wages and stop taking them for granted. I don’t know of any other industry where a degree, that takes a year of full-time schooling to obtain, often results in a starting salary of $10/hr, zero benefits, no breaks, a dangerous work environment, and no respect from one’s employer. I don’t know if things are better for cooks in other countries, but here in Montreal (and, from what I’ve read, the rest of Canada and the States) I have to say that cooking is an unsustainable industry. A wage of between $10 and $14/hr just isn’t enough to live off of, especially considering the lack of benefits. You may be able to pay your expenses (if you keep them to a bare minimum) but forget about things like saving for retirement, having children, or buying a house.

If cooking is a trade, then cooks should be making $20/hr and receive benefits like workers do in other trades. Since restaurant owners are notoriously cheap, greedy, and crooked, expecting their employees to work long hours while trying to screw them out of the little holiday and overtime pay to which they are legally entitled (and often succeeding), the only way this will ever happen is though provincial or nationwide unionization. Until then, cooking should stop being touted as a trade or a ‘career’ and instead be looked upon as an alternative to working as a cashier (something that pays a similar wage, but requires minimal knowledge or skill).

Though there are many people who will tell you that ‘you don’t go into cooking to get rich’, fewer people will tell you just how low the pay is or how bad the working conditions are. One often has to deal with sweltering heat, broken equipment (that the restaurant owner doesn’t want to pay to get fixed), slippery floors, terrible wait staff, plate shortages, and sociopathic co-workers, to name but a few things. I could go on, but thinking all this over, again, is starting to bring me down.

So, for the reasons I’ve already mentioned, I recommend you only go into cooking if:

1) You really don’t know what else to do (though I suggest you think long and hard until you can think of a few options)
2) You’re willing to slog it out for 10 years or so, work constantly, toot your own horn, and stomp over anyone who gets in your way until you’re finally able to secure a position as executive chef somewhere
3) You are, or want to become, an alcoholic and/or drug addict, and need a job where your boss will look the other way as long as you show up and do some work
4) You’re a workaholic who doesn’t like money
5) You just want to get some experience before starting your own restaurant/bakery/food truck, etc. (Save up some money first and be prepared for the worst)
6) You know someone who can hook you up with a job that pays well (overseas, or possibly at an airport or hotel)
7) You are a masochist, and especially enjoy it when you’re working hard, trying to do ten things at once, and one of your co-workers walks by and tells you that your technique is flawed, because you are not doing it the same way Escoffier’s grandmother did it back in the nineteen hundreds.

So, in conclusion, I know that there are many people out there who love cooking, and I love cooking too…but I hate ‘the business’ as it is called. I don’t see an reason why skilled, hardworking, passionate employees should be payed an unsustainable wage and forced to deal with dangerous working conditions, and abusive employers (and coworkers) in order to do the job they love doing. Many cooks seem to regard these negative working conditions as a badge of honour, or as an example of their commitment or toughness…but this most likely just a justification they need to make to themselves in order to compensate for their reality. If they were offered a higher salary and better working conditions, while still being able to produce a high caliber, quality product, I doubt many would refuse.