I’ve spent two-thirds of my life—and most of my money—eating and drinking my way around Montreal, I was starting to think I’d seen it all—until last summer when I stumbled into Vin Papillon on a warm Thursday evening.
A wine bar that’s run by the Joe Beef family? Sounds fun.
First, the vibe—there’s something very special about the overall feel of the place. It’s hard to put a finger on exactly what it is, but it felt like walking into a party at a friend’s place, where I knew I’d want to stay a while. Basically, it’s very inviting.
They don’t take reservations—perfect because we didn’t have one. We were invited to hang at the bar, where I had a glass of natural wine that blew my mind. It came from a winery called Pinard & Filles, located two hours east of Montreal. Within 15 minutes, my girlfriend and I were seated on the terrasse out back, amongst a crowd of people that were loving life. The smell of a charcoal grill in the thick summer air, the hum of chatter, and the clink of wine glasses set the tone. Across the back alley, a baseball game was going down on the local diamond.
Vin Papillon’s wine selection is impressive and the staff is passionate about it. I had my first taste of natural wine that night, and I was hooked. It was like nothing I’d tasted before. Refreshing, bright, and slightly effervescent. The waitress described it to us simply: “There’s nothing added. It’s just really good grapes, carefully selected, and fermented.” Being a fan of sour beers and things that taste fresh and wild, I was into it. Vin Papillon specializes in importing natural wines from small producers, and they do an incredible job finding the best ones and getting their staff excited about the stock. One that stood out that night was a red from the Jura, Domaine de la Tournelle. One word to describe this wine: alive.
We didn’t have to think much that night. They just took care of us. We gave a few words describing what we like in wine, said our hunger level was a 7 out of 10, and sat back. For the next three hours, the most perfect food and wine pairings came to our table, each bite and sip elevating our taste buds to new levels.
The food arrived on small plates for sharing, ideal for tasting as many dishes as possible. We started with the house-smoked shaved piglet ham, which melts in your mouth. My memory is a bit foggy from the wine, but I’m pretty sure the ham was topped with melted butter and some amazing Canadian cheddar. Next, smoked sturgeon with gnocchi fritti. Then a few razor clams, some smoked carrots, and finally a plate of rotisserie cauliflower, which was spit-roasted, basted in chicken fat, and topped with crispy chicken skin.
Their creative take on vegetables is remarkable. I’ve been back often since that first visit, and every time I’ve had my mind blown by vegetable dishes, fresh seafood, natural wines, and the best service. Bonus: I also don’t mind waking up headache-free the next morning after drinking a bottle of wine (or more).
Anytime a friend is visiting Montreal and looking for a place to eat and drink, I’ll send them straight to Vin Papillon. Even if you have dinner plans, this is the place to warm up. Or even better, cancel that reservation, order another bottle and let the wine and charm of this place take you in for the night. Around 11:30 p.m., the lights from the baseball field across the alley shut off and the terrasse suddenly becomes even more romantic. The BBQ smoke fades into the dimly lit sky and tipsy bon vivants enjoy final rounds as more interesting wines are being opened to pair with desserts. It’s worth it to stick around.