It is not every day I get to walk the cobbled streets of Old Montréal. There is a magical sound as your footsteps echo through the time-preserved buildings. I had the pleasure of reviewing a new restaurant named after Quebec’s own enfant terrible, Émile Nelligan and fittingly called NELLi Café + Vin Nature. Émile came into prominence at the age of 16, emulating Paris’ Arthur Rimbaud with his prose. Émile wrote 170 poems, sonnets, rondels, songs and prose poems. The melancholy poet is highly regarded in Quebec culture. That is why you will see his name extolled all over the Québec landscape.
NELLi Café and Vin Nature is strategically nestled in the atrium of Hôtel Nelligan. The three adjoined buildings have a rich heritage of history in Montréal. It is like entering a time machine and coming out at the other end with the best of both worlds. As you enter NELLi Café + Vin Nature you cannot help yourself but to be inspired by the bohemian ambiance around you. The walls around are pleasantly graced by pictures of Émile Nelligan.
My friend/manager from work Carmelo Borgognone and I were greeted by Jessie Kollmorgen. The maître d’hôtel at Hotel Nelligan gave us a brief history of the establishment. She enlightened us by explaining the logo of NELLI. It is an “N” with a rocking horse motif around the letter, it signifies the rocking transition from café to wine from morning to the evening. I loved the poetic symbol, it was apropos.
How glad am I! My wine and art be blest!
I, too, have dreamt of making poetry
That lives, of poems which sound the exequy
For autumn winds that passing far-off mist. *
Carmelo and I chatted briefly and noticed that NELLi Café and Vin Nature staff were well equipped with the new COVID-19 conformity rules. We felt safe in our bubbled spaced out environment. I could not help noticing that this newly minted Café is sure to be a great hub for business and artistically inclined individuals. The polyglot colonial history can easily inspire one to write a poem or two if you stay there a bit too long.
The clocks have struck and the wind smells of night
Now the wine gurgles as I pour it out.
So glad am I that I laugh and shout
I fear I shall break down and sob outright.*
We both absorbed our new environment. Carmelo remarked that NELLi Café and Vin Nature was bright, spacious, and clean. The feeling in the restaurant was warm and cozy. Jessie was cordial, warm, and very receptive to when we placed our orders.
The bitter laugh of rage is now good form,
And I, a poet, must eat scorn for food.
I have a heart but am not understood
Save by the moonlight and the great nights of storm. *
Carmelo ordered a hearty portioned Poke Bowl salad entrée. It consisted of marinated salmon, avocado, edamame, cucumber, iceberg lettuce, grilled asparagus, hard-boiled eggs, red cabbage, and napa lettuce. The vegetables were savory and fresh, and the dressing was excellent and not overabundant. As a beverage, Carmelo picked Kombucha du Mont-Ferréol. The Québecoise beverage is 100% local and made with Québec fruits, spring water, and sea buckthorn leaves.
I had the “Lemonade Maison” along with the soup of the day (cauliflower soup), which our gracious maître d’hôtel Jessie generously enhanced with her pepper shaker.
From our 11 am menu, Carmelo wanted to try the quarter roasted chicken. It was accompanied by caramelized onion, sweet potatoes fries, and ginger and orange sauce. It was well presented and cooked. The chicken was tender, and the sweet potatoes were hearty and crunchy.
I decided to have a club sandwich. The toast was generously enveloped with grilled chicken, bacon, heirloom tomatoes, grilled sweet peppers, and hard-boiled eggs. The home-made fries were crispy and light.
We were offered wine to wash down our delicious meals, however we were pressed for time. We had a great time absorbing the rich history of Old Montréal within the confides of NELLI’s inspirational milieu. We lost track of time; the real world awaited us outside.
We both agreed that NELLi Café + Vin Nature would be a great place for our co-workers to dine and chat after a big day at work. It is warm and inviting for tourists who want to experience something unique. It has a flair of France within Canada.
We got to sample a small fraction of the menu, inspired by local foods with a dash of global inspiration. We both highly recommend you make a pit stop at NELLi Café + Vin Nature.
The executive chef Kosmas Sfaelos draws from some of the best food establishments that the city has to offer. His menu offers bagels from St-Viateur, coffees worked by Café Union and viennoiseries from Hof Kelsten. NELLI’s menu is tested repeatedly to give you some of the most unique dishes in the area.
“NELLi is also the first establishment in Quebec to install RancilioSpecialty’s new RS1 espresso machine,” says James Kouri, vice president of Union Coffee. “This cutting-edge brewing technology combined with the industry revered Ranciliodesign creates a better epicurean coffee experience and was used in developing NELLi’s specialty house blend. “
I thought the menu was well-priced compared to other food establishments. It felt like I was in the Woody Allen movie Midnight in Paris. You are practically a hop, skip, and a jump around every corner from the 19th century.
NELLi Café + Vin Nature is located at 104 Rue Saint-Paul, O, Vieux-Montréal. I recommend you park a few blocks away and absorb walking there. It is fun observing the architecture and little stores leading to your destination. It is open seven days a week, from 7 am to 10: pm.
Phone Number 514-788-4000
*Translated from French (La Romance du Vin by Émile Nelligan)