Where: Restaurant Hot Africa
Type of cuisine: African
Addr: 4959 Chemin Queen Mary,Montreal
Phone: 514 734-5052
Date,Time of the meal : 16-1-2015 19:00
Africa is the continent where I was born and grew up, so it is natural that I have spent my entire life enjoying the nuances of its various regional cuisines both on the continent itself as well as abroad. Still, I am realistic enough to know what I should expect from African cuisine in the West, so do not count on me to expect the unexpected, meaning that I’m reviewing this place with, in mind, the standard of African cooking that I am accustomed to in Montreal.
Hot Africa is located close to station Snowdon (approx 5 minutes walk away), the decor as unassuming as it gets (do not expect luxury here). Their cooking takes its inspiration mostly from Western (for eg,they had the foutou available on this evening) and Central Africa (for eg, the Ndolé).
Braised bass was hard to improve upon, by any restaurant standard that I can think of, its fresh maritime flavor, fabulous texture of the flesh and dazzling taste reminding how the pleasure of eating is oftently found in the simple things done really well . In theory, it is not hard to braise a piece of fish but I wished some of the highly rated restaurants in town could prove this right. On many of those supposedly ambitious tables, I would rate a piece of fish executed this well with no less than a 10/10…a feature that happened perhaps just once or twice in 15 years. And of course, the ambitious tables do not serve an entire fish (which they did here), but a slice of it …at twice the price of the entire fish I was having on this evening). The rice was nicely perfumed, tasted great and cooked properly. I have no clue if that fish is as consistently stellar day after day as it was the case on this specific evening, but what I was having was dazzling! 10/10
Ndolé is one dish that I enjoy a lot whenever I can try it. The leaves were cooked enoughly long to allow their aromas to fully express themselves, the texture creamy as it should, the sweetness from the crushed peanuts balancing nicely the natural bitterness of the leaves. They applied faithfully the traditional recipe and those in the know will remind how the prep for the Ndolé can be a pain. This was as good as your Ndolé gets in an African restaurant in Montreal. Good. 7/10
My only quip (??) , with the food, is actually not really a problem, rather a matter of personal taste: the grilled goat (6/10) prefer my grilled goat with more chargrill flavor, the consistency chewier (theirs was very tender), the meaty flavor bolder (theirs was refined in taste). As for the fried plantains, they were as satisfying as everywhere else in town (there is no such thing as exceptional fried plantains in Montreal restaurants — for eg, forget the refined looking plantains that may come out from the kitchen of a gourmet destination).
I was lucky to have shared this meal with African dining companions who are friends who know their food really well. Some wished the plantains were sweeter (this boils down to personal tastes,btw, and has nothing to do with what’s right or wrong. I personally like my plantains not too ripe as I find the relevant texture and taste suiting better to salty dishes…I am not a huge fan of sweet/salty constrasting flavors ) , others observed that they had better Ndolé and braised bass but not in Montreal (me too,but again, as stated earlier on, I am comparing this meal to African meals I have enjoyed in Montreal).
Pros: Genuine African flavors
Cons: the almost ‘hole in a wall’ feel of the place + the service on this evening lacked a bit of warmth
Conclusion: Over a decade ago, Montreal did host one of the finest African tables that I can think of, Souvenirs D’Afrique on Mont Royal street, now closed since a long time. Years went by and no African restaurant in Montreal got close to the standards of Souvenirs D’Afrique. HA gets nowhere close neither, but the food tastes generally good, the flavors are genuine and the braised bass tells me that this kitchen is not amateurish.
What I think days later: African restaurants in Montreal have rarely disappointed me, in terms of the food..I mean. Yes, they are not at the level of the best African tables of Paris, to take an example, and many African tables in the USA have impressed me more, but they usually do what they have got to do, meaning keeping the flavors as genuine as African flavors can taste like — oceans and continents away from Africa. My prefered African table in Montreal is nowadays Le Nil Bleu, which offers Ethiopian refined cooking in elegant settings , but never miss an opportunity to try any of the unassuming African tables that we have in town. They can deliver satisfying (by Montreal standards) African food, too, which is a feature that HA is certainly capable of.