Matthew 4:4 states “Man shall not live by bread alone.” The Bible has been an ample source of contention over the years, but this really takes the biscuit. It is a little known fact, even more so here than in my native Britain, that I once went three days sustained by nothing other than plain bread. No fruit loaf, no olive flute, just plain white bread. It was a bet, conjured up by friends who were as sick of my constant eulogizing about bakeries as they were of watching me save countless monies lunching on solitary baguettes. Needless to say, I passed their anti-Atkins examination with flying colours, enjoying (almost) every mouthful. So, when my editors proposed a trip to review “this wonderful little boulangerie” on Mont-Royal, you can imagine my delight. In fact, it is the oldest boulangerie-patisserie among Mont-Royal’s wide selection, sating dough and pastry junkies like myself since around 1920. This may well not be the first you hear of the much touted Au Kouign Amann, a blogosphere smash and a stalwart on any respectable hipster’s recommendation list. The current owner, Nicholas Henri, is seven years into his tenure and things look to be going swell as we arrive at half nine on a crisp Saturday morning to join a reassuring queue, the kind that endorses its end without making you feel like a dick.
Embedded discreetly into the street-side, the small (I won’t say quaint, I won’t) space boasts three tiny tables exuding the tacit ownership of loyal customers. One particularly rugged patron is already here, in the corner, in a llama sweater, looking the part with a French paper fanned out. After all, we are near the corner of Saint-Denis and you would be advised to come armed with some elementary “Je voudrais…” led phrases so as not to be scoffed at by the proud mix of regulars and students on a worthy splurge; apparently Nicholas himself speaks no English, but he leads a welcoming, slick, and mostly bilingual team. They definitely know how good they are – not one of the four to whom I spoke expressed any excitement at a press opportunity – but only bear this awareness in a confidence and pride in their products, almost all of which are delicious.
“Au Kouign Amann” is Breton, the Celtic language native to the French region of Brittany. This initially unpronounceable name is taken from its signature dish, and literally means “butter cake.” Admittedly less alluring in translation, it does call a spade a spade. Vegans beware: these bakers do love their beurre. But, thankfully, the menu poses a far greater threat to your heart than your wallet, with most items set around the two dollar mark, including a delightfully dark hot chocolate and a coffee to placate even the most pretentious javaphiles. Croissants, chocolatines, Viennese baguettes, Tarte Tatin, and brownies are all present and entirely correct, fulfilling every cliched adjective I don’t want to use – light, crisp, golden, fluffy, et cetera – but it’s the almond croissant and trademark kouign amann that mustn’t be missed. The latter is simply several hearty layers of glucofied pastry, of which one slice is fine for breakfast, but a full circle ($21 when requested a day in advance) would be perfect for, let’s say, a study group lock-in. For the socially conscientious, there’s also soul behind the success. The fantastic in-house honey is sourced from a local Quebecker beekeeper, and apples from a struggling orchard outside Montreal. I am told that Monsieur Henri insists on the orchard more out of altruism than business sense. All the more reason to part with five dollars that will guarantee you a fine Montreal morning. I myself could spend days there. Well, at least three.