Disclaimer: This meal was comped.
The African presence in Montreal is largely composed of French-speaking nationals from The Maghreb, Congo, Sénégal and their Haitian cousins from across the Atlantic Ocean. The common language is an obvious draw for these migrants. This diaspora gave birth to a modest pool of restaurants representing the Motherland, but one newcomer is trying to combine all their varied cuisines into one Pan-African concept.
Maquis Yasolo joined the Notre Dame Street West restaurant row in Saint-Henri at the very end of 2019. Tonight I picked up some takeout from this unassuming eatery, following an invitation from the owners to try it out on the house.
Before Maquis, mon-and-pop principals – him from Côte d'Ivoire, her from Congo – started with Yasolo next door: a specialty grocery store carrying imported products as well as homemade, ready-to-eat items. Feeling that was not enough to fully showcase their Central and Western African heritage, they ventured into the restaurant business.
Their menu sheds light on Afro/Caribbean and West Indian cuisine with well-known staples such as jerk chicken, oxtail and roti. Lesser-known Motherland specialties include a Congolese ntaba (grilled goat meat), a Senegalese thiéboudiène (rice with fish) and an Ivorian abidjanaise (lingcod with cassava couscous).
These cod and rice fritters were smaller than the ones I am used to, but they delivered with a crunchy casing and tantalising hot dipping sauce on the side.
The jackfruit itself was off-putting in taste and texture, but the diced mango beneath it juxtaposed nicely against chopped onions, contrasting sweet versus sharp.
A beautifully-fragrant pilaf of rice and fish tasted too fishy for me personally, but I still enjoyed its heartiness thanks to large cuts of cabbage, carrot, eggplant and squash.
While waiting on site for my food to be ready, I seized the opportunity to chat with the male half of Maquis Yasolo's mom-and-pop owners. He proudly went over the laborious restoration of the locale's dilapidated interior, particularly with regards to exposing the original brick walls and tin ceiling.
The space was then given a personalized, African touch using various accents and an eye-catching mural depicting his family reading about leading black figures. This setup – along with the cross-African menu on offer – drives home the "Afro-Québécois" label the couple uses to describe their project.
During our talk, I also learned that maquis yasolo means "best restaurant" in one African tongue. While I cannot make that claim – particularly because a couple of dishes did not work for me – I will not deny I was quite enamored with Maquis' colorful, exotic soul food.
Price per person: $26
Montreal restaurant and bar reviews brought to you by two regular guys who like to eat and drink. We will go anywhere and we will say it like it is.