Last Updated on December 24, 2023 by Pamela MacNaughtan
jjacques, a speakeasy in Saint-Roch, was high on my “bars to visit” list towards the end of November 2019. It was new (opened in July), served oysters and a seafood tower, and was hidden. Unable to resist the possibilities, I invited six friends to join me and we piled into a private dining area on a chilly November night.
We started with oyster shots (Trois-Rivières Cuvee de l’Ocean rum topped with an oyster) and a three-tiered seafood tower. Some were unsatisfied with the tower of crustaceans – it’s meant for two people, not seven. Grilled octopus, cacio e pepe and canard magret were ordered, along with several cocktails.
It was good, one of those places that’s fun to experience once, then move on. This week, I returned to jjacques to meet a friend for drinks.
jjacques, a speakeasy and oyster bar
It was almost 9pm when I walked up to the heavy metal door in the alley on rue Notre-Dame-des-Anges and rang the buzzer. Invited into a narrow arched hallway, the mâtre’d parts a heavy velvet curtain, revealing an art deco space accented in grey, blush and purple.
Curves abound, from the round bar stools with velvet seats to the curved tables and arched ceiling. Clean, simple, chic.
I slide my very curvy body into a stool next to my friend. He arrived almost an hour before me, sipping champagne, and eating beluga imperial caviar with blinis. Soon, Frank, the bartender, is pouring me a glass of champagne and my friend is urging me to have the last of the caviar. Following Frank the bartender’s instructions, I pile a tiny spoonful of caviar on the purlicue of my left hand, warming it slightly before licking it off.
The pandemic, which occurred eight months after jjacques opened, led to a rebirth, of sorts. Known for its fresh oysters and seafood tower, jjacques has added caviar (transmontanus, osciètre, kristal, and béluga impérial), which can be enjoyed on its own or with blinis and a sour chive crème.
Warm olives, shrimp cocktail, and blini with salmon gravlax are offered as small snacks, but the true delights can be found on the To Share portion of the menu.
I’m drawn to the pomme de terre amarosa; potatoes are parboiled, smashed and deep fried, then tossed in parmesan oil, served on a generous smearing of herb mayonnaise, and a sprinkle of salmon roe. It’s as though someone said “I want fries, but make them bougie”, and I am 100% onboard with the results.
The potatoes have crispy edges with soft centres, the herbed mayonnaise is smooth and a little tangy, and the salmon roe adds a pop of tartness. I want to lick the plate clean, but I am trying to look like a sophisticated lady who dines with grace (which is so far from the truth, it’s laughable).
The burrata with heirloom tomatoes, gran gusto ham, and greens tossed with balsamic is good, but it’s the halibut ceviche that grabs our attention next. Served on a rimmed white plate, the slivers of halibut are coated in a juniper sour cream with mint and cucumber and decorated with thin slices of jalapeño. If my dining companion could choose one dish to eat for the rest of his life, I think this would be the one.
We both swoon at first bite and eat slowly, neither of us wanting the experience to end. Perhaps it’s the alcohol, but when we’re in a taxi later in the evening, this is the dish my friend cannot stop talking about.
The cocktail menu at jjacques, created by Frédéric Pouliot, features 15 different cocktails – including classics like Moscow mule, old fashion, negroni, and gin fizz. The cocktails are elegant, clean, and sumptuous.
Earlier this year, jjacques was named as one of Canada’s 50 Best Bars, the only bar in Quebec City to make the list. At the time, I was surprised, now, however, I understand its inclusion.
Seated at the bar, directly in front of Frank the bartender (sorry, Frank, this is your name now), gives us a glimpse into the night’s popular cocktails – gin fizz and Moscow mules.
After my champagne, I drive Frank crazy trying to decide what I want to drink next. In the end, I’m given a cognac-based manhattan. Its amber colouring and slightly bitter taste are soothing and I quickly forget the name of the cocktail. Next up, a brass monkey (rum with orange juice), at least I think that’s what it’s called – it was hard to hear over the music and conversations around us.
Next up, oyster shots, which arrive nestled in an ice-packed ceramic dish with large scalloped edges that make it look like an open clam shell. Slices of lemon, split and twisted, are perched to the side of each shot of Belvedere Smogóry Forest vodka, and fresh oysters with a small dollop of transmontanus caviar resting in front of each glass. It’s an impressive presentation compared to 2019’s version when an oyster was placed on top of a shot glass, and you had to ask for a lemon wedge.
I admit, I wasn’t paying attention to cocktail names, I had come to jjacques to enjoy myself, despite my friend implying I was working – I was not, but as I am now rewriting my original review from 2019, I guess I was, in fact, working.
There was a pink drink that was sweet with a green leaf on top, and then the cocktail in a low ball with a large ice cube that Frank the bartender embossed with “jj” – that was cool, more bartenders need to brand ice. Towards the end of the night, we order tequila, which comes in a low ball with branded ice, and after I have sipped mine, my friend slides me what remains of his drink.
will i go back to jjacques?
Absolutely. While the vibe is the same as it was on my first visit, there are several foods and cocktails I want to try.
Sitting in front of Frank the bartender is dangerous; he’s attentive and charming, and it’s easy to indulge more than you planned.
Personally, I need more amarosa potatoes. I also need to try the mushroom toast, and raviolis à la ricotta. If I can find a friend to join me, I’d love to try the 32oz t-bone steak as well – finding a great steak in Quebec City can be a challenge at times.
I saw poor Frank the bartender (now I am overdoing it, I know) make a lot of gin fizz (fizzes? fizzies?) and Moscow mules, so naturally, I will order those. Knowing my luck, I will have a different bartender on my next visit. I’m sure they are just as good, though. Still, Frank was fun.
go to jjacques!
One of the most important things to know about going to jjacques is that you need to make a reservation. It’s a popular spot, especially after its inclusion in Canada’s 50 Best Bars 2022.
where: 341 rue notre-dame-des-anges • saint-roch • 581-491-3286 • jjacques.ca • open: mon 17h30 – 03h, wed-sun 17h30 – 03h • price range: $$ – $$$$
disclaimer: the opinions in this review are entirely my own. The staff at JJacques did not know I would be reviewing the restaurant, and aside from the round of shots at the end of our meal, nothing was comped.