Dining on the edge

Tim Richards gets a taste for a resurgent St Roch, an up-and-coming area of Quebec City.

'If you want to get the true Quebec feeling, you've got to come down to the Lower Town and live with the people. No one's living in the Upper Town inside the walls, it's all tourists."

I'm standing inside Jef Poissonnerie in the St Roch district of Quebec City, talking to owner Jean-Francois (Jeff) Mondou. His poissonnerie, or fish shop, is a slick modern space with stools made from tree trunks, and long glass cases of seafood on ice.

It's a symbol of the resurgence of St Roch, located on the flat area beneath the ever-popular Old Quebec, with its historic, narrow streets and 18th-century walls. St Roch, by comparison, was, until recently, the dodgy part of town, and you'd still think of it as edgy.

"There are lots of different types of people here – poor people, strange people, cool people, workers, businessmen – all getting on together," Jeff says. "It's a nice vibe."

St Roch's gentrified main strip, Rue Saint-Joseph, is dotted with interesting small restaurants and specialist food shops.

One of the newest is the Co-operative Les Grands Rangs, opposite the pretty church of Notre Dame de Jacques Cartier, named after a French explorer and possessing a noticeably crooked steeple.

The grocery shop is stocked with specialist foodstuffs from across the province of Quebec, including Labrador tea jelly, duck confit, marinated quail eggs, smoked trout and la douce folie, a hard sheep's cheese that resembles parmesan.

On the opposite corner within an old brick building is the Cafe de Clocher Penche, literally "cafe of the leaning steeple".

I had dinner here on my first night in the city and was impressed by its relaxed but classy atmosphere. Its menu roams from piglet to blood pudding to salmon tartare, featuring ingredients from the region. Further along the street, I step into William J. Walter, specialist sausage maker.

Behind glass are rows of sausages, the fillings of which range from the tasty (pork, lime and coriander) to the decidedly curious (bison, dark chocolate and port).

Sounds enticing, but for lunch I'm heading to Jeff's hot tip, the eccentrically named L'Affaire Est Ketchup. It's a friendly little bistro decorated in green, with an open kitchen in which chefs are leaping about preparing meals.

The simple lunch menu presents five mains, the prices of which also cover an entree and coffee. Today's selection includes bison sirloin, pork loin and monkfish, but I choose the tagliatelle with bacon and salicorne. Unexpectedly, there are crunchy pistachios scattered through the dish. You can never go wrong with pistachios.

As for the salicorne, I need to Google it on my phone; turns out it's a type of local seaweed. Whatever its origin, it goes well with the bacon. Salty, juicy, and with a hint of the exotic – seems like the taste of St Roch.

THE FACTS

FLY Air Canada flies to Quebec City for $2700 economy  return from Melbourne, aircanada.com.

STAY Hotel Manoir Victoria, 44 Cote du Palais, Quebec City, manoir-victoria.com.
Auberge L'Autre Jardin, 365 Boulevard Charest Est, Quebec City, autrejardin.com.

EAT Jef Poissonnerie, 223 Rue Saint-Joseph Est, jefpoissonnerie.com.
Cooperative Les Grands Rangs, 199 Rue Saint-Joseph Est, facebook.com/lesgrandsrangscoop.
Cafe de Clocher Penche, 203 Rue Saint-Joseph Est, clocherpenche.ca.
William J Walter, 165 Rue Saint-Joseph Est, williamjwalter.com.
L'Affaire Est Ketchup, 46 Rue Saint-Joseph Est, laffaireestketchup.net.

Tim Richards travelled courtesy of the Canadian Tourism Commission.

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