The Sparrow, Montreal, Chef Marc Cohen, Co-owners, Ethan Wills, Restaurant, British, English, Gastropub, Mile End, Where to eat in Montreal, Montreal Recommendations, Canada, Quebec, QC H2T1S1


Mile End - Montreal, QC - Canada

Q & A with Marc Cohen & Ethan Wills

Chef/co-owner Marc Cohen

Co-owner Ethan Wills

Q. How do you feel about the term gastropub?

A. Marc: It's a strange term. Pubs have always served food, so to me, a pub where you can eat, is just a pub. I suppose ‘gastropub’ just suggests the offerings are a little more than frozen fries and overcooked burgers. It's a shame we need the designation, but I guess we do. I don't really think of the Sparrow as a gastropub; it's a restaurant during the day, and a bar at night.

Ethan: I like the concept in theory, but I don't like the term. Regardless, it doesn't apply to what we do. (And it's an especially unfortunate term locally, as ‘gastro’ is used in French vernacular as short-hand for any kind of gastro-intestinal distress or food poisoning. Best to avoid the term altogether).

Q. It took a while for you to get your liquor license. How did this waiting period change your focus for food and drink?

A. Ethan: The bar and restaurant are run by separate groups and have separate ownership. Our customers had to drink juice at lunch for the first six months we were open, but other than that things didn't change much after the bar got its license.

Q. What items on your menu are your favorite to cook and to eat?

A. Marc: I like cooking with some of the traditionally cheaper cuts of meat. It's very satisfying to produce a good meal out of something that often gets overlooked. Lamb breast is a good example - butchers will barely make you pay for it as no one really wants it. But with a bit of trimming and a few hours in the oven, you have yourself a real treat.

I guess I like cooking and eating everything on the menu, otherwise it wouldn't be on the menu. Probably the most challenging (and most satisfying) thing we cook on a regular basis is scrambled eggs. It requires so much care and attention and there are so many ways you can go wrong.

Q. You both worked in London and New York, how does the Montreal culinary scene differ?

A. Marc: Putting aside for a moment the financial situation, the London culinary scene is in great shape and I think you can eat better in London now than you ever could in the past. Some of the best chefs in the world are cooking in London. One of the nice things here is that if a restaurant is doing something good, it will almost certainly get the recognition it deserves. Sometimes places here do get overhyped very quickly for the same reason, but I guess that's the tradeoff.

In London, it seems that in order for a restaurant to get any kind of publicity or recognition the chef has to have appeared on TV. The other big difference I notice is that London seems to be a lot more sure of itself. So many places here seem to have a ‘thing,’ some kind of gimmick to set them apart from the rest. To me that seems like a function of either insecurity or immaturity.

Q. What is your least favorite new culinary trend?

A. Marc: The micro-green is up there for its irritating knack of making everything look pseudo-fancy. Some of the varieties taste of nothing which renders them pointless. Others taste quite strongly, but are used with zero discretion.

On balance though, I'll have to go for the ‘menu of short stories.’ I don't need to be told that every other component is home-made. In fact, I would assume most things are home-made given that I'm in a restaurant where people are employed to spend all day ‘at home’ making things. If I want to know which farm my meal was reared on, I will ask and I don't need to be warned of any emulsions, foams or powders that might grace my plate; they are not deal breakers. And I don't need a list of each ingredient used since I'm dining at the restaurant and presumably won't need the recipe. All you really need on a menu are the main ingredients and maybe a cooking method if it’s appropriate. If the dish has an established name, that's ideal. Just write the name on the menu. Just the name. Not the name of the restaurant and then the name. Not the name in inverted commas. Just the name.

Ethan: Have the pride to put your dish out there as a whole and let it succeed on merit. Ingredients should be there to serve the dish not because they look impressive in print. These menus look so self-congratulatory it's like reading someone's Facebook page. I don't care to know what an impeccable curator of ingredients you are - you should be using quality ingredients because they are appropriate to the dish, they taste better and are better for everyone, not to feed your ego and the egos of the foodie-sycophants who lap this pretentiousness up. Do things the right way, shut the fuck up about it, and you will raise the bar for everyone, because you won't be alienating people who are new to learning about food and dining. Everyone will begin to appreciate better quality food and demand it. Adopting an air of superiority is just counter-productive to the goal of getting everyone to eat better.

Q. Is there something you always keep in stock (gadget or ingredient) that you would advise a home cook to stock?

A. Marc: Basic things that we always have and use every day include: mustard, olive oil, garlic, anchovies, capers, cornichons, duck fat, parmesan, wine, bacon, shallots, stock, eggs, chocolate, cream, butter, lemons. I could go on....

Chef’s Recs | London

Eat | Restaurants

St John Restaurant | Fergus Henderson

He has inspired a generation of restaurants and chefs to cook honest food; using great (seasonal) produce, well reared animals, and not messing around with it too much is what food in England is all about now and St John is really what started the revolution.

Chef’s Recs | Montreal

Find | Purveyors

We are lucky to have found some really great suppliers to work with.

Mamie Clafoutis

They make some of the best bread I have eaten anywhere.

Fromagerie St Fidele

They supply us with excellent butter.

Beurrerie du Patrimoine

They produce great milk and cream among other things. They run a relatively small, organic operation and you can really tell. They don't mess around with their products so milk and cream are not brilliant white and they won't last three weeks in the fridge. But having cream that tastes of cream is a rarity these days that's definitely worth paying for.

Porcerie Ardennes

They supply our pork. Commercial pig farmers tend to do whatever they can to raise their animals as quickly and as leanly as possible. Supermarket shoppers are still scared of fat and being lean is a successful selling point. It also generally means less taste and a tendency for the meat to dry out. The pigs we get from Porcherie Ardennes are bred properly over a longer period of time and have significantly more fat on them which is nearly always beneficial when it comes to cooking. They are also reared humanely, which is important to us.

Ferme Nordest

For top quality, free-range, ‘almost organic’ beef. (They are still waiting for their organic certification).


In the summer we get the majority of our fruit and veg from them. Everything they grow is top quality and again it’s a fairly small company. I like being able to speak directly to the person responsible for growing, rearing, or making the product that I'm buying. It's great that we're able to have that with nearly all of our suppliers.

Drink | Coffee

Cafe Myriade

They provide us with our espresso and answers to our constant barrage of questions. We take our coffee service very seriously here and they are an amazing resource. The owner, Anthony, is one of the top baristas in the country and a great person. 


Details of Marc Cohen and Ethan Wills’ recommendations on where to eat and shop in Montreal and Quebec.

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The Sparrow [Closed]

Mile End

Eclectic / Comfort Food

5322 Boulevard Saint-Laurent

Montréal, Qc H2T 1S1

T: 514.690.3964



Wed - Fri: 12pm - 3pm

Sat - Sun:  10am - 3pm


Tue - Fri: 5pm - 3am

Sat - Sun: 6pm - 3am



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