Montreal's recent bumper crop of auspicious, chef-driven restaurants—Montréal Plaza, Candide, Foxy, Hoogan & Beaufort, M.Mme, Petite Maison, and more—has proven that grit can triumph over gloom in a city with its fair share of carpers and cynics.
And restaurants too. A year ago some predicted that 2015 would herald austerity measures, and, more ominously, a culling (one industry insider forecasted, somewhat horrifically, "a bloodbath"). That never happened, however, and the tagline "Montreal has so many restaurants" has been replaced by "Montreal has so many compelling new restaurants." Kitchens will close, to be sure, but voyons donc!, just look at all the cool restaurants on the horizon.
Location: 9 Fairmount Est, Mile End
Major Players: Lawrence
The Story: Rejoice, the bygone Café Sardine is vacant no more. Not only that—the space has been taken over, and made over, by Sefi Amir, Marc Cohen, Annika Krausz, and Ethan Wills, the crack team behind Lawrence, and Boucherie Lawrence. Here's Wills with the lowdown on Larrys (no apostrophe): "The space became available at a time when it didn't seem like an insane idea for us to try to open something new, so we did. Larrys will be a venue in which people can explore elements of what we do at Lawrence in greater depth — be it coffee, beer, bread and butter, Joy Division, or pickled fish. I think there is solid attention to detail at Lawrence, and sometimes you want to engage with those details outside of the format of a three-course-meal. I mean, I hope people do." Larrys will feature a discreet menu, with "more beer, better coffee, a better sound system and weirder wine" than Lawrence, and will be open from early morning until late at night. "People can make of it what they will. We'll see what that is and embrace it," says Wills, who expects Larrys to open in early February. Update: Larrys is now open.
L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon
Location: Casino de Montréal
Major Players: Joël Robuchon
The Story: In a coup of coups, Loto-Québec announced last April that it had lured Robuchon, the widely-proclaimed Chef of the (last) Century, to open a Montreal version of his Michelin-decorated L'Atelier concept on Île Notre-Dame, at the casino. Like others in Paris, London, Hong Kong, and Las Vegas, L'Atelier à Montréal will sport a vast open-plan kitchen and a 70-seat wraparound bar. Chef Éric Gonzalez, late of Casino de Mont-Tremblant, is in as chef, and the restaurant is expected to open this fall.
Location: 1211 Bishop
Major Players: Kinka Family restaurant group
The Story: Months after two successful pop-ups at Kinka Izakaya in the Faubourg, Kinton, the wildly popular Toronto ramen pioneer, will open a Montreal branch downtown (a hop, skip, and a slurp from other ramen shops like Misoya, Nakamishi, and Ichifuku). The Japanese soup peddler, originally an offshoot of Vancouver's Guu izakaya, but now under the aegis of the Kinka Family restaurant group, took Toronto by storm in 2012 with noodles custom-made from Alberta flour, collagen-rich broths, and Japanese-imported kitchen gizmos and knowhow. Kinton now operates five ramen restaurants in Toronto, all managed by Nobuaki "Aki" Urata (pictured), who learned the ramen trade in Japan as a teenager, before moving to Canada. Urata went on to graduate from George Brown College, and worked at Vancouver's influential Kintaro for seven years.
Major Players: chefs Aaron Langille and Kyle Croutch
The Story: At Le Diplomate, Langille, the former chef at Orange Rouge and Sardine, wants "the freedom to work with all ingredients and all techniques, including Japanese and Chinese. But a terroir menu is not out of the question either. It's fun to mix it up." The intimate 20-seater will be casual and relaxed, with a set menu, and bistronomie spirit. "A bit like Chateaubriand in Paris but with prices tailored to the Montreal market." After nine months of holding his lease, and playing the typical Montreal waiting game, Langille hopes to finally open sometime next month.
Location: Amherst, in the Village
Major Players: Jen Agg, Roland Jean, Régine Chassagne, Win Butler
The Story: The couple behind Montreal's Arcade Fire joins forces with the couple behind Toronto's The Black Hoof, Rhum Corner, and Cocktail Bar. The Globe and Mail broke the blockbuster news last May with this vital intel: "Featuring Haitian cuisine, music and visual arts, the space will build on the cultural advocacy work that Chassagne and Butler have demonstrated since Montreal-based Arcade Fire started raising funds for Haiti in 2005. For Agg and the Haitian-born Jean (who is also a painter), it will be a chance to take their signature, convivial restaurant style beyond Toronto’s Dundas Street West." Agrikol has been plagued by delays, but the wait should be worth it: Agg and Jean are deft at creating moods and spaces that draw people in, and it's well-established that DJ Windows 98 knows how to throw a good party.
Oliver & Bonacini at Hôtel Mount Stephen
Location: Golden Square Mile, Downtown
Major Players: Toronto's Oliver & Bonacini restaurant group
The Story: The co-owner of Montreal's historic Mount Stephen Club confirmed last November that Oliver & Bonacini—the Toronto restaurant group behind Canoe, Bannock, Luma, and others—would helm food and beverage once the property completed its boutique hotel makeover this April or May. "Oliver & Bonacini does an incredible job in Toronto. We started talking to them over a year and a half ago," said Mike Yuval. The developer purchased the venerable George Stephen House, a National Historic Site, a decade ago with Jack Sofer, his business partner in Tidan Inc., a real estate and hospitality group. "We invested a lot of money to refurbish the architecture, improve the heating, add air conditioning, and so on," added Yuval. "Then three years ago we made a decision to turn the outdoor parking lot in the back into a boutique hotel with 90 rooms." Hôtel Mount Stephen will operate under the Leading Hotels of the World banner. Andrew Oliver, Oliver & Bonacini president, told Eater that "O&B is excited to partner with Tidan Inc. on Hôtel Mount Stephen, and be involved in Montreal’s amazing dining scene. As with any project as large as this, we’re still working through details [i.e. the restaurant's name] and will share more information in the near future."
Location: 417 Notre-Dame Ouest, Old Montreal
Major Players: Richard and Jérémie Bastien, of Leméac
The Story: A full two and a half years after it was announced, Monarque is almost here. Bastien père et fils will open a "Gramercy Tavern-style" restaurant in the Penny Lane/Projet Europa development, in a space they themselves have purchased. The project was beset by holdups from the start, but is now slated for March. Bonus: Monarque will be twice as large as originally planned, with a bar area that seats 65 to 70, and a main dining room that seats 100. Two separate kitchens will serve the entire restaurant. Brace, Old Montreal, brace.