The food critic for the Gazette has filed some raves of late — fulsome write-ups on restaurants as diverse as Le Mousso, Hoogan & Beaufort, and Ferreira. Each came up trumps with Lesley Chesterman, but all a tantalizing half-star short of four stars. (Sad!) Chesterman seldom awards her version of a perfect score; the last time she did so was for Joe Beef in the summer of 2011. This week, however, L'Express, Chesterman's "favourite Montreal restaurant", manages the impressive feat.
For the critic's faithful readers, and social media followers, the news may not come as a surprise. Chesterman dines at L'Express on off-review-nights now and then (her go-to order is the quail with wild rice). But as much as Chesterman has professed her love for the city's bellwether bistro, it's the first time she's given L'Express all the stars. The last time the restaurant was judged by the Gazette critic, in 2011, the verdict was a respectable three stars. Back then Chesterman concluded her review with this: "Sure, L'Express gets its share of tacky tourists and unfashionable locals. But it also provides a sort of restaurant theatre unmatched in the city. There's a reason all those visiting foodies love the place. More than any other restaurant, L'Express offers an authentic flavour of the purest French Montreal."
Chesterman picks up where she left off in her latest review of the Plateau standby. With a new chef in place — Jean-François Vachon, whose food Chesterman last loved at Thursday's — and even after the untimely death of co-owner Colette Brossoit, L'Express is still, well, L'Express: "I’ve dined here a half-dozen times since, and I’m happy to report this St-Denis landmark is back on track. In fact, the food has never been better." About that food. The critic extols classic starters like leeks vinaigrette, rillettes, the "bracingly bitter" sorrel soup, and "lush and deeply flavoured" fish soup. Standards like onglet-frites, Toulouse sausages, and that trusty quail dish deserve a look, but have a gander at specials like duck macaroni, and radicchio risotto, Chesterman counsels. "All terrific."
There are some very minor quibbles with a couple of L'Express's desserts, but Chesterman "would highly recommend the caramelized apple tart topped with vanilla bean ice cream, the maple profiteroles, the apple and blueberry crumble, or the simple chocolate tart." Kudos too, to partner Mario Brossoit's incredibly deep wine list, "arguably the best in the city." Don't take L'Express for granted, the four-star rave concludes. "A recent list of Canada’s 100 best restaurants was released last March, and the fact that L’Express wasn’t included discredited the entire operation for me (...)."
For an incomparable look behind the scenes at L'Express, revisit an interview with the restaurant's veteran barman, Claude Masson.