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How Many People Are Defending The Montreal Robuchon Restaurant’s Huge Public Pricetag?

Not many, it seems

Joël Robuchon during his time in Quebec for L’Atelier’s opening
L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon

After the apparent confirmation from Quebec finance minister Carlos Leitão last week that the Quebec government’s gambling agency spent $11 million on Joël Robuchon’s Montreal Casino restaurant, the public reaction seems to have been overwhelmingly negative.

The restaurant — L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon — opened in December in the casino on Île Notre-Dame, but Loto-Québec, which runs all casinos in the province of Quebec, was tight-lipped about the finances of the operation. Only small nuggets of information leaked out about how much was spent on the restaurant, until a debate in Quebec’s National Assembly last week led to that $11 million figure being dropped.

Earlier on, the Robuchon project found at least some media support — Journal de Montréal columnist and bête noire Sophie Durocher approved, calling Robuchon a “rock star”, and the Montreal Gazette also had a positive take from Kevin Tierney. Similar takes have been hard to come by in recent days: Journal columnist Lise Ravary wrote that the purpose of the restaurant seems to have been to bring a brand to Montreal — an “international flavour of bling”, in her words.

The Montreal Gazette wasn’t quite as harsh, but by publishing a list of L’Atelier’s menu prices and offering a list of alternative restaurants, Francois Lauzon hardly offered a ringing endorsement. For the record, the Gazette’s non-Robuchon dining tips included Joe Beef, Toqué!, Au Pied de Cochon, and Park.

Meanwhile, the French arm of Canada’s public broadcaster, Radio-Canada, invited Montreal Gazette critic Lesley Chesterman onto national culinary show On n’est pas sorti de l’auberge, giving her a solid 12 minutes to tear into the government and Loto-Québec for not giving local chefs an opportunity like Robuchon — by way of support for Robuchon, host Francis Reddy highlighted the Montreal Symphony Orchestra’s totally non-controversial hiring of a non-local conductor, Kent Nagano, implying an overreaction to the Robuchon restaurant.

Of course, what would a piece on outraged reactions be without turning to social media? The general public seem displeased.

As do prominent dining scene figures.

Quebec Liberal politicians have been quiet about the affair, but politicians outside the party aren’t happy, from the Parti Québécois, whose critic for agriculture and food said Carlos Leitão’s suggestion that Quebec’s chefs weren’t appealing enough was “unbelievable”... the second opposition party, the Coalition Avenir Québec, demanding details on the money spent on the restaurant... Montreal municipal politicians, seemingly concerned about Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre’s support for the restaurant.

Relatively few came out to defend the restaurant and its pricetag, but those who did pointed mostly to Robuchon’s very high international profile.

Over on the Montreal Reddit channel, the arguments (again, mostly against the restaurant) got a little deeper. Some key quotes:

Nothing unique to offer at all. Not only that, but there was already one in NYC (in the Four Seasons) several years ago that didn't make it, and was pitched to their then already-aging clientele. The one now is a re-opening, and it's a brand that hasn't been "hip" in any sense of the word for a decade plus.

Leitao is the accountable politician. Loto Québec reports to his ministry. Had he wanted, he could have put pressure to stop this ridiculous idea. Instead, he's defending it.

There were also interesting (although untested) claims from one poster who claimed to have worked at the casino.

After working there for several years, I can attest that 90% + are from in & around Montreal . Regulars who walk in with a set amount to spend, kind of like ppl just hanging out at a mall. It's a localized place, secure, with all the free coffee & soft drinks you can drink. The restaurants (up on the 5th floor) are barely scraping by ; presumably overpriced food & mismanaged (waiting lists & queues from 5-7 on busy nights)

The real focus is on the regular high rollers, that have their own section.

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