In the beginning, Vincent Ma just wanted to introduce Taiwanese bubble tea to Montrealers.
But within a few years after its 2016 opening, MajesThé had grown so successful that it needed to expand, the young restaurant owner says.
Ma announced its relocation in May of 2018, and the following year (on May, 20, 2019 — three years, to the day, after opening the dessert and bubble tea shop on Président-Kennedy Avenue) he re-opened it in a bright, photogenic two-storey venue on Robert Bourassa Boulevard at Sherbrooke Street.
The new venue was a whopping eight times larger than the restaurant’s original location, so Ma gave it two identities: He turned the 66-seat upper level into an all-day bistro, allocating the roomy downstairs to weekend speakeasies.
The focus for both weekday and weekend operations is from-scratch Asian fusion food with Taiwanese roots.
“Taiwan is an island where we have different foods from different places,” Ma says. “We’re positioning ourselves as fusion, but in reality, Taiwanese food is fusion already.”
The entire team at MajesThé — McGill physics PhD candidate and bar manager Jimmy Hsu, front-of-house manager Ryan Kam, Lasalle College-trained chef Billy Su, and Ma himself — are all under-30 Taiwanese expats who initially came to Canada to study as teenagers. They’re now united in sharing the goal of popularizing the food (and food-obsession) of their homeland.
A former student of financial mathematics at University of Waterloo, Ma trained in Vancouver and Taiwan to learn the ropes before opening up his first bubble tea venture on President Kennedy in 2016.
But even with his formal training, he admits that the learning curve was steep when the two-floor space on Robert Bourassa near McGill University became available. Ma and his team had to learn the ins and outs of running a full-scale restaurant on-the-job, including how to make the menu flow (finding the perfect mix of cold and hot dishes, plus some combos); that a dedicated milk frother is the only way to make their matcha lattes taste just right; and that their wildly popular fried chicken dishes would necessitate three fryers instead of one to keep up with demand.
The upstairs bistro menu features Asian-leaning salads, bao filled with pork belly, karaage, or fried tofu, miso soup with homemade fish stock, Japanese curry — made fresh four times a day — kimchi noodles, popcorn chicken, and marinated salmon rice bowls. And, of course, artisanally-crafted bubble tea and homemade desserts like brown sugar panna cotta with bubble tea pearls and matcha crème brulée are all made in-house.
At the weekend-only speakeasy downstairs, bar manager Hsu offers up bubble-tea inspired drinks like Crown Jewel (whiskey, orange zest, bitters, and homemade winter melon syrup), Asian riffs on cocktails like Lavendary, a Pisco-sour-ish drink made with a house-made lavender syrup, and a range of Asian and local beers.
The 124-seat space offers a different food menu than the upstairs: three-cup chicken, Chef Su’s mother’s recipe for the Taiwanese signature dish with garlic, basil, soy, and ginger; traditional Taiwanese beef soup with chunks of melt-in-your-mouth daikon radish; yuzu chicken sliders; and a range of skewers that will keep vegetarians and carnivores alike happy.
“We want MajesThé to convey the warmth, quality, freshness, and quick service you find in Taiwan,” Ma says. “We make everything ourselves, from the bubble tea sugar syrup to our miso soup stock, the marinades for our chicken dishes, and the Japanese curry sauce.”
“We don’t pre-fry our food,” he adds. “It might take a bit more time, but we think we’ve found a balance between from-scratch and meeting the needs of our clientele for a quick meal that they can linger over if they want.”
As MajesThé moves into its second year, Ma is contemplating the next opportunity.
“Fried chicken,” he says with a gleam in his eye. “There’s no dedicated Taiwanese fried chicken counter in town yet. That might just be our next project.”
- Le MajesThé Brews Bubble Teas, Brunch, and Desserts Downtown [EMTL]
- Le MajesThé [Official]