After opening just eight months ago, Le Cathcart is changing course with the launch of Piazza Sociale, a restaurant modelled on Italy’s bustling public squares, on September 22.
Settling beneath Place Ville-Marie’s imposing glass skylight, the sit-down restaurant serving light Italian fare will take over the space previously occupied by the food hall’s three full-service restaurants: Japanese cantine Akio, Pizza del Fornaio, and Mirabel brasserie.
Piazza Sociale will operate within this existing infrastructure, serving cold appetizers, pizza, focaccia, and more hot plates out of the aforementioned kitchens — though all under the direction of Bologna native chef Riccardo Bertonlino, who prior to this had been the executive chef at Ritz Carlton’s famed fine dining locale Maison Boulud for eight years.
Bertonlino is joined by chef Nicholas Giambattisto (formerly Un Po’ Di Piu) and chef Federico Bianchi (formerly Pizzeria Bottega), both of which have been with Le Cathcart since its opening earlier this year, at Mirabel and Pizza del Fornaio, respectively. Together, the three created a menu that features appetizers (including arancini, burrata and veal tartare) ranging from $10 to $20, pastas sitting at the $20-25 mark and meat mains (branzino, porchetta and beef) hovering around $30.
“The idea of creating a public space has been with us since day one. When we first designed Le Cathcart, we already had in mind the idea of a piazza, where you have buildings all around you and you’ve got buskers and restaurants and activity. We thought we could take that even further with this restaurant,” says Alexandre Besnard, co-founder of restaurant and bar group A5 Hospitality, which, along with Sid Lee and Menkès Shooner Dagenais Letourneux, designed Le Cathcart and now operates it.
Reconfiguring the space for Piazza Sociale took just over a month, Besnard says: “But the infrastructure was there, even for decor, we didn’t really have to reinvent much. We’ve added patio lanterns and a few other elements, but the bones were already there.”
The food hall’s east-side counter alley will remain intact, though at the moment only at limited capacity with just five of the usual 12 kiosks running: Dirty Greens salad bar, Korean fried chicken counter Chikin, Canadian burger chain Uniburger, Tulum Taqueria, and Karma Poke are open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. for the downtown lunchtime crowd.
With an expected 12-month lifespan (likely as long as the lease), Piazza Sociale is what Besnard calls “éphémère,” French for pop-up, though he doesn’t quite like that term. “It could end up being longer depending on how things play out,” he adds.
With physical distancing measures in place, the restaurant has set a 250-person capacity cap, which would make it one of the largest full-service, sit-down restaurants in town, and an excellent no-reservations-needed option. Before restaurants were mandated to maintain two metres of distance between clients, the space could have accommodated 1,000 at once.
“When COVID first hit, my partner [Patrick Hétu] and myself were like, ‘We’re lucky; we have one of the largest restaurants in the city and we’ll be able to, at some point, operate okay with the measures in place,” Besnard says. “Even when it comes to the ventilation system, it was built for 15,000 people at the same in that entire building ... I know not everyone feels secure to go right now, but for the people who do, I think we will be at the top of the list. I hope so, at least.”
Le Cathcart — part of a broader revitalization project for Esplanade PVM — opened to the public in January, becoming the third food hall to grace the city in just six months. (Le Central, nearby Place des Arts, opened in September 2019, and Time Out Market, on the top floor of downtown’s Eaton Centre, opened in November 2019.) Felled by the pandemic, the food halls were all forced to close in March until they each reopened in early to mid-July.
For now, Piazza Sociale will be open for lunch and dinner, but as of October may be adding brunch to the lineup.
As of September 22, Piazza Sociale will open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m, Tuesday to Saturday, at 1 Place Ville Marie.
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