With restaurants as well-regarded as Village Vietnamese pub Le Red Tiger and nearby sushi and sake bar Le Blossom on its roster, the Lucky Belly Group is now hoping to leave a mark on Montreal’s hotel scene. This summer, the group will be opening Italian-Japanese restaurant Tiramisu and French-Vietnamese bistro-bar Carla in Chinatown’s upcoming Hôtel Hampton Inn, at the corner of Viger and Saint-Laurent.
“For us, this is a big step up. We are going from some of the smallest-scale restaurants you could think of into the hotel game, but I think we are ready and well-positioned for it,” Dan Pham, the founder of Lucky Belly Group, which he now runs with partners Gabriel Huynh-Lapointe and Patrick Ma, tells Eater. The “small-scale” projects he’s referring to are spots like Chinese fried chicken counter Ho Lee Chix and Laotian snack bar Thip Thip, both in Le Central food hall, and also backed by Lucky Belly Group.
“Big” is the appropriate word here. Tiramisu is poised to accommodate 100 diners in a 3,000-square-foot space on the ground floor of the hotel. For Carla, on a terrasse perched up on the sixth floor of the hotel, those figures are more than doubled. As if that wasn’t enough of an undertaking, the group will also be overseeing the hotel’s banquet halls, where weddings and other events are to be held.
One of Montreal’s most talked-about chefs at the moment, Chanthy Yen — also the executive chef at Parliament Pub & Parlour, the mastermind behind last year’s Cambodian street food pop-up Touk, and a budding cookbook writer — is orchestrating the menu. Having worked in kitchens serving European cuisines of all stripes since the age of 14 (a family-run Italian outfit in Windsor to start and eventually making his way to Spain where he worked, at turns, under acclaimed Catalan chef Ferran Adrià and Andoni Luis Aduriz from two-Michelin-starred Basque restaurant Mugaritz), Yen was the “perfect candidate” to execute the kind of classic, yet creative, approach Lucky Belly Group was after, Pham says.
At Tiramisu, that’s going to translate to the customary round-up of Italian appetizers, pizzas, and pastas, but with a slight Japanese inflection peppered throughout. He hints at sashimi-style crudo; spaghetti al limone, but with fragrant yuzu instead; and a lasagna layered with an unexpected tonkotsu bolognese.
“We are taking the pasta and pizza thing really seriously and we are following all of the rules, but at the same time, we are really known for these out-of-the-box projects that are always Asian,” Pham says. “Opening in Chinatown, in a city that’s as multicultural as Montreal, we thought we needed a twist. But I wouldn’t call it fusion because it’s more like 90 percent Italian and 10 percent Japanese.”
A similar flourish will be given to the French bistro food served at Carla upstairs, Pham explains, but this time, with flavours originating in Vietnam. With the legacy of French colonialism baked into much of what is considered Vietnamese cuisine today, Pham says the group sought to reverse the flow of influence, leaving a Vietnamese imprint on traditional French fare. He describes a French onion soup made with pho broth, and steak frites served with a herby Vietnamese-style chimichurri and a tamarind ketchup.
Carla’s design — jointly conceptualized by the Lucky Belly Group and CAMDI Design (responsible for the entire hotel, with the exception of Tiramisu) — draws from cues similar to its cuisine, with black and white damier flooring, verdant corners, and furniture meant to conjure the French colonial mansions of Vietnam. But, its unfettered view of Old Montreal, to be absorbed between sips of drinks crafted by Montreal cocktail duo Kevin Demers and Sam Kirk (Parliament Pub & Parlour, The Coldroom and El Pequeno), is likely to monopolize the attention.
As for Tiramisu, its design is being handled by Montreal firm MRDK, the same who’s taken care of almost all Lucky Belly group addresses in addition to other notable designs across town, such as Ryu, vinvinvin, and Falafel Yoni. Terrazzo, marble, corduroy, and velvet will deck the space to achieve a look that harkens back to swanky, post-war Italian spaces.
“People don’t expect to have a good time in a hotel restaurant, but hotel owners are finally realizing that if you put a cool restaurant in it more people will come,” Pham says, adding that the goal is to attract both locals and tourists to Chinatown. “We are group of entrepreneurs who all have Asian backgrounds, and that’s one of the reasons we took on the project. It became even more important with COVID and all the anti-Asian hate we were seeing. We want to make something cool that could help Chinatown out,” he says.
- Chef Chanthy Yen’s Quest to Cook for the Cambodian King [EMTL]
- Montreal’s Newest Sake Bar is Blossoming in the Village [EMTL]
- New Vietnamese Star Red Tiger Has All the Ingredients for Success [EMTL]
- Kamehameha is Open in the Village For All Your Hawaiian Snack Needs [EMTL]
Update: April 15, 2021: This article has been updated to reflect the name change of restaurant Carla, which the owners previously planned to call “Caravelle.”