A piece of Montreal food history is resurrecting this spring, with storied Canadian-Chinese restaurant Le Piment Rouge expected to reopen on Beaumont Avenue in Park-Ex.
Hazel Mah, who’s at the helm of the revival, debuted Le Piment Rouge downtown in 1980, first on Metcalfe and then transplanting it into the opulent confines of the historic Windsor building on Peel in 1990, where it remained until closing in 2014. The restaurant stood out for its swank, fine dining approach at a time when Chinese food in the city was largely a takeout or buffet-style affair and was known to cater to downtown’s moneyed business set. Now, Virginia Casale, a spokesperson for the project, hotel concierge, and friend of Mah’s, tells Eater the restaurant is to be reborn — with one notable adjustment.
“There won’t be any glamour here. It’s going to be honest food, done again with as much finesse, but in a simple setting. We don’t have the Windsor ... They won’t need to put the pearls and diamonds on to come,” Casale says.
Le Piment Rouge is headed in a 2,000-square-foot locale on the ground floor of Le 295, a controversial new development from property owner Groupe Montoni, located on the site of the building that housed the former Homemade Kosher Bakery. News of the condo building prompted backlash from local residents in 2019, who called on the city to use the site for social housing in the face of a rise in tenant evictions, rents, and real estate speculation in the neighbourhood.
Historically working class, though rapidly gentrifying, Park-Ex has seen a recent influx of new dining options transforming a culinary make-up that old-school Indian and Greek haunts have long dominated. Among the newer additions are famed chef Normand Laprise’s Beau Mont, pocket-sized wine bar Denise, and Roman-style pizza slinger Segreta — all, like the forthcoming Le Piment Rouge, on Beaumont Avenue. South of the street is MIL, the new science campus that Université de Montréal inaugurated in 2019, widely considered a harbinger of gentrification in the area.
With the reboot, Casale says the goal is for something more understated and affordable — “a neighbourhood restaurant” for locals in the surrounding areas and Montrealers nostalgic for Le Piment Rouge’s Sichuan-influenced offering. Diners can expect the restaurant’s signature dishes, including crispy spinach, sesame beef, shrimp on toast, and peanut butter (Hunan) dumplings — the last of which the restaurant has been credited for inventing.
“These [dishes] were her trademarks. People have tried to imitate her so many times, but it’s not the same; something is always missing,” Casale says, adding that some of Le Piment Rouge’s former staff will be returning for the opening, and Mah will be on the ground for “quality control.”
Anyone following Mah’s trajectory will remember this isn’t the first time Le Piment Rouge has been revived. In 2016, more than two years after its shutter, a short-lived spin-off called Piment 2 landed in Old Montreal. Though Mah was reportedly a co-owner in the venture, Casale says it was mainly her nephew’s initiative and that she was living in California at the time.
After witnessing the closures of several beloved institutions in the city during the pandemic, Casale says Mah was motivated to help contribute to rebuilding its scene. “This is the return of a legend,” she adds.
Le Piment Rouge is slated to reopen at 495 Beaumont Avenue in spring 2022.