I had a lot of recommendations from friends to try Restaurant L’Express at 3927 Rue Saint-Denis in Montreal. Everyone had positive things to say about this charming French bistro. And you know what, they were all correct. L’Express looks like what you would expect a typical French bistro to look like. It had a black and white tiled floor, a long bar, waitstaff wearing black or white aprons, jars of cornichons on each table. It really transports you back to Paris. The menu had all the classics like steak and frites, quiche, fish soup, grilled salmon, sorrel soup, foie gras and so on. L’Express opened in 1980 and the menu really hasn’t changed, but who would want it to. You come here for the traditional French fare.
Long time Chef Joël Chapoulie retired after thirty years and it was taken over by Jean-François Vachon. To me, the food is still great.
Upon sitting down, you get a basket of perfect baguette and a bottle of cornichons to enjoy while you peruse the menu. The staff is very friendly and they make some great suggestions if you can’t decide. I found the the food to be authentic, of good quality and reasonably priced. The service is fast and efficient.
We started with a scallop and watermelon special that was good and had a kick to it. The warm goat cheese salad was also delightful. The hanger steak with frite was tasty, especially with a little Dijon mustard. The fries here are excellent – I wish Toronto restaurants could figure out how to make them like this… I think it is not only frying them extra crispy but also the type of potato they use.
My Croque Monsieur was outstanding, fried in lots of butter to a golden brown. For dessert we sampled the lemon tart, which was good but could have been more tart, the apple tart, which could have been better if the crust was crisper, and the chocolate tart – no complaints here.
The place is charming, lively, and, I think, the closest I’ve found to a true Parisian-style bistro in North America. The cuisine is well-crafted – based on creating rich flavours using simple ingredients. It’s a great option for a bite after shopping on Rue Saint-Denis.
On a side note, the construction in this city is an abomination, it is everywhere, and it was sad to see so many establishments that have gone out of business on the street because of it.
L’Express is a Montreal institution – it’s always busy and with good reason – they turn out French classics with consistency, doing around 500 covers a day. It really lives up to its hype. L’Express serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily, opening at 8AM during the week (weekends 10AM), and closing at 2AM every night but Sunday (1AM).