Following a year that saw two longstanding, old school bistro closings in Le Paris-Beurre and Le Continental, we were left wondering if such would be the fate of other landmarks in the face of the never-ending streak of trendier and edgier restaurant openings taking place all over town. It was in that nostalgic state of mind that we decided to revisit the 35-year-old L'Express in the heart of the Plateau.
The narrow, elongated dining space was full and bustling (as always) when the competition along this stretch of Saint-Denis was deserted on a Tuesday night. The interior and overall ambiance screams old world Parisian bistro with its tiled flooring, dull lighting and white tablecloths (remember those?).
The menu at L'Express, handwritten in charming cursive script, reads like a study in bistro essentials. Rarely can you find a menu in town that covers this wide a gamut of French classics. The dish descriptions are short, to the point and devoid of annoying buzz words like deconstructed, local, grass fed, etc. Finally, the wine list is extensive and diverse, with several affordable and organic options.
We find it nearly impossible not to order this soup when it's on a menu during winter. This one was hot and tasty and hit all the right spots. The toasted cheesy baguette slices needed a little more crunch, but the accompanying rouille helped overlook this detail.
Believe it or not, this omnipresent bistro staple could cost you up to 10 euros back in France! Well, it's literally a hardboiled egg (and a half here), topped with homemade mayo. Granted, there was a hint of turmeric to add a little zing, but this is still a silly, boring dish.
While the presentation was pleasing and the execution excellent, the dish was generally unremarkable. The octopus was delicately tender and the lentils had a good soft bite to them. And although we did appreciate the brine from the olives, the simple vinaigrette did not deliver any excitement.
THE quintessential French family dish. This version had fall-off-the-bone beef shank, marrowbone and chicken drumstick (hidden in picture) along with an assortment of veggies swimming in a standard bouquet garni laced broth. The flavours were mellow but everything was just expertly cooked.
Another French classic, L'Express is actually known for this hanger steak. The beef was cooked perfectly and had a nice seared crust; however, the herbed butter failed to impress. The fries shined with a soft interior and crunchy exterior, which we absolutely loved.
French bistros are notorious for their apathetic, borderline rude service. At L'Express the waiters strike a delicate balance between indifference and overly attentive; ours was professional, helpful and distant (in a good way). We did enjoy all the little extras, from the pickle jar and dijon mustard brought at the beginning to the little salt bowl accompanying the pot-au-feu; the devil is in those details.
tagged: LOVE THE ATTENTION
At the end of the day, L'Express is probably the closest thing you can get to an old school, top-notch Paris bistro this side of the world. It's not about trends and fads but about tradition, savoir-faire and recreating an experience. There's a reason it recently made Canada's 100 Best Restaurants list. Its peers may be slowly dying off, but L'Express is here to stay.
Price per person: $35.80
"You scum eating maggot, leave those good people alone."
Montreal restaurant and bar reviews brought to you by two regular guys who like to eat and drink. We will go anywhere and we will say it like it is.