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Le Central:

The Food Halls Have Arrived


Disclaimer: Although I possessed a media name tag for Le Central's official opening – which was open to the public – all food kiosks were visited anonymously and paid in full.

The Pitch

This week marks the unveiling of Montreal's first official food hall – a gourmet, less chain-y version of a food court.  Although the Queen Elizabeth's Artisans, the Bell Centre's M2 Marché and Rockland's La Cuisine have already opened over the last two years, all three of those do not technically quality as food halls.

Today, the centrally-located Le Central has opened its doors at the corner of Saint-Laurent Boulevard and Sainte-Catherine Street, an intersection which has come a long way from its seedy past thanks to urban renewal.  The inauguration took form of a celebratory 5 à 7 on this torrential Tuesday evening – luckily the venue is steps away from the Saint-Laurent subway station.

tagged:  5 À 7 STEPS FROM METRO

The Mood

Backed by La société de développement Angus (SDA) and entertainment agency La Tribu, Le Central squeezes 25 kiosks into the new Carré Saint-Laurent development.  The layout, consisting of two narrow pathways leading to a modest-sized sitting area, lacks the wide open space characteristic of most food halls.

Booths are customized and decorated with significant branding; probably meaning the occupants are here to stay with no goal of replacement.  The launch party was a busy affair involving a large turnout; lineups formed at most food stands and empty seating was not readily available.


The Food

Food Image

The selection of restaurants reflects Montreal's ethnic and culinary diversity.  Italian, Portuguese, Asian, Indian, Moroccan as well as Quebecois specialties are offered next to popular items such as burgers, tacos, ramen, poke and a slew of desserts.  Tenants mostly consist of second locations for established brands such as Pintxo, Heirloom Pizzeria and Trou de Beigne along with a handful of original concepts.

Food aside, The Standard will satiate coffee seekers while the West Shefford Pub is there for your beer and cocktail needs.  I particularly enjoyed the possibility of carrying my plates from the food zone to pair it up with the great assortment of Bromont-area micro-brewed beers.

Kua Mee Noodles from Thip Thip thumbnail (click to enlarge)



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Kua Mee Noodles from Thip Thip

A Laotian stir-fry reminiscent of pad thai had a sweet/savoury flavour profile but alas used undercooked rice noodles.

Laab Lao Salad from Thip Thip thumbnail (click to enlarge)



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Laab Lao Salad from Thip Thip

Fragrant slices of beef and mint leaves brought life to this bold, refreshing, but excessively-salted salad.

Chicken Schnitzel Poutine from Le Gras Dur thumbnail (click to enlarge)



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Chicken Schnitzel Poutine from Le Gras Dur

I had to hit up the folks behind my favorite food truck, the Schnitzel Truck.  Somehow, the chicken was a tad dry but the rest of the poutine elements were solid.

tagged:  FOCUS ON BEER

The Service

With regards to pace and flow, I found that the stands situated along the narrower passages were causing congestion as even a small lineup was enough to partially block the path.

Next up, there were significant delays in getting food out; at one kiosk, I had to wait close to twenty minutes with only a handful of diners ahead of me.  Granted, the fare requires more prep time than your typical fast food operation; still, I can't picture this being viable during a lunch rush.


The Verdict

While my recap above does contain a handful of gripes, I am still excited over this new concept for Montreal.  The execution misses with the food and longer-than-ideal waits should get sorted out once everyone gets into their groove; after all, this is opening night!

With that said, adding 25 dining options to an already-dense area is risky and may cause cannibalism due to oversupply – think two pizzerias and two poke shops in the same space!  Finally, with two more food halls to open this fall – Eaton Centre's Time Out Market and Place Ville Marie's Le Cathcart – the competition is only getting stiffer…

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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.

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