MTL Resto: Laurea

Immediately after the whole Laurier Gordon Ramsay fiasco came to an abrupt end and led to a several-million dollar lawsuit, rumors swir...

Immediately after the whole Laurier Gordon Ramsay fiasco came to an abrupt end and led to a several-million dollar lawsuit, rumors swirled as to what would become of the space that had housed the iconic Laurier BBQ for decades. For a good long while (in restaurant time), the façade of the building gave nothing away other than a new concept was coming and, along with it, pressure on the new owners to make a go of the famous room once and for all.

Enter the powerhouse team of Jeff Stinco, Eric Le François, and Cindy Simard, each with an impressive resume of successful establishments: Mangiafoco, Shinji, Edgar Hyperlodge and Hypertaverne, Drinkerie, Philemon, Chez Victoire, and Rachel Rachel, to name the most well-known. They named the new spot Laurea (Latin for Laurier), and raised the bar high with the goal of re-institutionalizing the address, a task that took almost a year to finalize.

When all was said and done, the kitchen lead went to chef and partner Hakim Chajar, whose fresh, simple, yet colorful menu defies categorization of any kind; rather, he looks to both his travels and mentors for inspiration. This was apparent from the course composition at a recent media tasting, and the results we had the pleasure of sampling, (with wine pairings signed off by sommelier Jean-Benoit Hinse and Frédéric Fortin) indicate how very well guided he was.

The evening started on the ground floor, an inviting meeting place complete with a sleek bar and pockets of seating that lend a ‘lobby lounge’ vibe to the space. 

Our welcome cocktail, the Laurea Magistrale, was a bright and refreshing concoction of Ungava gin, Campari, simple syrup, grapefruit, and soda. Sipping this bar-side while throwing back platters of oysters and mingling with fellow writers and editors made for a lively apéro, and piqued our anticipation for dinner.

From there it was up to the second floor, where seating for 100 is divided among several very different sub-sections, namely the dining area in front of a spacious main kitchen that opens onto the restaurant, another bar, intimate chef’s table tucked out of sight and, most unique, an interior courtyard complete with retractable roof!  As an aside, though this level was so underutilized during the Laurier BBQ days that many people didn’t even know it was there, I can recall my grade six class occupying a long table for our graduation dinner!

Happily settled in the courtyard, we took in the first course of a block of creamy foie gras served  with a medley of quince, almonds, fennel and toasted brioche.  Served with a 2003 Vouvray, Clos Baglin 1er Trie, the starter was delicate palate-pleaser that nicely opened our appetite for more.

From France to Japan, next up was hamachi, artfully presented in a narrow strip with plum, endamame, seaweed and shizo. The dish itself was beautiful and most of elements worked except the plum, which for some reason imparted a dominant bitterness. A 2012 Alsace Riesling did well to counterbalance.

The main consisted of fork-tender veal tenderloin served with celery root, tomato, watercress, and girolle mushrooms. A demi-glace sauce was poured over the veal tableside and, although mine could have used a bit more, it was a nice touch overall. With the only wine country deviation of the evening, we were poured a 2009 Barbaresco that stood up nicely to the savory dish. Overall though, while there was nothing to fault in either taste or execution, we sensed chef Chajar was playing it a tad safe as it lacked a standout feature that would have upped the wow-factor.

The only real miss for me came with dessert, a mélange of a beet emulsion, cut grapefruit, and pistachio ice cream, all topped by a kind of thin sugar wafer. Now, as important as texture is to the savory dishes of a meal, it is equally so with dessert - particularly variations of texture that add interest when you bite into it. Here, everything underneath the wafer was soft and runny, with far too much beet and, again, an off-putting bitterness, this time by the grapefruit.  Sadly, the ice cream was limp and low on delicious pistachio flavor.

On the whole, while very few things didn’t work for us, most of it did, and we ended up thoroughly enjoying our first Laurea experience. Without having had the chance to peruse the full menu, it’s clear that there’s ample ingenuity and originality at work to entice a second visit, and discover more of chef Chajar’s ethno-eclectic style.

After raising a post-dinner flute of bubbly with co-owner Jeff Stinco to toast the success of the new venture, we made our way downstairs and next door to Lorbeer, Laurea’s ‘little brother’, and a décor, concept, and kitchen (not headed by chef Chajar) unto itself. 

More along the line of ‘upscale gastro-pub’ in design, the menu here is brasserie all the way (think hangar steak tartar and pork belly lettuce wraps), with dinner service every evening and lunch Monday to Friday. Did we mention the large terrasse giving right onto Laurier St.?  It’s where many evenings are prolonged over pints and nightcaps after dinner upstairs at Laurea. Now there’s some duo-resto synergy.

"The dream team"

Laurea is open Tue. – Sat., from 5PM
381 Laurier St. W., Montreal
(514) 507-4997
Facebook: RestaurantLaurea
Instagram: restaurantlaurea   


Photos: © Ariel Tarr and James Brittain


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