3927 Rue Saint-Denis (Corner of Roy)
T: +1 514 845 5333
Brief Description: A cute, very French bistro located on the funky Rue Saint-Denis. Affordable prices and traditional food make this a long-time Montréal favourite.
For our first meal in Montréal, I wanted to dine somewhere quintessentially French. Regarded by many as a little piece of Paris in Montréal, L’Express sounded like it would hit the spot. However, finding the restaurant on the busy Rue Saint-Denis proved challenging as the name is only visible by the tiles on the sidewalk that spell “L’Express”. Our next challenge was that we didn’t have a reservation but luck would have it that we were able to get in – quite an achievement on a Saturday night at one of the most popular restaurants in Montréal! We ended up sitting at the bar, facing a mirrored wall that was lined with assorted alcohol bottles and watched whilst this busy bistro teemed with happy diners.
Charming and charismatic with warm lighting, deep maroon coloured walls and a black and white tiled floor, L’Express is the epitome of a Parisian-style bistro. The restaurant is smart-casual so no-one was overly dressed up, helping to make the atmosphere comfortable. The service was precise and consistent. Although our waiter spoke French, he was kind enough to speak to us in English and we breathed a sigh of relief when he pulled out an English menu. Our French is limited, to say the least, so the deciphering of the menu was going to take some time.
Complimentary fresh bread and a jar of cornichons helped to start off our meal, as did a bottle of red wine. With starters like that, we skipped the appetizer and headed straight into the entree. The food on the regular menu was simple, traditional French bistro fare so it was quite heavy on the meat options like foie gras, beef, rabbit, chicken, and duck, in addition to a few fish options (particularly salmon). I was wanting something less meaty and so with some detective work, I was able to determine that there was a prawn risotto on the daily menu (in French only). Perfect!
The food was unpretentious and uncomplicated. No fancy presentation or fusion food here. My risotto was absolutely delicious and I couldn’t believe how many prawns were in it! They were certainly not being cheap on the prawns! My sister had a bad-case of food envy that night and she watched me out of the corner of her eye whilst she dined on her steak and frites. She wasn’t overly impressed with it but, traditionally, it is a fairly ordinary dish.
Moving on to dessert and we decided to have a battle-of-the-spoons and share the crème brulée. Unfortunately, it wasn’t great. Whilst writing up this review, I’d almost forgotten what we had so that tells you something. I never forget what I had for dessert unless it is unmemorable. The sugar on the top was over-torched so it had a burnt taste and the crème was very “meh”. The coffee, on the other hand, was strong and made more of an impression.
Final Thoughts: Although the food wasn’t rave-worthy, there was something about L’Express that I enjoyed. The prices are reasonable, the wine list is extensive, the service was consistently good and the atmosphere feels very Parisian. I would have rated it higher had I been more impressed by the food. Worth a meal if you are in town but I wouldn’t get too upset if you miss it.