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L'Express Verdict:.....The emperor is naked!


And not the good kind. Honestly, the first thing that comes to mind when I think of this restaurant is that old tale of the emperor's invisible clothes. This place was a joke!

First of all we (a crowd of 20-24s to give you an idea) were hastily seated at a table for 3 right next to the windows- despite reservations. Even before we could settle down to take a proper look at the menu, two women were seated RIGHT next to us. When I say next to us, I mean that a hand couldn't fit through the space between the two tables. It was literally like having dinner with two strangers at our table.

This goes way beyond overcrowding to a complete lack of basic knowledge furniture placement. While the two women, obviously regulars, seemed oblivious to our tight quarters, all we could do was go into a laughing frenzy which did not seem to please our waiter.

After declining to order any wine, our glasses were quickly removed from the table to be replaced with....nothing. 15 minutes later we finally had to ask our waiter for some water.

One of my friends filled up on the cold bread while we looked through the ridiculously expensive menu for something good. I went with the lobster bisque and the two others shared a smoked salmon plate.

TASTE-WISE: The food was....good. Not bad by any means but certainly not great. I've had better and more generous smoked salmon from Atwater market and the lobster bisk, while tasty, did not warrant the 7.95$ price tag.

PORTIONS: Another fit of laughter erupted at our 3/5 of a table when I realized that my apparently deep bowl of soup was actually 2 centimeters deep- the rest being ceramic. The spoon couldn't disappear into it- it was that slim. A piece of bread basically soaked up 1/4 of the entire entry.

Annoyed by our lack of space, unwanted proximity to equally-unwanted guests, the fake air of refinery and the RIDICULOUS price tag (we were at 30$ for our wineless entries) , we opted to pay the bill right then and there before exiting.

We settled about 10 feet down the same block at a funky little creperie where we ordered great fries, an amazing veggie croque-monsieur and a very tasty 10$ chicken stuffed with spinach that came with a humongous salad, and pasta. The beer was plentiful, the outdoor setting pleasant (with more than 3 inches away from the next table of students- imagine the luxury), the waitress was smiling and warm, and the receipt was a whoppin' 23$ for 3 people. Less than our 2 minimal entries.

We commented on L'express to her and she laughed, saying we weren't the first. The evening ended at the deservingly crowded Juliette & Chocolat where the awe and reputation is earned with each bite.

So really, Montreal foodies, I can guarantee you that this particular emperor is a freaking nudist because L'Express is....a joke. An expensive, stuffy, who-are-you-kidding joke that I am sure would not get a third of its current clientele if it wasn't for the "French bistro" tag people seem to eat up like crazy.

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  1. I go to l'Express for a quick meal, once in a while; it does remind me of Paris.
    It's an ok place and I don't mind the crowdiness, I never linger there.

    You say your crowd in between 20 and 24 so I can understand your astonishment on prices and portions; do tell us where you ate all that food and drank all that beer for $23.

    1. I think it’s pretty clear that people differ when it comes to their criteria for judging a restaurant. Some people like a loud, boisterous atmosphere, while others like a quiet, more refined ambience. Some like simple authentic comfort food, or innovative use of ingredients, or hefty portions of American-style dishes. Some like all of the above! All are perfectly legitimate preferences.

      L’Express is an authentic French bistro, complete with crowding, loud neighboring tables, at times rude waiters, excellent people-watching, moderately-priced bistro classics properly prepared and a good wine list. If that’s not your style, there’s nothing wrong with that. If you go in expecting the food and ambience of restaurants as different as Baton Rouge or Toque, you are sure to be disappointed. I personally love it!

      1. Different strokes for different folks, I guess. I love the ravioli dish, and I must say I enjoy their steak frites, too.

        1. I like L'Express well enough. I don't go very often as there are similar places I prefer. But I've never had a terrible meal there. They do the bistro classics very well, and the wine list is reasonable and interesting and goes well with the food. I also love their cornichons, I find it to be a very nice touch.

          I'm not sure if it is fair to write the whole resto off as "ridiculous" and "a joke" based on 2 appetizers. I think it is fair to say that you are not a fan of the atmosphere of L'Express or the style of resto. I can certainly understand your frustration with the lack of space and the service. I can also see your problem with portion sizes and cost. But I would comment that in judging the food based on 2 appetizers, you have missed many of the strengths of their menu. I am in no way suggesting you go back, I don't think you'll enjoy it any better - that space is what it is, and perhaps you are not a fan of the classic French bistro. That's just personal preference, and that is fine. But there are many people who do enjoy this kind of experience, and L'Express is a faithful and reliable example of this style of restaurant.

          1 Reply
          1. re: moh

            Oh, P.S. Perhaps skip Lemeac too. It is more spacious, but you might find it to be too similar in style. Although the smoked salmon is better at Lemeac in my humble opinion.

          2. If you are looking for large portions at low prices, then most of Montreal's finer restaurants are sure to disappoint you. The prices at L'Express are not bargain basement, but are in reasonable for the product you are being served, as compared with others.

            If you were offended by 2 starters for $30, and declare this place a sham based on these 2 items, then, I am certain that you would be even more offended paying $115 for the tasting menu at Toque! Without the wine. Would you declare Toque! a sham as well? or any other fine restaurant that offered creative, quality food at the price in line with Montreal's fine dining? Which in fact, is not as high as other cities.

            As mentioned above, not every place is for every one, but this does not make it bad. It simply is not to your liking.

            IMHO L'Espress serves one of the better Steak Tartares, and at $22 it is not outrageous
            in price.

            If you found L'Express a sham, which restaurants in Montreal do you find appealing and enjoyable??

            4 Replies
            1. re: fedelst1

              Posts keep getting erased in this thread but PLENTY. I think that Au pied de cochon & Queue de Cheval offer a lot more bang for the buck. Lemeac was also mentioned as a better alternative before but I think those posts may be gone.

              It's not fear of spending money, it's about getting something back for it. If the portions are gonna be small than the taste better deliver and it sure doesn't. Campbell makes a better lobster bisque!

              Like it if you want but my opinion stands just as valid. All tastes are in nature, but don't act like it's the very essence of french restauration or at least wait to visit France (and I mean really visit) before making such a claim. That's the equivalent of tourists expecting Quebec cuisine to be La Belle Province with hockey playing in the background.

              1. re: BoomerKid

                I never thought I would see "Queue de Cheval" and "bang for the buck" in the same sentence. The restaurant that offers a "crispy iceberg wedge salad" for $16.

                1. re: BoomerKid

                  the more you say, the more credibility you lose, kid.

                  1. re: BoomerKid

                    "Campbell makes a better lobster bisque!"

                    Campbell's doesn't make lobster bisque. Or "bisk," for that matter.

                    "Like it if you want but my opinion stands just as valid"

                    You're right: there's no disputing taste. And, personally, I think the food at L'Express ranges only from fair to good, rarely better. That said, I do generally recommend people go there for the scene (which many people adore and which is, by general consensus, as close as Montreal and maybe North America comes to Paris bistro), the wine list (usually studded with low-markup gems) and the late opening hours (tho' that's less a draw these days). But in not just writing off but publicly condemning and actively attempting to dissuade others from visiting a restaurant on the basis of not just a single visit but a mere two or three appetizers while complaining that the smoked salmon was more expensive than at a fish monger's (d'oh!) and that you were given the most coveted seats in the house, you don't have a lot of ground to stand on. IMHO, of course

                    You think L'Express is a ripoff? Fine. But I certainly hope readers of this thread will recall the end of "The Emperor's New Clothes." When the little boy declared the emperor was naked, everybody agreed, knew he was right, even the emperor himself. So far, you're a voice crying in the wilderness. And drowning you out are the sell-out crowds of patrons, hundreds of hounds and a host of local, national and international critics, all of whom base their judgement on full meals and, frequently, multiple visits.

                    Caveat emptor, for sure. But caveat lector, too.

                2. Thank heavens those tables are set so close together or we'd NEVER get in for a meal (if they could double deck the tables some of us wouldn't mind if it meant getting a reservation!). I agree with all previous posts. L'Express is the epitomy of a French Bistro...little tables close together with excellent foods NOT served in gargantuan proportion. The key is quality not quantity. I've had their scrambled eggs and you'd think "what a pedestrian choice and at those prices". But they were perfect...absolutely perfect...the best I've ever had. I've never had the Lobster Bisque, but I can tell you that I dream of their Fish Soup. And no wine? they have an excellent choice of wines by the glass...and what is a bistro without a little wine. I think perhaps what we have here is a restaurant that simply didn't fit with what you were looking for or expecting...but that doesn't make it an inferior restaurant, just not the right one for you.

                  1. I really wonder if there might be a second L'Express hiding somewhere in Montreal because the experience I had at L'Express last December doesn't even come close to your description.

                    To be honest, I had concerns about going to L'Express because the reviews on the Montreal board were all over the place. But, we took a chance and we were glad we did.

                    We had mushroom soup, a fabulous quiche with a salad, Steak Frites and Steak Tartar, two sodas, and a glass of ice cider. In addition, we were given copious amounts of French bread, cornichons, and two delicious truffles for dessert. The total was $85.00 USD after the currency conversion (the Canadian dollar was stronger against the US dollar that week) and included the taxes. We found L'Express to be an incredible bargain for the quality we received.

                    Our server was professional but a bit standoffish until we started talking about hockey and how much we loved Montreal and he warmed up to us.

                    As for the proximity of the tables, I don't remember the elbow rubbing you encountered. I know the tables were close, but were miles apart compared to many restaurants I remember in Manhattan were there was minuscule spacing between tables, particularly at hot and trendy places.

                    We will be returning to Montreal this November for our honeymoon and I would have no hesitation returning to L'Express.

                    1. For what it's worth, there is a review of L'express in yesterday (sat) Journal de Montreal, and that review is less than stellar.

                      The critic start by saying how big of a fan of l'express he is (or used to be) doesnt complain about the prices, ambiance or service, saying that it's what makes this place a landmark. However foodwise, it's not as great, lobster bisque looking more like a fish soup with 2 pieces of lobster, lack of seasonning on the octopus and lentil salad, and the list goes on, only the Iles flotantes were able to salvage a part of the critics meal.

                      1. I took a friend to L'Express earlier this year and we both had a great meal and time. The place was packed when we arrived (late) but they had honored the reservation and we had a great table by the window, not too close to anybody else. I had a glass of wine and we ordered two bottles of mineral water throughout the meal. I have rabbit rillettes, which were very good and a navarrin de veau which I thought was quite salty, but its quite normal for that dish. I then had an île flottante. The wine was very good and very fairly priced. The service was excellent and, oddly enough for L'Express, friendly.