The original restaurant opened its doors to residents of Outremont in 1936, under the name Laurier BBQ. At the time, it was the first restaurant of its kind. The first Saint Hubert restaurant didn’t open until 1951. When the term “institution” gets bandied about in Montreal, the Laurier consistently emerges as a good example.
In early March 2011, we learned of the closure of the famous Rotisserie Laurier: the very same restaurant for which customers so famously lined up in the ’70s and ’80s to eat celebrated roasted chicken and frozen French fries. The restaurant, went the announcement, would be closed for renovations and would reopen in June or July 2011. The news shocked regulars and locals alike, and many didn’t hold back in sharing their feelings with the two new owners, Marie Christine Couture and Danielle Lord. The loyalists wanted to make sure the two ladies kept some of the lore and heritage of their beloved Laurier BBQ. In turn, the newcomers took everyone’s concerns into account in their own “restaurant makeover.”
Couture is an Outremont resident with considerable experience as a restaurateur. Lord worked 30 years in the restaurant Julien, and participated in the opening of the restaurant “Le Local.”
Several things have been said since the announcement of the Laurier closure. The reputation of a great international chef is involved in the new project, its bar, affiliated catering operation, etc. When it was confirmed that Gordon Ramsay was part of the project, everyone’s imagination went wild with the possibilities. Would the waitresses be models? Would this be the world’s latest dining hotspot? Would the menu be outrageously expensive? Would a reality show be filmed on the premises? Oh, and if you’re wondering how Gordon Ramsay ended up investing in a rotisserie on Laurier Street in Montreal, here’s your answer: the new incarnation’s two partners are associated in the venture with another investor, Danny Lavy, who is responsible for Ramsay’s retail line of pots and pans. At the launch, Couture and Lord met Ramsay, and the rest is history. Today, the 254-seat restaurant needs a good chef if they don’t want to see Ramsay in their kitchen!
After an arduous hiring process evaluating 10 candidates, three have made the finals. The assessment involved the preparation of 15 dishes for a team of six people, according to instructions sent by Ramsay himself from his US office. The dishes were intended to interpret the vision of the Laurier Gordon Ramsay. The candidate chosen to lead the team of 24 cooks is Guillermo Russo. The 31-year-old Peruvian chef is almost unknown in the world of Montreal restaurants, but his experience precedes him. He worked recently at Bistro Olivieri bookstore and was sous-chef at the Black Hoof in Toronto. He graduated from the Cordon Bleu school in Paris. The chef enjoys carte blanche at the place, but must write the recipes and take pictures of the dishes to send to Ramsay's London office for approval.
STYLE OF RESTAURANT
The restaurant is hoping to keep attracting its former regulars, including the families, but also to cater to a younger clientele. Laurier is armed to do so with rotisserie chicken, ribs, fish & chips and poutine, to name just a few of the menu highlights.
The all-white façade of this place is quite remarkable, as is the signature rooster on the roof. The refreshed decor was kept quite traditional with its original wooden tables, and the wooden theme is evident throughout the restaurant. The large, old paintings on the walls recall the history of the rotisserie. The tables are accented with kitchen utility napkins, as opposed to the regular cloth napkins.
Heading into the second week of operations, the restaurant unfurled its unique ambiance starting at the sidewalk, with a lineup to get in that harked back to the glory days of the ’70s and ’80s. We had to wait an hour before we got a table because no reservations were accepted for groups of fewer than six people, and so spent the delay on the terrace of the neighbouring coffee shop. Inside was a different story: less crowded and vibrant that I can remember. Families filled the place alongside several groups of friends who were keen to revisit the Laurier BBQ’s atmosphere.
Four generations have been served in Laurier Gordon Ramsay. At our visit, young couples and families were having dinner; all seemed pleased with the restaurant’s reincarnation.
Good wine, like Chablis and Pomerol, are offered by the glass here. The wine list is remarkable for a rotisserie.
Together with my friends, I shared chicken wings and mini burgers to open our appetites. The wings were good; not too spicy and coated with a sauce without drowning it. A small portion of blue cheese was given for dipping our wings and stale carrots and celery. The presentation of this entrée, even if it was only chicken wings, was poor. And the mini burgers, which certainly looked great—they were served on a wooden board and crowned with small pickles—were, alas, also disappointing. The burgers were essentially tasteless.
The main courses arrived with some delay. The house specialty, as described by our server, is Quebec grain-fed chicken. We ordered the leg of chicken, ribs, fish & chips and—bien sûr—a poutine. The chicken was well roasted and tasty, if a bit dry. The home fries were very good, especially dipped in the sauce of fine herbs. The ribs, served in reasonable portion of stacked juiciness alongside a mess of fries, were good, if nothing to write home about. The poutine, under a blanket of tasty sauce and cheese curd, was also pleasant enough. The fish & chips were presented in a very original way: in a cone made of wax paper with fries and tartar sauce. Coated with a beer batter, the fish was unfortunately soaked in oil and saddled with a slightly unpleasant fishy taste. To accompany your meal, you can fill up on the excellent pickles that are potted on each table. Several desserts that were staples of Laurier BBQ in its heyday make a return appearance, including mocha, sugar pie and bread pudding.
From the start, we felt that the restaurant had just opened. The manager came to the table twice to apologize for the delay between courses. Overall, an hour-long wait for a table and then more waiting between courses for a meal that was very ordinary, even if the restaurant has only been open for two weeks, was unacceptable. The waiter, it should be noted, had a good attitude that, in spite of his obvious stress and lack of experience, helped relieve the tension for his diners between courses.
An average of $ 40 for a full meal, including beer and taxes.
The take-out counter and delivery service is always available.
Laurier Gordon Ramsay
381 Laurier West Montréal