When news came that Gordon Ramsay planned to take over a 75-year-old rotisserie chicken restaurant in Montreal, local food fans were divided. Laurier BBQ, as it was known until it shut down for renovations last spring, was loved by generations of Montrealers for its dependable (if lackluster) favourites like the hot chicken sandwich and a microwaved mocha cake. There were those who cried foul (or is it fowl?), demanding the Kitchen Nightmares and Hell’s Kitchen star not change a thing, while others welcomed the change, to give the old spot new life.
Post-extensive makeover, Laurier Gordon Ramsay is looking bright and modern, but still cozy. Young chef Guillermo Russo, a native Montrealer, is at the helm, having worked at Toronto’s Black Hoof and Aroma in Ottawa. With a new black-and-white colour scheme, bar area and glass-enclosed wine cellar, the old dame is suddenly stylish, but the original banquettes and lots of homey touches (jars of pickles and painted wood paneled walls) soften the look.
Many of the old standbys remain on the menu–the rotisserie chicken plates with bun, fries and coleslaw; the hot chicken sandwich; even the mocha cake. Except now the fries are fresh-cut and the new mocha cake will under no circumstances be microwaved. Steak-frites and sliders are also on order now, alongside nods to Ramsay’s UK roots such as fish and chips and potted beef.
On a recent visit, we arrived early, having heard of two-hour waits during the dinner rush. Sure enough, by 5:30 pm the only place they had for two was at the bar (which we actually preferred). By six the place was packed and buzzing with an after-work crowd. Since it was cocktail hour, we ordered a couple while scouting the menu and munching on complementary spiced popcorn: classic, old fashioned, and a house-invented pear collins (Poire Williams, tarragon, soda), which came in a mason jar.
To begin with: the sliders. A trio of juicy cuties on brioche mini buns, with shredded romaine, melted cheddar and caramelized onions. They arrived on a cheese board sporting little hats made of gherkins and pickled onions. Yum.
Following we had the ribs, which came smothered in sauce and stacked like a vertical, Jenga-esque meat puzzle, and the dependable quarter-chicken (breast) meal with the crunchy, seasoned hand-cut fries. The half-bun was toasted brioche, the meat was moist enough and well-flavoured, and the gravy was thyme-infused and not super dense nor too salty. Sides of creamed spinach and green beans with Parmesan arrived in cute little cast iron Staub pans.
To finish, we went both ways: one British comfort classic (the butterscotch bread pudding, with brittle and whiskey cream) and one prototypical, down-home Quebecois treat, the sugar pie. The pudding had big chunks of bread melded together like a mashed up French toast, while the pie was just right in its familiar, delicious tooth-curdling sweetness. Two modern takes on old favourites, and a fitting end to a meal at the French-Canadian outpost of a Scottish bad boy chef’s empire.
Genevieve Paiement is a freelance writer and editor, writing about food and travel for Canadian and Internationale lifestyle publications. Genevieve lives in Montreal.