A new French bistro landed in Westmount a few weeks ago, run by a small group of Pastel du Vieux-Montréal alumni, an establishment hailed for its creative approach to the tasting menu plus wine format. But elaborate 10-course dinners aren’t what the owners of Bistro La Franquette have in mind.
“It was all really fun to do, but it wasn’t me,” says Renée Deschenes, the beverage manager (and pretty much everything else beyond the kitchen). Co-chef Louie Deligianis agrees: “It’s just not what we think we need to do at this point in our lives.” The final member of the triad is Blake Hickerson, the other chef and the mastermind behind the bistro’s daily baked breads.
Currently, the Victoria Village Bistro has an all-day menu of ready-to-go options like sandwiches and soups, a small market for staples and produce sold by the pound, and a clean-lined dinner offering. , consisting of two choices of each starter and dessert, and four courses ranging from Cornish hen with glazed carrots, lentils and cabbage rolls, to cacio e pepe fettuccini.
For the holidays, the team assembles baskets filled with smoked salmon, foie gras, a pâté encrusted with a pie-style puff pastry crust and a series of accessories such as pickles, onion jam and apple butter. Gingerbread cookies and himrod grape fruit paste cubes make for a sensible dessert finish.
In addition to working together at Pastel, the trio previously collaborated on a series of unique pop-ups about their downtime, which became known as Baby Duck. “So this has all really crept in since, I would say, about four years now,” says Deligianis.
Now, they’ve landed in a 1,000 square foot space on Victoria Avenue that was previously owned by Kwai, Antonio Park’s Thai restaurant, and before that Lavanderia, his Argentine company. (Park’s eponymous sushi restaurant is also on the Strip.)
“It’s a great location with a lot of foot traffic and visibility,” says Deligianis. “We had looked at Verdun and a few other neighborhoods in the Southwest, but these didn’t necessarily have the same appeal as Westmount in terms of people walking around. The last thing you want when opening your first restaurant is to worry about how people are going to reach you. The proximity to Sherbrooke Street and the Vendôme metro means that this is not a problem for Bistro La Franquette.
Once the dining rooms reopen, the market component will be replaced with tables and chairs (45, at pre-COVID capacity), and the menu will naturally change – a lot, Louie says. “Right now we’re just trying to keep it simple and not push ourselves too hard, because it’s our first effort. That’s why we keep it low-key with simple and tasty foods like bread, chicken liver mousse and soups. It’s really a return to basics, I guess. The restaurant’s name, after all, is derived from the French phrase “à la bonne franquette”, used to mean an informal, easygoing or hassle-free meal.
A similar approach was taken to the execution of space. “We try to do as much work ourselves as we can out of principle and out of necessity,” Deschênes says. An Instagram post capturing the team working hard on an antique hutch they hoped to restore themselves for the restaurant supports this claim: “We didn’t know how difficult it would be to strip and restore it. Says Deschenes.
Friends also participated – with photography, graphic design, art that hangs in their unused dining room, and even the plates that will one day carry the creations of the co-chefs. “We have been fortunate to have so many talented friends who believe in us enough to help us achieve this crazy goal,” Deschenes said.
Bistro La Franquette is open for take out from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Wednesday to Sunday, at 374 Victoria Avenue.