LARRYS

when i see the name “larrys”, i think of marco pierre white, who, on taking over the kitchen at harvey’s in london in 1987, requested that the owners remove the apostrophe, because he didn’t like the way it looked. -JRS

In a dozen or so years in this city, I’ve seen about half as many restaurants come and go in the small space at 9 Fairmount Avenue East. Not an ideal location for a restaurant, but Larrys has lasted; in fact, the place turns three in as many weeks and, to my knowledge, its popularity has not abated.

In hindsight, it was a clever move on the part of owners Annika Krausz, Marc Cohen, Ethan Wills, and Sefi Amir (hereinafter: Team Lawrence), acquiring the space and expanding their domain along the corner of St. Laurent and Fairmount. The three businesses (Larrys, Lawrence and Boucherie Lawrence) clearly complement each other—which, I imagine, plays some role in Larrys longevity.

Space-wise, think cozy, but not close. Team Lawrence wisely cleared the clutter, so that what used to feel cramped and closet-like now seems spacious in comparison. In terms of comfort, your best bet are the tables along Larrys left side; the bar is fine, though can feel crowded, as are the counter seats along the opposite wall. Unless you are very small in stature, I suggest you avoid the low table and stools by the door (the mere sight makes my back hurt).

Service is, by and large, professional, competent, friendly. It can, very rarely, lapse into laissez-faire—but that is more a Montreal matter than a Larrys one. When it comes to recommendations for food and drink, staff are very helpful and accommodating, and you can trust them to take good care.

Chef Marc Cohen’s food has long and lazily been described as “British”—because, I assume, he has an English accent. And while his early cooking did demonstrate the influence of compatriots like Fergus Henderson, it has since evolved into a distinct voice, one characterized by an encyclopedic knowledge of, and uncommon competence in, the craft of cooking, from whole food to finished plate.

At Larrys, as at the original Lawrence, the menu comprises casual European cooking, referencing regions all over the continent and British Isles. On occasion, its reach extends a littler further—the Middle East or the Maghreb, say—but, by and large, lies grounded in familiar Continental classics, i.e. the food of the bistro and taverna, the pub and osteria.

Larrys sourcing, on the other hand, remains local, steadfastly so. Though Team Lawrence does not broadcast or boast about it, they source their ingredients as regionally, sustainably and ethically as possible. See, for example, Amir’s piece in the National Post, “Desperately wanted—good chicken”.

While the food at Larrys does not demonstrate the same level of consistency as at Lawrence (only because the latter is so unerringly consistent), disappointments are, at most, occasional, and your chances of eating well are decidedly high—dependable, really.

In some half-dozen visits over two years, I’ve encountered few missteps. A plate of asparagus, for example, that had been boiled into mush, or a Welsh rarebit that was not so much cooked as cauterized, made charcoal. On one occasion, lamb meatballs with yogurt and mint lacked seasoning and, consequently, tasted bland.

But that’s about it. Otherwise, the cooking has ranged from very good to great, and occasionally stellar. In some cases, a dish can vary from one visit to the next–to be expected, in a place that’s open all day, everyday (till 1 am!)—but, on balance, you will like and often love the food at Larrys.

To name a few of the my favourites: nduja, a spicy pork paste, on plain bread and topped with vinegary white anchovies, the perfect foil for the fatty meat (a favourite from 2017); ox tongue, sliced and grilled, dressed in a bright and aggressive vinaigrette of herbs, chilis, olive oil and garlic; tender, braised chicken in a deeply flavoured broth with tart sumac; carrots with honey and muhammara, a thick, tangy paste made from peppers, ground walnuts, breadcrumbs and olive oil.

There were many others, but you get the point: simple food, well-sourced, well-prepared, well-seasoned. Or, proper cooking, full stop.

The menu offers over two dozen options in a small-plate format—a feat, considering the food truck of a kitchen—and items average around $10. This means, for the price of one main at many other Montreal establishments, you can try two, three, even four plates here. Depending on if and how much you drink (and you will drink well), you can expect to spend anywhere from $50 to $75 per person. For food this good, a bargain.

The discussion of which restaurants in Montreal merit the title “best”, to my mind, proves wearisome, for as much as critics might ignore it, we cannot escape our subjectivity and bias. But I will say this: When you factor in consistency, quality and affordability, Larrys punches well above its weight, and warrants a place on any long-list in this city. (For my part, it remains a top-ten favourite.)

And anyhow, where else can you eat and drink this well after 11 pm, any day of the week?