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Best Restaurant Award 2023

Mon Lapin

FIVE YEARS AGO, under the aegis of the Joe Beef group, Vin Papillon chef Marc-Olivier Frappier and sommelier Vanya Filipovic launched a modest wine bar named Vin Mon Lapin in their Little Italy neighbourhood. The 36-seat room immediately became the local destination for smartly composed, seasonal small plates and low-intervention wines. Then, a year in, the couple bought out their Joe Beef partners, dropped the Vin, and made the renamed Mon Lapin their main gig.

Other changes soon followed. Notably, over the 2020 pandemic lockdown, when most other restaurants were thinking small, this one expanded into the former beer depot space next door and ordered a full makeover from architectural design star Zébulon Perron. When the restaurant finally reopened, Mon Lapin was relaunched as a humming 70-seater with an extended bar, mosaic floor tiles and walls decorated with local art.

Suddenly a full-fledged restaurant, it also had three new business partners — founding chef Jessica Noël, who shares the kitchen with Frappier; co-sommelier Alex Landry, who runs the wine program alongside Filipovic; and front-of-house manager Marc-Antoine Gélinas. Mon Lapin is teamwork in action.

Menu descriptions are assertively minimalist, and often mischievously confounding. Say, squash-blossom teléfono; chicken brined in sourdough; barbecued whelks; endives, seeds, pollen and caviar; Nanaimo bars with chestnuts and amaro. Each plate is a showcase for Quebec produce and producers, as well as the chefs’ collective pleasure in juxtaposing unexpected flavour combinations that sing. Seasonality is key. Soft serve with molasses in March yields to one with rhubarb in May, or plum sorbet in October. As Filipovic tells it, the natural-wine program is a living, breathing organism, nourished by the connections she and Landry continually forge with their vignerons. Their wine team knows every nuance of each bottle on their list. Whatever the occasion, the best way to enjoy Mon Lapin is to ask your server to suggest the must-haves on the menu, and the best wines to pair with them.

Walk by the window on any working afternoon and you’ll see the team sitting around a big round table, chatting, tasting, folding napkins, planning service. If it’s summer, you might notice tomatoes ripening on the windowsill; in the fall, it’s butternut squash. Come springtime, Noël plants greens alongside the summer terrasse. La vie, quoi. Approachable. Magical. Our best restaurant.

—Ivy Lerner-Frank

Photos: Dominique Lafond

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