THIS VENERABLE BISTRO REACTED TO THE PANDEMIC PRETTY much exactly as it did to, say, the global financial crisis, the last separatist referendum, the death of a founding partner, the retirement of its (very) long-time chef, and the hockey team once known as les glorieux missing the playoffs for the third time in five years. It soldiered on, unchanged. Sure, there was (and still is) takeout. The staff thinned, the menu was briefly shortened, and the communal jars of cornichons had to be put away. But venture in off Saint-Denis nowadays and nothing seems amiss. It’s the same old l’Express with, by and large, the same old menu. Why the formula still works so well is complicated. Part of it is that this classic bistro embodies the fantasy of Montreal being a pseudo- European city, where great food and wine and joie de vivre trump all other considerations. Another factor is that the late Luc Laporte’s design for the space — classic brasserie with industrial finishes — was so inspired that even now, 42 years hence, it remains undated. Then there’s the loyal team of ultra-professional waiters and that old menu of well-rendered bistro classics, now executed by Jean-François Vachon. Yes, that still includes poached marrow bones with coarse grey salt, saumon au cerfeuil, steak tartare (bien relevé, of course) and those perfect frites. The francophile wine list likely packs more reasonably priced treasures than any other in the country.
Photography by: (L’Express food) Mathieu Pothier, (Exterior/interior) Jean Artiges