Two days ago I read in the Montreal Gazette that George Lau the owner of L’Orchidée de Chine was closing his restaurant after 34 years in operation. The restaurant is located at the corner of Peel street and De Maisonneuve in Montreal. This was a favourite of my parents who lived just one block North on Peel street. So many family reunions took place there over the years. George is aging and he and his sister Eva want to move on, his children have their own careers. George Lau came to open his restaurant after the celebrated and luxurious Ruby Foo’s restaurant closed on Decarie Blvd. He wanted to have a Chinese restaurant with class for fine dining with dishes well prepared in a traditional manner. L’Orchidée de Chine was also the place where we had my father’s wake, all his favourite dishes and champagne, the way he and Mom would have wanted it. My Dad had known George and Eva for decades.
Over the years many restaurants in Montreal patronized by my parents came and went. Years ago a standard was Les Jardins du Ritz in the Ritz Hotel on Sherbrooke street and its famous garden with duckling pond, you felt like you were in Paris. This was before the renovations 10 years ago when all changed.
Then there was many years ago The Coffee Mill on Mountain street, which closed around 1994, a Hungarian coffee shop which catered to so many Hungarians who fled the Uprising of 1956 in Hungary. It was very European, in its food, service and atmosphere, my mother loved it.
My parents also loved The Beaver Club dining room at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel, it was modelled on the famous Fur merchant’s Club established in 1785 near Beaver Hall Hill it closed in 2014.
Le Paris on Sainte Catherine street West, my parents knew the owner a Frenchman and it was a great little restaurant. Then the owner died suddenly and the restaurant closed a year later.
It seems that when I go back to Montreal now there are less and less places left where my parents and all of us went to, replaced as time moves on my more hip places but not as it once was.
Not in Montreal but in New York my Dad liked The Plaza hotel before it was turned into a condo style hotel and the restaurants and bars all closed. Only the Palm Court is left but it is not quite the same.
My parents spent their lives in the hotel/retaurant business and my Dad loved to find new restaurants and find out who was the Chef and what was his background. Before his death a few years ago, it became difficult to go out with him, he did not like the direction restaurants in general were taking, too much decor and not much on food and service. He was often appalled by the lack of attention to details or cleanliness, he wondered why people would put up with such low standards, noise and expensive prices. He did not find often good value for the money spent. In the last year of his life he was teaching restaurant management at the Hotel School in Montreal, he told me how un-motivated the students were and he finally asked them why they wanted to work in the hospitality industry, the answer was to make money, he was shocked by the answer. He explained to them that you went into that business because you liked people and wanted to offer a service not to make money.
For me there is nothing or little to return too in Montreal nowadays, I do not recognize the City, it has changed a lot and the people we knew save a few old friends are gone. The place of my childhood is gone but then again this is what happens in life, nothing stays the same.