Marche-ing to an Old Drummer

I once told a reporter from the Globe and Mail that I never stand in line to get into hot new restaurants, that it’s just not worth the wait. But back in the early 90s, there was one restaurant that my friends and I were happy to stand in line to get into, and that was Mövenpick Marché (181 Bay Street). Food snobs may scoff, but it was at Marché that I learned to enjoy Caesar salads, where my love of good coffee was nurtured, and where I developed a taste for rosti-style potatoes that I cannot shake to this day.

Marché was where we always took people from out of town. This was partially because the place was overwhelming in a “welcome to the big city” kind of way, but also because there was something for everyone. Once after an awe-inspiring performance by Montreal dance troupe La La La Human Steps across the street at the then-O’Keefe Centre,  we headed over to Marché for snacks, only to discover the dance troupe settled into one of the corner dining rooms enjoying dinner.

In 1998, Greg and I, along with two other friends, produced a weekend-long music festival for about 500 guests from around the world. One of the events we planned was a dinner at Marché. I can still remember heading through Union Station and meeting up with some of our guests on their way to dinner, leading them through the underground mall so that they’d come up the escalator to the soaring arches of BCE (now Brookfield) Place, and smiling as they all gasped with delight. Not to mention the looks on the faces of the other customers as 200 or so Goths in full regalia – right down to capes, parasols and pointy skull-buckle boots – grabbed trays and promenaded through the aisles of the restaurant. It was brilliant.

Over the years, there were stories of the food going downhill. There had been a dispute and the Canadian franchisee, Richtree, took over the space, serving up the same dishes, but reportedly without the same quality. Then, it was announced earlier this year that Mövenpick had taken over the space and would be re-opening with a facelift but still the same menu for which they’re so well-known.

So we were pretty excited to be part of the grand opening event for friends and media last week. The 567 seat restaurant – and largest Marché in the world – has been totally renovated and updated. The knick-knacks and dated decor are gone, replaced with sleek modern furniture and more organized food stations. In standard Swiss tradition, a pair of St. Bernards (complete with little barrels of schnapps) greeted guests, and Mövenpick International CEO Oliver Artherr, along with other Mövenpick officers and administrators from Brookfield Place welcomed us all before setting us loose on the restaurant to try old favourites and find new treats.

The Brookfield Place Marché also features a bakery on the lower level, and an innovative MuvBox, made out of a purple shipping container, in the Front Street courtyard, which acts a a mini café during the day and a cocktail bar in the evenings during patio season.

All of the Mövenpick Marché locations have reiterated their dedication to fresh food, made right in front of guests. Everything from pasta to sauces are made on site, and an effort has been made to work with local purveyors – coffee is supplied by Reunion Island Coffee, for example.

Sure, some people will still hate the crowds and having to go fetch their own food, but there’s something so fun about the place, even 20 years after we first stood in line.

Over 200 staff work to make everything fresh right in front of guests, like these waffles.

I’m not sure if the band was just for opening night or if they’re there all the time.

A great selection of imported beers as well as local craft beer. Our resident beer geek approves.

Everyone was so happy and friendly – looks like they’re glad Mövenpick is back.

Orange syrup to add to tea.

These huge flatbreads were so good.

These look to be imported berries, but we hope Marché will work with local farmers to serve Ontario produce when it’s in season.

Some of the side dishes to go with the hot entrées.

One of the reasons we always ended up at Marché back in the day was because our vegetarian and vegan friends could always eat really well here.

Flipping the famous rosti. This gal didn’t stop all evening.

And the finished product – mine, mine, mine!

One of the dining rooms, all renovated and updated.

And another dining space, looking retro modern.

I made him a bit nervous, I think, but I finally got a smile out of the pizza maker.

Chicken-go-round. On the rotisserie.

There’s always so much to see at Marché – I missed this raspberry lemonade until I was on my way out. But it looks super yummy.

That’s a fine-looking paella.

Some signature cocktails.

Who says you don’t make friends with salad?

Coffee, tea or hot chocolate?

Freshly squeezed.

A whole selection of little tartine sandwiches.

So many people wanted crepes, it was a group effort to turn them out en masse.

Another crepe station, this time for savoury fillings.

The market theme is prevalent and the place is full of baskets of gorgeous fruit and veg like these eggplants and fingerling potatoes.

I’m also addicted to Marché’s yogurt and muesli bar.

Wait, don’t you dare leave without dessert!