Whole grilled branzino at Marcus

Year round with Marcus at the Four Seasons Montreal

With the hotel’s opening last spring, an ambitious addition to the city’s restaurant scene came to light.

From its delectable seafood dishes to its gorgeous design, the Marcus restaurant and bar on the third floor of the Four Seasons Hotel in Montreal is like something out of a dream. The restaurant — with its open kitchen and contrasting wood, marble and metal fixtures, plush seating and wall of plants — is as inviting on a summer’s day, when fresh air and a terrasse are in play, as it on a winter’s night, where a DJ’s music and dim lighting shift the ambiance towards something resembling a supperclub. But not a supperclub. That’s too dirty a word to describe this place.

Marcus Samuelsson has opened a dozen restaurants, notably New York City’s Red Rooster. Montreal’s Marcus is the first to share its moniker with the chef. Samuelsson has worked around the globe, prepared a meal for President Obama and company at the White House, hosted TV shows, written cookbooks and an autobiography. With this endeavour, he aimed to let the Nordic aspects of his Ethiopian/Swedish roots shine.

“I grew up on a seafood island, a fish island,” he says. “There’s a lot of technique that fits my early years of cooking — seafood, very light touches, letting the product shine — but also what I did when I worked in Japan and Europe. It’s all really about focusing on the ingredients and making sure the dishes taste delicious. There’s a lot of elements from Canadian cuisine coming through as well: pickling, preserving, the tartares.”

At the media unveiling of the restaurant last April, Marcus Samuelsson spent nearly all his time on the mic lauding his team. He collaborated closely with a local crew of food and hospitality experts to make a mark on Montreal’s food scene, notably entrepreneur Andrew Lutfy (one of the key figures behind the Montreal Four Seasons Hotel project) and chef Nicholas Bramos (Toqué, Monkland Tavern etc).

“We wanted something that could honour but also add to the spirit of the city,” Samuelsson says. “Andrew, being so passionate about the city, he gave us a lot of clues. There was a lot of talk about the past — he went all the way back to Globe — about precedent and what we could contribute.

“We also wanted to create an independent restaurant that didn’t feel like a hotel restaurant. There was an emphasis on the flow, understanding the two bars, building an eating bar so you could look into the kitchen. We talked about seafood and light cuisine. Montrealers are very often in motion when they’re downtown, going to an event or coming from a conference.”

Marcus Samuelsson Four Seasons Montreal
Marcus Samuelsson

The Parisian brasserie, with its long opening hours, big menu and large booths, was a key inspiration in the restaurant’s conception. Though the place is undoubtedly elegant, and some of the prices point to upscale (especially for wine and cocktails, which verge on prohibitive), Marcus is accessible, offering a range of price points and diversity of ambiance. It’s not a bistro, nor is it fine dining per se. That’s something that Samuelsson recognizes as the sweet spot of the city’s food scene.

“For me there are three types of restaurants in Montreal that are really exciting: first the immigrant restaurants that are more mom-and-pop, unknown and underexposed. It’s a layer of the scene that I got to know and I love that, whether it’s Korean or it’s Lebanese or whatever.

“And you have the very well known restaurants like Joe Beef or Normand (Laprise)’s restaurants, but then you have le Filet and Provisions, or (Charles-Antoine Crête)’s restaurants; super high-quality neighbourhood restaurants — brilliant, genius! There’s a very thriving food scene, hospitality scene. Iconic places like Milos were birthed there, and that shows that Montreal is a city that exceeds its weight in terms of size. It’s up there with cities with a population of six or seven million people. People in Montreal are open to creativity, and there’s a strong tradition. If you’re a young cook or young server you can really learn the craft and all its nuances. That’s exciting. That’s the reason I picked Montreal: it’s a city that enjoys that level of dining. To me it was very clear that there was an opportunity there.”

Nearly a year later, Marcus has been recognized more for its aesthetic prowess than for its food, but perseverance is part of the game, and strong word of mouth has built their clientele well beyond hotel guests.

“Becoming an independent restaurant that Montreal takes to heart, that takes time. I’m willing to do the walk together,” Samuelsson says. “There’s never a landing station, like, ‘Oh, we’ve arrived!’ The red rooster has been open nine years and we work hard on it every day. In Montreal we’re working hard on it every day. I’m sure David works extremely hard on Joe Beef every day. That’s how he tweaks and tweaks and tweaks and tweaks and makes it special for the community. When you stop working on something, the audience is gonna notice. I work with that level: fear of and respect for the clientele. I’m asking for your time, and if I’m doing that, I’m going to deliver because I want you to have a great time.” ■

For more information on Marcus and the Four Seasons Hotel Montreal, please visit their website.

For more coverage of the Montreal restaurant scene, please visit our Food & Drink section.

This interview with Marcus Samuelsson, of Marcus restaurant at the Four Seasons Hotel Montreal, also appeared in the Feb. 2020 issue of Cult MTL.

Additionally, to vote for your favourite Montreal people and things in the Best of MTL readers poll, click here.