Le Violon: Stepping into a painting of fine dining in the Plateau

Taking over the address that once housed Maison Publique, Le Violon is a new neighbourhood project that celebrates kinship and thoughtful, ingredient-driven cuisine.

J.P. Karwacki

J.P. Karwacki

June 26, 2024- Read time: 6 min
Le Violon: Stepping into a painting of fine dining in the Plateau"Le Violon is truly a reflection of who I am and what I stand for in the culinary world—it's polished, unpretentious, and fun," says co-executive chef Danny Smiles. | Photograph: Scott Usheroff / @cravingcurator

Walking along Rue Marquette in the Plateau, one could almost miss Le Violon if it weren’t for the locals’ enthusiastic reception. Beyond its fresh exterior black paint job and frosted glass windows, the dining room bustles: an intimately close-quarters 50-seat space that embodies the vision of co-executive chefs Mitch Laughren and Danny Smiles, general manager Andrew Park, and Montreal artist / creative director Dan Climan.

A project discreetly in the works since Smiles announced his departure from Hudson’s Willow Inn in December 2023, the restaurant is easily filling the shoes of its predecessor, Maison Publique.

Photograph: Scott Usheroff / @cravingcurator
It’s exciting to think of the restaurant as a living artwork that people can step into, interact with, and enjoy. Like I do in my art practice, I approached designing this space by thinking about the feeling we wanted to create.

A restaurant as living artwork

Le Violon is the culmination of over 10 years of friendship and culinary collaboration between Laughren, Park and Smiles since they first met at Le Bremner—a time of their lives when they all met Climan.

Photograph: Jeremy Dionne / @jeremydionne__

Together, they’ve pieced together a place that both carries itself properly with old school refinements: Marbled countertops hold up a sterling goblet of an ice bucket; smooth floors are the colour of Irish coffee; soft lighting by wall sconces; colours found in Giorgio Morandi’s paintings (and Climan’s in some ways) fill the space with gunmetal grays, teal, dusty beiges and taupe; rattan-backed chairs and smooth leather banquettes surround tables of noble materials; and violin music plays in the bathrooms.

It’s an interior that reflects the restaurant’s culinary philosophy of elegance, understatedness, and inviting qualities. Adorned with two custom paintings by Climan, it’s an experiential ambiance intended to encourage diners to put away their phones and enjoy good company and great food— a proverbial painting people can walk into.

“It’s exciting to think of the restaurant as a living artwork that people can step into, interact with, and enjoy. Like I do in my art practice, I approached designing this space by thinking about the feeling we wanted to create. I think about the restaurants that I love to eat in and there is something so timeless about them,” says Dan Climan.

Photograph: Scott Usheroff / @cravingcurator

“Zebulon Perron and I really sought to achieve this through choices like the colour palette, paint texture and lighting while still having some ‘wow’ moments like the Dalmation painting or the violin music playing in the bathroom. It's all about creating an elegant and inviting room that contributes to the overall experience.”

I'm able to really build the recipes and flavour profiling. And Danny is able to take it to the next level.

Old school refinements with new school approaches

But for all those old school refinements, it’s all delivered with a new school approach. Iggy Pop and the Rolling Stones play overhead, and food and wine comes from new generations: In the kitchen with Laughren and Smiles, dishes often begin with an idea, often sparked by travelling or novel takes on classic dishes which pull from locally and in-season ingredients.

Photograph: Scott Usheroff / @cravingcurator

It’s a blend Danny’s vision and inventive combinations with Mitch's focus on the intricate details.

"I'm able to really build the recipes and flavour profiling. And Danny is able to take it to the next level,” Laughren says.

“The custard and mussel recipe (from the opening menu) is something I developed, but it's Danny's combination... He's always had a really good vision and I've always just loved to make it come true."

Photograph: Scott Usheroff / @cravingcurator
Photograph: Scott Usheroff / @cravingcurator

Highlighting the integrity of farmsteads, coastal fisheries, and producers who tend to them, Le Violon features seafood-forward dishes, seasonal Quebec vegetables from Parcelles and Birri, and twists classic dishes like tartare, sweetbreads, monkfish, and homemade pasta.

Le Violon is truly a reflection of who I am and what I stand for in the culinary world—it's polished, unpretentious, and fun.

All those plates are complemented by a refined yet approachable cocktail and wine program, curated by Park, with aid from floor manager Kyra Lajeunesse.

Finally, whatever’s cooking, a key component is Le Bremner & Willow Inn alum and Le Violon’s chef de cuisine Sara Raspa. She first started cooking at Le Bremner in 2014, eventually working her way up to sous-chef before honing her skills in Rome at Santopalato, later returning home to become the Willow Inn’s events chef in 2021.

Photograph: Scott Usheroff / @cravingcurator
At Le Violon, Mitch, Andrew, Dan, and I have created an experience that resonates with our vision of what a great dining experience should be.

"A reflection of who I am"

“The first question we always get asked is, what kind of restaurant is it?” says Smiles.

“…It’s just beautifully executed, thoughtful, and ingredient-driven cuisine. It’s a philosophy we all share in the kitchen, and it can be seen in how we present the food, our service, and even the design of the space.”

Photograph: Scott Usheroff / @cravingcurator

But what does the new restaurant represent in Smiles’ current roster? If Doubles Late Night is a chic dive bar for beers with friends, what's Le Violon? A 'classic' restaurant, or something else entirely?

"Le Violon is truly a reflection of who I am and what I stand for in the culinary world—it's polished, unpretentious, and fun,” Smiles says.

Photograph: Scott Usheroff / @cravingcurator

“This restaurant is where fine dining meets a welcoming atmosphere. It's not just a testament to my journey as a chef but a celebration of our incredible team's collaboration. At Le Violon, Mitch, Andrew, Dan, and I have created an experience that resonates with our vision of what a great dining experience should be."

Photograph: Scott Usheroff / @cravingcurator

Le Violon is located at 4720 Rue Marquette.

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