Let us introduce you to Monsieur Hà.
“Somewhere between a mystic, a philosopher, and your friendly neighbourhood wiseman, Monsieur Hà is a veritable Montreal magi. He has catered some of the city’s most illustrious events, even once dressing up as a Geisha for one of Guy Laliberté’s notable soirées. (You only have to be stressed for the first hour. After that, everyone’s tipsy!) Monsieur Hà infuses his culinary creations with decades of tales and adventures, a passion for traditional Vietnamese culture and, above all else, laughter.”
“It’s all about smiling and being happy,” says Monsieur Hà. All my staff should be happy, we always start the day with a big smile – this is the most important for me.”
Hà, the philosopher-chef’s brand new stage, is set to open in August in the former Souvenirs d’Indochine where he ran the kitchen for over 20 years. The new concept is traditional Vietnamese Bia Hoi. These bright, simple street corner bars are popular meet-up points in Vietnam where people gather to drink freshly-brewed beer (Bia Hoi literally means “fresh beer”) and eat succulent street foods. “In Vietnam, eating is about sharing and getting together,” explains Monsieur Hà. “When you see someone on the street, you don’t say ‘hello, how are you’, you say ‘did you eat yet’.”
The redesign, headed by new owners Nicolas Urli (Flyjin, Velvet), Francisco Randez (ex-Porte Rouge, Rhythm Fm, TVA) and Flore-Anne Ducharme (Les Evades advertising agency), is giving Monsieur Hà’s followers a brand new space to kick back and enjoy the Hà magic. The design is clean and simple, but made to feel weathered. “I don’t want anything to shine,” says Nicolas. Features include exposed washed brick walls, custom-made metal Vietnamese lanterns, and a mirrored glass kitchen that lets you watch the chefs at work but acts as a mirror during post-dinner festivities. And, keeping with tradition, little bright benches will hint at the colourful plastic Bia Hoi chairs.
For Nicolas, a vet in the Montreal scene, working with Monsieur Hà just felt right. “Energy is important”, says Nicolas. “If I feel like there’s something – even if it’s not tangible – I’ll go for it.”
“Monsieur Hà has something very special. He has an aura. Everybody knows him but he also remembers the name of all his clients after just meeting them once.”
The menu, created by hot new Laotian chef Ross ‘Ninja’ San (ex-Biiru, Chez Victoire), is inspired by the traditional flavours of Southeast Asia. After years of perfecting various cuisines around the globe, including Turks and Caicos, Spain, and Japan, Ross is excited to get back to the flavours of his roots. “Hà feels like going back home,” says Ross, who got his nickname by crafting meticulous dishes while remaining invisible. “Hà will be about tasty, easy, simple food to share and have fun around.”
Think fresh seafood infused with lemongrass, papaya and mango salad, house-made charcuterie, a variety of soups, and Monsier Hà’s famous rolls. “I love Southeast Asian cuisine because it focuses on showcasing the product as it is naturally. There is so much depth, flavours and herbs,” says Ross. “In Vietnamese cuisine, there’s the yin and the yang,” adds Monsieur Hà, illustrating the dynamic of ambitious youth and experience that makes this duo such a power team.
Fresh will be the order of business at Hà. “There will be a lot of daily specials based on what was bought at the market that day,” says Ross. “People in Vietnam can’t afford to buy food for more than a day or two at a time,” explains Monsieur Hà, so the food is always very fresh and there’s a lot of sharing between neighbours.” Adding to the freshness will be the herbs that the chefs can pluck directly from the living wall in the backyard of the restaurant.
With the flavourful fare comes an impressive wine list, designed by sommelière extraordinaire Jessica Harnois. And, of course, what would a Bia Hoi be without its signature fresh beer? “Our beer will be very refreshing and light, and brewed daily,” says Nicholas. “Just like they do it in the Bia Hoi in Hanoi. We want to make sure we stay true to the authentic tradition.”
Next summer, Hà plans to set up a picnic concept that will pack up your food and wine into a basket and allow you to dine in Parc Jeanne-Mance across the street. “We have the biggest terrace in Montreal!” jokes Nicolas. Also on the agenda is private event catering, which will bring the Hà happiness right to your doorstep.
Come August, you know where we’ll be. Getting sluiced on copious amounts of foamy fresh beer, sharing exquisitely prepared Vietnamese street food, and maybe, just maybe, enjoying a tale or two from the illustrious Monsieur Hà.