A new restaurant from brothers Constant and Nicholas Mentazas in Quebec is popular for more than its cuisine; the ambiance also gets raves. Photography by Jean Longpré
[dropcap style=”letter” size=”52″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#dd3333″]A[/dropcap]s they proved with the success of Tasso Bar à Mezze in the Plateau Mont Royal neighborhood of Montréal, chef Constant Mentazas and his brother Nicholas are partners in a new restaurant – Ikanos – which opened not quite one year ago in the Old Montréal section of the city. They closed Tasso to concentrate on their new venture, featuring cuisine described as “contemporary Mediterranean with a Greek influence.”
Like Tasso, the dishes served at Ikanos are more like tapas found in Spanish restaurants (mezze and tapas are not quite appetizers and yet not quite meals) and comprised primarily of seafood, grilled meats, and vegetables. Examples of menu items include: Orange and cardamom-cured hirame fluke carpaccio, compressed plums, cardamon yogurt, and hazelnuts; seared scallops, foie gras shavings in Samos, sautéed Brussels sprouts and apples, parsnip purée, and hazelnut crumble; and braised lamb and cinnamon ravioli, eggplant and zucchini ragout, and graviera béchamel gratinée.
Even the location is unique for this new eatery. Chef Mentazas found an old warehouse on Rue McGill that had most recently served an artist’s studio. To create a relaxed, warm and cozy vibe with a strong identity in such a lofty space would take an experienced design eye, and for that task Mentazas selected the architectural design firm of Blazys Gérard in Montréal, which had previously won a Restaurant of the Year design award.
Blazys Gérard was founded 12 years ago by its namesakes Alexandre Blazys and Benoit Gérard, two internationally accomplished designers. Blazys holds a design certificate from Central Saint Martins College in London and is noted for his visual presentation for a number of furniture and design shops. Gérard earned his degree in architecture from the Université de Montréal and has worked in Montpellier, France as well as in Montreal at Dupuis LeTourneux. He is also past recipient of the Prix Alcan Arcop and the Prix Habitat 67.
The concept the design team devised for Ikanos is based on a reinterpretation of the characteristic architecture of Greece and its neighboring countries. The goal was to develop an architectural “language” that would dovetail nicely with Chef Mentazas’ requirements, remain consistent with the theme, and avoid a phony “staged” appearance.
To accomplish this, Alexandre Blazys and Benoit Gérard tackled the challenge from a fresh, modern angle. The bar sets the tone with a blackened steel arch, antique mirrors, and deep blue barstools. By installing a constellation of smoked globe lights of varying sizes, the designers sought to evoke the romance of the Mediterranean night sky.
Wood and leather banquettes lend structure to the space while simultaneously defining the restaurant’s different zones. In addition to allotting for maximum seating, the arrangement also provides guests with wonderful views of Old Montréal.
Sheepskin seat coverings give a playful and almost feminine touch that complements the warm, earthy tones established by the wood and seagrass chairs.
The high warehouse-like ceiling is hidden from view of the diners by suspended wood planks that form a pergola. By forming a lower ceiling in this way, the space is made more intimate and cozy.
The planks are installed at regular intervals, generating a play of shadow and light on the brick and straw paper walls. With the lighting and service conduits cleverly concealed above the planks, the atmosphere is given a warm, intimate character and a more human scale than it would have if the warehouse ceilings remained in view. The lighting at the base of the partitions is concealed inside steel mouldings, creating a visual horizon for guests.
The unconventional placement of the kitchen in the basement – interestingly in full view of passersby on the street – made it possible to consolidate all of the technical services on the left side of the narrow space. The kitchen is a major technical achievement in its own right. Faced with the need to run an enormous exhaust conduit across four levels – including a huge elbow behind the bar – the designers turned the space constraint to their advantage by making the conduit a focal point and the unifying element of the bar.
The use of stucco on certain walls, the inclusion of raw steel posts, plus the addition of black and grey slate on the steps and landings gives the space an intentional patina that expands on the Mediterranean theme. Similarly, the openwork partitions in thin, braided metal were installed as a nod to the historically classic aesthetic of Greece.
A testament to how successful the design team was in achieving the chef’s goal for a cozy atmosphere are the many reviews from diners on Web sites such as TripAdvisor, OpenTable, and Yelp who compliment the aesthetics almost as much as they rave about the cuisine.