Celebrity Dining:

For years, you could rely on Canadian hotel restaurants and bars for a steady diet of roast beef, mashed potatoes, grilled chicken and steak. Hotel food wasn’t an afterthought, but menus lacked inspiration.

That has all changed. Canadian hotels are increasingly hiring top chefs who emphasize fresh, local food and spin out Instagram-worthy meals with ancho chilies, Thai fish sauce and Korean gochujang. They’ve also hired top-shelf bartenders (sorry, mixologists) who shake up cocktails with house-made bitters and whiskey infused with everything from old-time sarsaparilla to ginger or even bacon.

Often a city’s best and most inventive food and drink menus can be found in hotel restaurants and bars and that’s a welcome change.

“I think people for years would use words like convenient and consistent when it comes to Canadian hotel restaurants,” said Martin Stitt, Area Vice President, Marriott Canada. “But we want them to use words like exciting and creative. So that’s changing. I think Canadians are realizing the distinct food and beverage options they can now find at Canadian hotels.”

Some of Canada’s top chefs – and a few of the world’s best – can be found at Canadian hotel restaurants. French celebrity chef Daniel Boulud is in charge at Café Boulud and d|bar at the Four Seasons Toronto. Hawksworth is an incredible restaurant operated by well-known Canadian chef David Hawksworth at the Rosewood Hotel Georgia in Vancouver, while the Bisha Hotel Toronto has a terrific restaurant run by celebrity chef Akira Back.


The new Clockwork Bar at the Royal York Hotel in Toronto.

Jim Byers

“Hotel dining used to happen in closed rooms with floor-length tablecloths and formal glassware. But that’s not the way people eat any more,” said Edwin Frizzell, Regional Vice President Accor Central Canada and General Manager, Fairmont Royal York.

The Royal York recently finished a stunning transformation of its main floor lobby, which now features Reign restaurant and the Art Deco-styled Clockwork Bar, with soft pink lighting and a luxurious, Great Gatsby feel.

“Hawthorn (Dining Room) at the Fairmont Palliser in Calgary is now literally embedded in the centre of the lobby,” Frizzell said. “There’s still that historic grandeur and sense of place, but there’s more energy and a modern vibe.”

“I do think people have stereotypes about hotel restaurants,” said JW Foster, executive chef at the Royal York. “When they find out we deal with more than 120 local farms in Ontario they’re like, ‘Wow. Really?’”

After 90 years of existence, the Royal York has even hired its first director of mixology, who looks after the cocktail menu and the beverage side of the hotel’s food and beverage operations, including their conventions and events.

Both Frizzell and Stitt said hotels are increasingly trying to attract locals, partly because today’s visitors increasingly want to eat where the locals hang out.


Ceviche at The Victor Restaurant, Parq Vancouver.

Parq Vancouver Photo

Fraser Abbott, who is Director of Business Development for Hotel Arts in Calgary, said he and Mark Wilson, the Hotel Arts general manager and vice president, have long believed they can replicate the European model of great boutique hotels that offer wonderful food and drink experiences that shape guests’ understanding of the region.

“We have strong relationships with local farmers and producers and have long sought to introduce their products to our guests in delicious and, sometimes, surprising ways,” Abbott said.

Group Germain Hotels co-president Christine Germain said food and beverage operations are integral to their hotels across the country.

“We want our guests to have a delightful experience throughout their visit in our properties and more and more we want our restaurants to become destinations for the locals, not just our guests. From Charcut in Calgary to the newly opened Terre in St. John’s, we’re eager to offer exciting dining options to Canadians.”


A L’Hermitage cocktail from Reign at the Fairmont Royal York Hotel in Toronto.

Jim Byers

At Le Germain Maple Leaf Square in Toronto, the hotel bar tries to match the city’s cultural diversity by offering everything from an excellent miso grilled beef short rib to tacos or grilled octopus, which is cooked sous vide for hours and then grilled. Being located a long three-point shot from Scotiabank Arena, it’s a popular spot for pre-game or post-game food and drinks. They serve up a special blue cocktail when the Leafs are at home, then switch to red for the Raptors.

The InterContinental Toronto Yorkville is once again this year offering guests the chance to dine in heated, transparent igloos.

“We pride ourselves on the one-of-a-kind experiences and activation’s we offer here at the InterContinental Toronto Yorkville,” said an official at the hotel, which recently underwent a $12 million renovation.

“People are looking for good value when they order cocktails,” said Jake Moffat, F&B manager at the Fairmont Chateau Laurier in Ottawa. “Gone are the days when people just wanted a gin and tonic or a simple beer. They want more out of their dining and cocktail experience, and we give it to them.”


The Statesman cocktail from Zoe’s at the Fairmont Chateau Laurier in Ottawa.

Chateau Laurier Photo

The hotel also is much more cutting edge on the food side and tries to get all its meat and fish from within 100 kilometres of Ottawa, he said. They also make their own honey from beehives they have across the street.

Here’s a look at some great hotel food and drink options in Canada.

Victoria

The Courtney Room at the lovely, boutique Magnolia Hotel and Spa was voted one of the top 10 new restaurants in Canada last year. The emphasis is on fresh produce, local fish and locally-raised meats; Vancouver Island being one of the great bread baskets of Canada. Try the scallops with crispy, tempura-battered cauliflower. For The Potion cocktail, they take a torch to a plank of cedar and let the smoke fill up a glass with a large ice cube, then pour in a mixture of sarsparilla-infused bourbon, Benedictine, Luxardo Maraschino, Taboo Absinthe from Okanagan, British Columbia and root beer bitters.

Vancouver

They do things a little differently at the Westin Bayshore Hotel’s H Tasting Room, said Chef Shaun Maclean. Instead of creating cocktails to match the food menu, they did it the other way around and started with drinks. I had an excellent Rye Chai with rye, mezcal, apricot liqeur, falernum, lemon and chai tea. They make excellent crab cakes and wonderful toast with mushrooms, ricotta, black garlic mustard and sliced watermelon radishes. There’s a fine patio overlooking Coal Harbour and they’ll have three heated igloos this winter.

The Marriott Vancouver Pinnacle Downtown features lovely scallops with caramelized cauliflower and in-house sourdough bread with whipped butter and honey made from beehives on the roof. The fried chicken is served in bite-sized pieces and has a wonderful base featuring smoked paprika. The Lady Wallflower is a dazzling, deep red drink with local Long Table Gin, crème de cassis, fresh lime and cinnamon syrup.

Located at the Parq Vancouver hotel complex, where you’ll find a JW Marriott and The Douglas hotel, Victor serves up tasty food and terrific drinks. The beef tartare and ceviche are both wonderful, but I found the drinks to be even better. The Crouching Tiger has Bombay Sapphire Gin, Fukumitsuya Sake, Lillet Blanc, lime, yuzu and thyme, while the Oaxacan warrior features Cazadores blanco tequila, Sombra Mezcal, chile chocolate agave and orange bitters. Definitely not the sort of thing one would’ve found at a Canadian hotel 20 years ago and probably not 10.


Scallops at The Courtney Room, Magnolia Hotel and Spa, Victoria.

Jim Byers

At the Fairmont Waterfront, they do an aboriginal Canadian inspired dinner as part of their Talking Trees program, where folks get a local First Nations guide to show them around Stanley Park. The meal features amazing sablefish with sea asparagus and foraged mushrooms, as well as local venison. I sampled a Rosemary Gimlet with West Coast Wild Gin, lime, simple syrup and rosemary that was torched at the table for a smoky flavour.

Calgary

Raw Bar at Hotel Arts in downtown Calgary fuses Vietnamese flavours with contemporary culinary techniques. They also make amazing cocktails. Hotel Arts Kensington offers fine dining at their Oxbow restaurant, which also has a patio overlooking the Bow River and the downtown skyline. Located at Le Germain Hotel Calgary, Charcut is consistently rated one of the city’s best restaurants.

Toronto

At the posh St. Regis, Louix Louis serves up spectacular food and craft cocktails in a space with a ceiling that’s painted to feel like you’re inside a whiskey bottle. It’s easily one of the country’s most beautiful restaurants. At the Bisha Hotel, Akira Back does wondrous things with sushi and other Asian offerings, including his famous tuna “pizza” with truffle oil. Café Boulud at The Four Seasons serves up classic French brasserie cuisine, including bouillabaisse and duck confit, but also venison crusted with cocoa nibs and served sunchoke puree, roasted mushrooms and lingonberry. Not only is the food great at Le Germain Maple Leaf Square, but they also make terrific cocktails. Try the margarita with jalapeno and pineapple. The signature cocktail at Royal York’s Clockwork Bar is called “Meet Me At The Clock” and features gin, champagne, lemon, absinthe bitters and a frozen ice cube made of rose (sorry; that needs an accent on the e) wine. For sharing snacks, try the Fogo Island shrimp ceviche or the baked brie with jam, garlic and perfectly charred bread. Reign has classic French bistro fare, including marvellous steak tartare. Their Prairie Queen cocktail is an unusual mix of Lot 40 Canadian Rye, Dillons 14th in Line Gin (made especially for the hotel), carrot, ginger, lemon and dill.


Louix Louis at The St. Regis Toronto.

Jim Byers

Ottawa

The main floor bar at Zoe’s at the Chateau Laurier has been given a bright, fresh, new look. The “torched cheddar” features aged cheddar cheese that’s soaked in local honey for 24 hours, then put on a cedar plank and set on fire. The cheese takes on a lovely smokiness. Try The Statesman cocktail, which comes with rye, maple syrup, single male scotch, lemon, house bitters and cedar smoke, which makes for a great Instagram photo. The Andaz Ottawa has a nice drink called the Sugar Shack, which includes tea-infused rye, maple syrup and black walnut bitters.

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