My mother joined me downtown at the Fairmont Hotel Macdonald for lunch last week. I was armed with an Opentable reservation and a Groupon (a fantastic opportunity to try restaurants that you may not have thought of before or might not usually be able to afford) for the Harvest Room.
Housed inside the almost 100-year-old hotel (it opened in July of 1915) since 1991, the restaurant continues the chateau-style look with dark woods, distinctly patterned carpets and armchairs, light walls, vaulted ceilings and stained glass windows. Perhaps it may be seen as a little dated, but, essentially, it fits with the overall ambiance of the establishment. The room exudes an air of class and elegance, making it seem a little fancier. Yet, it’s not so stuffy that one would feel uncomfortable. Like the history of the building, which was seen as the epitome of high-class back in its day, it should be thought of as a place that warrants you putting a bit of effort into your dress (not ball gown or cocktail dress fancy, but at least business casual).
What I love most about the space is the large windows that brighten the space up with sunshine during the lunch hour. Come summertime, I expect that the double doors will open up to invite patrons out onto the patio, which overlooks the river valley. I have been out on the adjoining patio while having lunch and drinks with friends at the Confederation Lounge and it’s wonderful to be able to soak up the rays with good company and fantastic views.
On this particular occasion, my voucher allowed both of us to dine on the executive lunch buffet for $14 per person (usually double the cost). This included the daily soup, three cold salads with various toppings and dressings, a variety of cold cuts, a choice of four different sandwiches and wraps, a hot dish, and dessert. While it’s not an extensive selection, it was certainly more than enough for our meal, and the choices were all meant to be healthy, which I can appreciate. They also at least attempt to have some vegetarian options available. And, from other reviews I’ve read, they are quite accommodating – a diner who was allergic to an ingredient in the hot dish provided was made pasta to order instead.
I have had the opportunity to eat there a few times now, and I have to say that the service received is always excellent. The servers are polite, water is refilled diligently, emptied plates are cleared away quickly and we’re checked on periodically to make sure the meal is going well. This is likely one of the reasons why the Harvest Room has an 86% rating on Urbanspoon, besides the food.
Voted to No. 4 on The Tomato‘s 2013 list of 100 best eats and drinks in Edmonton, Alberta – pushed off in 2014 by a hearty dose of newcomers to the city’s burgeoning food scene – because of their Dungeness crab cakes, I would say that, even with the simplicity of some of the buffet choices, the quality of the food is still there, and it is a good indication of what the food on their regular menu is like.
The chicken and rice soup was steaming hot (my mom loved it for that reason alone), the lettuce and greens provided for the salad were fresh, the Caesar dressing was house made, the smoked salmon wraps were delicious (sometimes instead of cold cut meats, they put out a plate of smoked salmon – amazing!), they did not skimp on the meat in the roast beef sandwiches, the veggie sandwiches were filled to the brim with roasted Portobello mushrooms, eggplant and red peppers, the hot dish – lamb osso buco – didn’t wow us, but the lamb was cooked very nicely, and the dessert of warm bread pudding – like a combination of banana bread and carrot cake (literally two of my go to sweets) with raspberries and caramel sauce – was my favourite.
Know that, should you go for the buffet, the items change on a daily basis, so, if you’re hoping to eat the same thing as you did on a previous visit, you may be out of luck. I’m not sure what will be in store for me the next time I make my way to the Harvest Room for lunch, but I am certain that it will be an enjoyable and fairly light meal.
As we walked out of the restaurant, I turned back to take a look at their regular menu. Throughout our lunch I couldn’t help but notice the “couple” across from us on what seemed like a first date. They each ordered an appetizer, entrée and dessert, and I wondered how much the guy had spent on their feast. After perusing the menu, I made note that an entrée alone was around $30 to $40, so I imagine he paid a hefty price to make a good impression (good luck to him!).
Would I go back to the Harvest Room regularly? Probably not. But, I do like it every time I go, and will most definitely be back once more. As long as the Hotel Macdonald sticks around, I think the Harvest room will as well. The city deserves to maintain some of the historical significance of what our downtown used to be like and, conceivably, what it can be again in the future. Maybe not in the sense of the classical refinement, but, more along the lines of the caliber of excellence that the Fairmont has strived to bring to Edmonton in the last century.
The Harvest Room is open Monday to Friday for lunch. They are also open seven days a week (including statutory holidays) for breakfast and dinner. On Saturday and Sunday only, they serve Royal Tea and provide a tour of the hotel.