Edmonton Restaurant Review: The Harvest Room (Full Breakfast Buffet)

My first run at the Full Buffet.

I’ve been to The Harvest Room at the Fairmont Hotel Macdonald several times over the past few years, but the last time I wrote about it was just over four years ago. A recent visit, prompted by the purchase of a Groupon, is giving me the chance to talk about this downtown Edmonton spot once more. This time, instead of coming in during lunch or stopping by for dinner, my family and I opted to meet up for breakfast bright and early on a Sunday morning.

Street parking on Sundays is free, so it’s possible to find spaces nearby without having to pay for the use of a lot or for the Fairmont’s valet services. The rest of the week, it will cost to park until at least 6:00pm. We had made reservations for 9:30am, and we arrived right on time. Before we were led into the dining room, the host hung up our coats in the closet, and he also requested our Groupon voucher. In this instance, the deal was a $100 value for $65 to be used on a Sunday to Thursday towards breakfast or dinner. However, I also managed to get an additional 25 per cent off with a promo code, which dropped the price down to $48.75. The original offer is still currently available.

Our table of four was seated next to one of the big windows, allowing us a great view of the entire restaurant and the patio. The space isn’t all that big and it’s not as regal as I’d assume a Fairmont dining room would be. It is classically styled though, and the servers are all dressed more formally. There’s even a window into the kitchen, so you can watch the staff as they work. It starts to feel like a fancier place when it’s apparent that they will bring brand new cutlery every time you begin eating off of a new plate.

French toast, bread pudding and a pastry.

The breakfast menu ranges from $12 for a Super Green Smoothie to $26 for a House-Cured Hot Smoked Salmon Benedict. It’s certainly not cheap. Especially when any additional drinks, including coffee, tea, and juice, are $5 each. Although, they do offer the value option of a coffee or tea with juice for $8. Taking all of that into account, it just made sense for our group to go with their Full Buffet option ($31.50 each). For about the same price as a single dish with a drink, we’d get unlimited fresh fruit, smoked salmon, domestic cheeses, yogurts, assorted cereals, bagels, toast, pastries, eggs benedict, french toast, bread pudding, crispy bacon, sausage, scrambled eggs, omelettes, breakfast potatoes, and the daily smoothie. Plus, coffee or tea, and juice — I questioned whether or not the orange juice was actually fresh as indicated on the menu — comes with it as well.

From the Continental Buffet, the best item you’ll find for the value is the smoked salmon.

Personally, I wasn’t super impressed with the Continental Buffet ($21.50) selection as I found the bagels to be kind of hard like they weren’t made fresh and there wasn’t much in the way of cheeses. The fruits were alright. I particularly enjoyed the pineapple and watermelon. Both were juicy and sweet. I also will commend the pastry chef because the mini danishes that I ate were delicately flaky and soft. Otherwise, it’s only worth the money if you’re a fan of smoked salmon and yogurt-based smoothies. Eat as much of the house-cured fish as you can and drink a couple of glasses of the daily smoothie to completely justify the cost. But, really, for an extra $10, it seems like a no-brainer to just go with the Full Buffet. While I didn’t try the eggs benedict or the scrambled eggs (I’m not a fan of eggs that have been sitting for periods of time), I made an effort to sample everything else.

Prairie Omelette made fresh to order.

First off, I’ll say that I appreciate the fact that, even though it is a buffet, they’ll take omelette orders at the table, so the dish is freshly cooked and comes hot from the kitchen. I chose the Prairie Omelette, which is usually $23 on its own, served with potatoes and tomatoes. Filled with boar bacon lardons, charred peppers, tomatoes, green onion, smoked apple wood, and smoked cheddar cheese, it was okay. I definitely could have used more cheese, and I would have preferred a fluffier egg.

The bread pudding at the 12 o’clock position was so good, as were the mini danish pastries.

Again, items that sit out at the buffet in warmers are never going to be the best unless there’s high turnover. That’s why I wasn’t too keen on the french toast. The slices seemed kind of stale and the berries that were tossed into the pan looked as though they’d been heated a bit too long. On the other hand, the bread pudding was fantastic. When I lined up to get some of that, I was at first disappointed to see that the tray was missing. But, that turned to happiness when I saw that a new bowl of bread pudding was being brought out just as I reached the buffet. The sweet bread was subtly flavoured with cinnamon and a dusting of icing sugar. I paired it with a few strawberries I pulled from the tray. It’s simple, but tasty.

The breakfast potatoes were savoury and tossed with roasted tomatoes. They were the perfect accompaniment to the plump sausages and the copious amounts of crisp bacon strips that I had. Those were all perfectly prepared.

My pot of tea was included in the price of the Full Buffet.

All in, my family paid about $100 after tax and tip out of pocket. At $25 per person, the value was there. However, when it comes down to the regular price, this is more than I would typically spend on breakfast (I’ll take the $8 happy hour special at Earls over this any day). Yet, if it’s not too out of the way, you’ve got a big appetite, and you’re looking to treat yourself to something nice, the Full Buffet at The Harvest Room should be a contender. Go for the drinks, fish and meats, and fill out the rest of your meal with other sides such as the delicious pastries. Just keep in mind that the value lies in certain items and stick with those.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: The Hat

The long and narrow layout of The Hat.

The long and narrow layout of The Hat.

The Hat (@TheHatYEG) calls itself the oldest public house in downtown Edmonton – having opened a little over 100 years ago – and the venue seems to hold a lot of memories. I know that over the last several years, for a variety of reasons, I’ve had plenty of wonderful get-togethers with family, friends and colleagues in the venue. If only its walls could talk. I’m sure that they’ve seen and heard more than I can imagine.

Reservations are accepted through OpenTable. Pretty much all tables accommodate four people with space for larger parties at the back. It’s a narrow room, but they’ve made good use of it. The bar takes up about three-fifths of the one side, and gives singles (or duos when the place is full) a spot to dine. The TVs that line the walls often have some sort of sporting event or movie showing just in case you need something to look at when everyone at your table is too busy eating to hold a conversation.

It can get noisy when the resto pub is packed, but usually after work hours on a weeknight, it’s not so bad. Dim lighting, neon signs, wood and brick walls, padded black booths and stools, and an intricate tin tiled ceiling gives the establishment a sense of nostalgia and creates a comfortable atmosphere to chat and sit with a drink for a while.

Rosemary Chicken Sandwich with Fries

Rosemary Chicken Sandwich with Fries

If you’re hungry, there are a number of dishes that will satisfy. My recommendations include: Mac and Cheese, Californian Chicken Burger, Funky Crunchy Chicken Sandwich, Perogy Nachos, Wings ($4 on Wednesday) or Chicken Morsels (if you’d rather not deal with bones) and the Spinach Salad. I’d also suggest that you upgrade to sweet potato fries if you decide to go with a sandwich or burger. The portion sizes are definitely generous. If you’re just a little peckish, you can probably split most of the plates between two people.

The Shawarma Wrap - a signature item - with Sweet Potato Fries

The Shawarma Wrap – a signature item – with Sweet Potato Fries

My favourite dish is certainly the Mac and Cheese, which is made maki roll style. Presented as four large flat cylinders of KD sized macaroni that is shaped, stuffed with cream cheese, garlic, jalapenos, roasted red peppers, then panko breaded and served with sides of wasabi and sweet & sour chili dip, it was the first time I had seen mac and cheese prepared this way. It’s more than enough to share (although, you might not want to), especially if you order an appetizer of chicken morsels to go with it.

The Mac & Cheese

The Mac & Cheese

One day I would also like to try one of their desserts. In particular, I think the Cheesecakechanga sounds awesome, but I never have room for it. Perhaps I’ll have to go just for a sweet treat sometime or maybe I should work backwards and start with dessert instead.

The restaurant is pretty much an institution. Having had its ups and downs and its facelifts throughout the century, it still stands alongside places like the Fairmont Hotel MacDonald and longtime businesses like the Edmonton Journal, which have been around about the same amount of time. I hope the establishment will be there long after I’m gone, so that more people can continue to build their own personal experiences there. The Hat certainly holds a spot in my heart.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: The Harvest Room

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).

The bright Harvest Room with a view of the open kitchen.

The bright Harvest Room with a view of the open kitchen.

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.

A plate with smoked salmon wraps, lamb osso bucco and salad.

A plate with smoked salmon wraps, lamb osso buco and salad.

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.

Warm bread pudding with caramel sauce drizzled on top for dessert.

Warm bread pudding with caramel sauce drizzled on top for dessert.

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!).

The 2013 lunch menu pulled off of the Harvest Room website.

The 2013 lunch menu pulled off of the Harvest Room website.

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.