The JW Marriott opens its doors today (Aug. 1). Earlier this week, we had the chance to preview three unique dining options at the hotel. Kindred, Braven and Alchemy each have unique concepts and are operated by Oliver & Bonacini, which has established some of the most talked-about restaurants in Toronto, Montreal and Calgary.
There is a real playfulness to the food and the cocktails. Both Kindred and Braven pay homage to comfort food, but elevate them to memorable status. At Kindred, we were taken with a full chicken pot pie that’s brought whole to the table, and is meant to be shared. There are lots of vegetarian/vegan options;. there’s a breakfast chia-seed pudding with mango and coconut milk, which is colourful and packed with sweetness and tang. As well, the mushroom empanadas have a hearty filling, but what makes them soar is the “nasty sauce,” which packs sweet and heat.
Braven is sure to be the subject of conversation. Paul Brans, Oliver & Bonacini’s Chef de Cuisine, is unapologetic about his fascination with the classic steak house. He loves iceberg lettuce, and you can start off with a classic wedge with bacon and creamy dressing. With plenty of longhorns on the wall, and a painting of a tiger wearing a suit that, for some reason, mesmerized me, Braven is definitely ’70s chic with more than a bit of masculine overdrive.
But that’s not to say that the menu is bereft of delicate dishes; the black cod with screech and maple is memorable. The fish is sourced from Vancouver and was one of the stars of our tasting. We also loved the braised short rib served over polenta that packs flavour, which, honestly, you don’t always find with polenta.
But then comes the Stanley Cup of desserts. I mean, what screams “old-school dessert” more than Black Forest cake? Well, for $21, the Black Forest Eton Mess Sundae is, well, insane. Brans, from the friends and family events, said he has seen two people polish it off. He’s seen people lick the bowl. I don’t have an idea how two people could finish this. It’s drunken cherries and sauce and brownies and ice cream and a literal mountain of whipped cream, with edible “shards” that are meant to look like cracked ice.
Alchemy will not open for a few more weeks, but it promises to be a real destination spot. Go up to the fifth floor, and you’ll see a bookcase. But it’s actually a secret door that leads into the 18-seat lounge, with room for 55 standing. Brown-butter leather couches face a wide-open view of Edmonton’s downtown. A patio, that has capacity for 164, overlooks Rogers Place. From the tour, it reminded me of some of the patio bars I’ve been to in Chicago. Being five floors up, surrounded by towers, gives a real metropolitan, three-dimensional feel.
And the cocktail program? Well, the emphasis is on local producers. The Edmonton Negroni utilizes Strathcona Spirits Gin. The Raspberry Daiquiri is a work of art, red with a lime swimming in the middle. But my favourite was the Businessman, a riff on an Old Fashioned; cardamom is soaked in whiskey, giving a solid spice to a liquor-forward drink. It was inventive, and with some steak bites for snacking, it’s a sophisticated post-game or post-concert combination.