Hotel restaurants once had a bad rap. Known as places guests frequented more out of desperation than desire, they were chock-full of uninspiring decor and a menu to match.
But, today, such eateries are happening destinations. In fact, three new hotel restaurants in Calgary, Toronto and Montreal find consumers sipping clever cocktails and eating meals in bold backdrops made for lingering.
Yellow Door Bistro, Hotel Arts, Calgary
At Yellow Door Bistro, inside the Hotel Arts, in Calgary’s Beltline, distressed 19th-century shutters, pulled from old European barns, provide textural interest above a striped Paul Smith banquette. Located at the lobby level beside the hotel’s Raw Bar, the new build has been garnering buzz for its modern fare and decor.
“The space is whimsical and different,” says Simon Chamberlin, food and beverage director, of the sassy space designed by Calgary-based Andrea and Carl Raimondi of Ingenium Design Group. “It’s still a hotel outlet to appease corporate clients, but it attracts a diverse mix, especially with executive chef [Duncan] Ly’s exciting take on modern bistro cuisine.”
When it came to designing the well-lit restaurant — which has a punchy yellow door at its entrance — Fraser Abbott, director of Business Development at Hotel Arts, says highlighting the food was a priority. “We are a boutique-style hotel with an amazing contemporary art collection,” he says, noting it was critical to carry that aesthetic to the dining room. “In discussions with [the designers], we talked about creating a space that would be bright to befit the brand that’s also reflective of the cuisine. We have a reverence for classical methods with a contemporary flourish.”
For a twist on tradition, French onion soup, for instance, is made with richly flavoured oxtail. So, rather than just using ubiquitous white, the food is imaginatively served in a rainbow of Le Creuset vessels in blue, yellow, green and purple interspersed with white Oneida Saint Andrea plates. “We put a lot of time and effort into our tableware, and we aren’t colour-specific,” says Abbott. “Some days you might get your meatballs in a yellow Creuset bowl, another day in red or blue.”
This varied approach extends to the buffet: “Chef Ly did duck confit hash with poached egg yesterday, then the next day lemon ricotta pancakes,” says Abbott. While he notes such a plating scheme means operating costs are expensive, he says it’s worth it, because people recognize the effort. Plus, Le Creuset is fantastic for heat retention, which is advantageous when dealing with languishing buffet fare.
Decorated in an offbeat spirit, Yellow Door’s dining room itself is also colourful. A full-size horse lamp and rabbit lamps by Dutch design darling Moooi preside over diners. Meanwhile, a quirky communal table sports chunky legs and acrylic Moooi gothic chairs in white, yellow and grey. Who said restaurants had to have uniform seating? Elsewhere, sofas are covered in a sweater-style fabric. “Those are always full,” Abbott enthuses. “After the theatre, people sit with a dessert, a nice nightcap, charcuterie or fondue.”
Hambar Restaurant Bar, Hotel St Paul, Old Montreal
At the chic Hambar Restaurant Bar, which opened last April inside Hotel St Paul in Old Montreal, hanging hams are a design feature that cheekily reinforces the house specialty. “The owner wanted cured meats as part of the decor,” says Debbie Kalisky, director of Retail Development at Montreal’s GHA Design, the brainchild behind the eatery’s design. “That’s why in the main entrance you have that mobile of suspended meats on butcher hooks, theatrically lit in a glass showcase with staged lighting,” she says. “If you remove the meats, you can envision beautiful mannequins in haute couture, because it doesn’t look like a showcase for hanging meats; that’s the interesting dichotomy.”
After all, meat doesn’t always have to look like it does in the deli. “Not at all,” laughs Kalisky. “The environment is slick and chic and lively,” she says of the stylish space ensconced in walnut on the ceiling (a different species of wood is on the floors, too) while behind the bar, a wall of industrial-cool concrete is lined with shelves that neatly bear spirits. “There’s also a full-height wine cellar at the back of the restaurant,” says Kalisky, pointing out that the jars of vegetables in marinades and two glossy red Tamagnini meat slicers “create something to talk about,” as do the gorgeously plated boards of charcuterie with splayed meats imported from France, Spain and Italy.
It’s no wonder Hambar is packed most nights. It’s been generating buzz through its good food and design, which appeals to locals and hotel guests. It’s something Philippe Poitras, owner and sommelier, has always understood. “The owner loves design. He knew he wanted something beautiful, refined and edgy. He was extremely hands-on in the process,” says Kalisky. “It couldn’t have been done as quickly as four months without his ingenuity.” This attention to detail extends right down to the glassware, which is branded with Hambar’s logo by the owner. “It looks like a stylized pig head,” says Kalisky.
Bosk, Shangri-La Hotel, Toronto
At Bosk restaurant, inside Toronto’s new luxurious Shangri-La Hotel, originality was a driving force behind the unusual bull’s-horn water vessels.
Glass is also a standout in the room’s central wine cellar. “We had limited space,” explains Michelle Biggar, project principal of Vancouver’s OMB. (McFarlane, Green, Biggar Architecture and Design began the Bosk design; it was completed by the Office of McFarlane, Biggar
Architects and Designers.) “So we turned it into a functional, temperature-controlled wall. We’re not into overly decorating or fluffy solutions. Our designs are simple and incorporate a strong sense of materiality and purpose.”
That’s what gives Bosk its refined ambiance. Bereft of busy individual pieces of art, the focus is on the materials. “We chose quality materials that will have longevity,” says Biggar. “Wood is often our first pick for so many reasons — for its versatility and because it’s strong, lightweight and flexible. Wood also is a great sustainable choice, and it’s beautiful.”
Biggar explains how the team solved the design problem of dividing the lobby from Bosk without using a physical separation. “[We did that] predominantly with materials. Both spaces share the same natural palette of oak, white travertine and bronze detailing but in differing proportions,” she says. “The lobby features the stone on the floor and walls with some wood elements while Bosk flips [that around].”
And, to add interest to the walls, since they aren’t conventionally decorated with art, the designers paid homage to the hotel’s history. “We wanted to have some reference to Shangri-La’s roots, while also respecting the time and place of the project: being a new contemporary building in Toronto,” she says. “We looked at the tradition and detailing of Asian screens and reinterpreted them into a custom contemporary language for the project.”
The tactile wood gives the restaurant warmth. “Bosk, which means ‘small wooded area’ is enveloped in a family of oak wood panels and screens used to define areas and allow for flexibility in the dining arrangements,” says Biggar. Even the ceilings were given careful consideration, made from honeycombed wood screens, too. The look is artful and arresting — and, happily, nothing like yesterday’s hotel restaurants.