“Braven invites guests to abandon all hesitation, embrace adventure and enjoy life to its fullest”.
A review by Ellen Lesiuk, student writer in the University of Alberta WRITE 297 program.
I know better than to have dinner in a hotel restaurant. Experience has taught me that it is a rare hotel restaurant that delivers an excellent dining experience. I know, I know, there are hotels that have incredible restaurants, but in my own defense we are new to Edmonton and “Braven” came highly recommended.
Michael (my husband) and I decided to take a chance on Braven, to celebrate our 27th wedding anniversary, and to be fair the occasion was a bit loaded, so expectations may have been running high.
Braven is the flagship restaurant in the newly revitalized JW Marriott Hotel on 102nd st in the “Ice District” in Edmonton. It is located directly across from the Rogers Centre, home to the infamous Edmonton Oilers. In fact, there is pedway from the hotel to the rink. And there was a game that evening and I booked for 7:30 with the intention of missing the hockey crowds.
The restaurant is part of the Oliver & Bonacini restaurant family, a Canadian company of restaurants principally located in Ontario. Braven marks a limited foray into western Canada. There are a couple of restaurants in Calgary and one in Vancouver. This particular restaurant has been widely promoted as a modern steak house, and
“ invites guests to abandon all hesitation, embrace adventure and enjoy life to its fullest”.
Parking was not obvious to me, so rather than drive around in search of a spot, I choose the valet option. Heads up to all …. Valet parking at the Marriott is $35. No discount for staying at the hotel, no discount for eating at the hotel for two hours. And FYI this is highest Valet charge in Alberta I have experienced. Underground parking is poorly marked but available, and I was advised later that the restaurant will stamp your parking ticket. We choose the valet option.
Once in the Hotel, there is no obvious concierge, registration desk or signage to the restaurant. I spotted a small sign posted on a wall behind a post with a small directional arrow directing us down a lobby spanning the length of a football field. The lobby serves as the central hotel bar, aptly named, The Lobby Bar, decorated in an ultra-modern design complete with 30-foot ceilings, an abundance of glass, white leather furniture and chrome tables.
At the end of the lobby, we found the restaurant.
We waited for someone to seat us. An overly bubbly hostess took us to a table. When I advised her that I had made a reservation with specific requests, she looked at me and said in a snotty condescending manner afforded only to the young and witless, “ well, where do you want to sit?” At which point I simply walked to the end of the restaurant and choose my own table. Perhaps this is what is meant by Braven’s bold statement;
“Braven rises above the standard. Edmonton’s newest fine-dining experience.
The restaurant is vast (another football field) and open. The ceilings are 20 to 30 feet high, adorned with a confusing array of large lighting fixtures, a mixture of medieval mental rounds with multiple bulbs, oversized hanging bordello inspired lamp shades and disproportionately large mid-century globes on metal stems.
The walls are covered in a blue subway tile and adorned with dead animal heads. Curved booths with orange leather covered benches are stacked one after another down one wall of the room. In the centre of the room there are several rows of non-descript tables with mousey coloured brown chairs. The back wall of the restaurant is covered in antique vintage photos and mirrors from yet another era.
Opposite the wall of benches is a massive hammered copper grill hood hung over a seemingly 25-foot-long open grill. The grill is surrounded by a bar and is flanked on each side by openings exposing the dish-washing section of kitchen and massive storage fridges.
Once seated I have a clear view of what I would best describe as a cross between a medieval dinner palace and a poor rendition of the Chicago bus station circa 1973.
We are greeted by a harried waitress (the restaurant is less than half full so I am not sure why she was so rushed, although, in retrospect, I remembered the hockey crowds) requesting our drink order. The Prosecco arrived flat and I had to find someone to have it returned. A second attempt arrived much later, delivered by another out of breath person. Michael ordered a martini served in an oversized stemmed glass with what appeared to be an iceberg floating in it, flanked by two enormous green olives that belonged in a sauce not a drink. The iceberg and the olives made it challenging to drink.
The waitress took our order officiously, and within minutes our first dish arrived. At this point, I realized this was not going to a fine dining experience but something more akin to a fast meal at a sandwich bar. I have no idea what their wine list looked like as it was never offered. When pressed the waitress suggested a simple red.
I started with Crab, Shrimp & Haddock Cakes ($18). They (2 cakes) were served on a bed of radishes and shredded lettuce with a light, non-descript dressing. The cakes were crisp, although there was no distinguishable shrimp or crab flavors.
As Braven is billed as a steak house, I ordered a steak ($62 for 6 oz) that was done very well. Getting a steak right is an accomplishment and I was impressed. Unfortunately, the peppercorn bourbon sauce that accompanied it was tepid, and as flat as the prosecco but with less flavor. My husband started with an oversized wedge of iceberg lettuce covered in a bland blue cheese dressing ($15). I don’t understand why this is on the menu? A 70’s throwback best left in the past.
Michael had the Smoked and Chargrilled Half Chicken served on a charred corn and grain pilaf ($28). The chicken was smoky and well-seasoned and grilled to set off the flavor excellently. The pilaf was way over-salted making it impossible to eat.
I am very confused. The Corporate Executive Chief Anthony Walsh, prior to this assignment, was the Executive Chef at CANOE in Toronto. CANOE is a world class restaurant. It takes well over six months to get a table at CANOE and when you do, the culinary experience is worth every moment you waited. Given CANOE is part of the same family, I had expected a culinary experience of a similar caliber. Braven did not deliver. Based on my experience at Braven, the only conclusion I can draw about Chef Walsh’s role is in this restaurant is that he is the “Executive” Chef in name only! I wondered if he has ever been to Braven or eaten the food?
Braven is being promoted as a new “fine dining” restaurant, “rising above the standard”. In my experience there was no “fine dining” and no “rising above any standard”. Although the chicken and the steak were cooked well, the rest of the food was poorly crafted and lacked any interest. The service was lackluster and harried and more akin to the service you would have expected at a Woolworth’s counter (circa 1965) – fast, impersonal and hectic. The room is vast and cavernous and the decor is a hot mess. All together the elements made for a jarring and confusing experience.
Our bill came to $250.00 for two cocktails, two glasses of wine, two starters, a steak, a half chicken and two decaf cappuccinos. There was no mention of allergy sensitive foods, gluten free options or vegetarian or vegan options or requests. The restaurant is accessible and to my pleasant surprise the staff made no mention of Kirby’s attendance at dinner: Michael is visually impaired and is accompanied by a service dog.
JW Marriott Edmonton
ICE District 10344 102 St. NW