Thomsons, the restaurant inside the downtown Hyatt Regency, sits at one of the best locations on Stephen Avenue: a door or two down from the corner of 8th Avenue and Centre Street, it’s on one of the pedestrian mall’s busiest and most appealing stretches. But in its most recent incarnation at least, Thomsons hasn’t exactly been a go-to dining location for people not staying in the hotel.
Previously, the expansive Thomsons dining room served what was probably the best brunch buffet in the city and the adjacent Sandstone Lounge was always a top spot for a quick drink, but otherwise it never really competed with the other restaurants within walking distance (or the new Modern Steak and its predecessor Catch, located right across the hall of the Hyatt lobby). Realizing that old-fashioned hotel restaurants just don’t cut it in bustling downtown neighbourhoods anymore, management decided it was time to reimagine Thomsons, which reopened this past May after being closed for a quick renovation.
First up: the big banquet room where so many of us have enjoyed a brunch buffet over the years is no longer “Thomsons.” It’s now Thomsons Social Hub, a banquet and events space. The old Sandstone Lounge is now Thomsons Kitchen and Bar, a modernized 120-seat restaurant with a mix of long communal tables and comfy seating and a new menu designed to keep up with current dining trends, while also impressing hotel guests looking for distinctively Canadian cuisine.
“We’ve got this ability to put this homegrown stuff into our menu all year long,” says Geoff Miller, the hotel’s executive chef. “If someone’s coming to Alberta and has only heard of our beef, that’s going to have a place on our menu, but so will chicken, which is also locally sourced. We’ve got a variety of product in Alberta and it’s all fantastic.”
When talking about the food, Miller uses buzz words like “shareable” which, to be fair, is what all of the chefs say these days. In practice though, the new Thomsons menu is incredibly creative and often a little surprising. Miller, who is originally from the Maritimes, did a stint at the Calgary Hyatt a little over a decade ago, but has since worked in hotel kitchens in South Korea and Japan before returning to the Calgary Hyatt last year. He’s used all of that experience to create a series of plates that show more range than you’d expect at a typical Canadian hotel dining room.
Smaller share plates include specialties like a cast iron pan full of Parker House rolls, with a generous dollop of birch butter ($6), bison carpaccio with a flavour profile meant to mimic a Caesar cocktail ($19), smoked lamb ribs dressed with a Korean barbecue sauce ($18) and a medley of radishes with seared halloumi cheese and a smear of creamy labneh ($13). Recognizing that small plates sharing isn’t everyone’s bag, he’s also included a section of “generous plates” that can be added to the mix or ordered as a solitary meal, with selections like a grilled Alberta sirloin with local smoked potatoes and grass-fed beef tallow ($36), a B.C. spot prawn pasta with green olive pesto ($22) and, for travellers just looking for some comfort food, good ol’ beer-battered fish ‘n’ chips ($21).
There is one potential point of controversy in all of this: the much-beloved weekend brunch buffet has been replaced by an a la carte Saturday and Sunday brunch. Miller says that the buffet just isn’t feasible in the smaller room and he also feels like the food quality is better when dishes are made-to-order. In some aspects, it’s the end of an era, but I’ll advise brunchers to give Miller’s eggs Benedict with Valbella back bacon and crispy Brussels sprouts hash ($18) or breakfast sandwich with Empire Provisions mortadella ($18) a try before passing judgment.
Thomsons Kitchen and Bar is located at 112 8th Ave. S.E. and can be reached at 403-537-4446. The restaurant is open daily, with weekend brunch served on Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
If you’re still looking for something to do this weekend, consider taking a road trip to meet some rural neighbours. This weekend (Aug. 17-18) has been dubbed Open Farm Days in Alberta, with over 100 farms across the province opening their doors to show curious visitors how the food we eat is produced. There are a number of tours open to the public as well as a series of culinary events, many of which are just a short drive from the city. For a full list of everything to see and do, visit albertafarmdays.ca.
In other restaurant news, Cassis Bistro (2505 17th Ave. S.W.) is once again holding its very popular Maman Régine dinner on Aug. 20 and 27. Régine Brassart, mother of Cassis co-owner Giles Brassart, will take to the kitchen with chef Domique Moussu to cook up a dinner of the French homestyle classics that inspired her son to open Cassis. The Aug. 20 dinner is already sold out, but tickets to the second dinner can be purchased at thecassisbistro.ca.
Elizabeth Chorney-Booth can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @elizaboothy or Instagram at @elizabooth