Newcomer Calgary restaurant The Guild is drawing big crowds, which, as a meat lover, I totally get. It can be hard getting excited about another farm to fork restaurant, but when a resto hand selects their cows and bison every two weeks, before butchering them in-house, you know they’re legit. Located on the main floor of the downtown Hudson Bay building, The Guild is carnivore heaven and definitely worth heading back into the core for.
Part of the Oliver & Bonacini’s empire The Guild is their first restaurant in Western Canada. At its helm is Chef Ryan O’Flynn (former chef at Gordon Ramsay’s two Michelin star Petrus resto), whose techniques are rooted in Canadian tradition. “We select the only the very best from local producers. A little bit of smoke here, birch syrup there, season with Newfoundland sea salt and you’ve got our Canadiana,” he told me when I dined there with a girlfriend last week. Here’s our take:
The interior is sophisticated – think contemporary steakhouse with a some bold splashes. A massive mounted bull head watches over the dining room and there’s a meat case with carcases hanging in the reception area. Orb lights dangle over semi circular booths and there’s a long curved bar – ideal for single diners or catching the kitchen action. It’s set up theatre style, with the open kitchen its centre stage
Since we came on a gorgeous night, we sat on the immensely large patio – possibly Calgary’s largest. The atmosphere was a buzzy, almost as if oil had climbed back over $100 a barrel. It was strange, but welcome considering this is downtown Calgary and after work hours. The dude behind us ordered half pig’s head which contributed to the giddy vibe when he was presented with it. While we gals are adventurous eaters, we decided this wasn’t a night to be gnawing on a crispy ear.
And so we began our feast with devilled eggs smoked over pine. For two people who aren’t hard boiled fans, it says something that we both quite enjoyed it. Then came our first favourite: Steak Tartare and Roast Bone Marrow. This Beretta steak tartare (a 50/50 mix of tenderloin and tri tip) is served on roasted bone marrow. It was incredible with full on beef flavourful. What looks like parmesan sprinkled overtop is actually dehydrated and cured egg yolks for a massive umami hit.
Served with IPA bannock, this flatbread is made with the spent grains Big Rocky Brewery used for making their beer the day before. It’s seems almost too contrived, but they’re too legit to be hipster.
Sarah: OMG, this is a huge amount of work for a flavour hit!
Jody: I know! Look, do you see all the bone marrow underneath the tartare – which is reminding me a lot of sashimi.
Sarah: It’s like two dishes in one. Hey, did you know Anthony Bourdain would choose bone marrow for his last meal?
Jody: I did. I don’t totally agree with that, but I’d still take him as a second husband. Oh, waitress! Can I take any leftover bone marrow home to my adorable dog? (I could!)
Discussion reverts back to what life might be like married to Bourdain. Swoon.
Just as our fantasies start to get juicy, we were presented with the Beefsteak Tomato. For a meat lover’s restaurant, this dish shows they care just as much for vegetarians as us carnivores. With a sprig of basil placed just so, it looked like a work of art, a dead ringer for the forbidden fruit. It was almost too pretty to eat, but carve into it we did to be rewarded with a sweet surprise of house-made ricotta.
Mains at The Guild
The menu’s changes frequently, but at present the signature dish seems to be Braised Jacob’s Ladder Bison. Jacob’s Ladder is what they called a short rib in the UK before short ribs became a thing. This savoury short rib bison is cured overnight in coffee, pine and molasses. Sitting on a bed of wild rice studded with prairie corn and Saskatoon berries, it’s the essence of the Prairies on a plate.
While the bison was excellent, we were more blown away by the West Coast Octopus. Fat purple tentacles are dished up in a cast iron skillet with succulent clams, crumbled chorizo and samphire AKA sea asparagus. Underneath all these goodies is an amazing squid ink risotto. We gobbled it up in record time.
Sarah: This is the perfect combo of immensely savoury with a hint of sweetness. You can tell the octopus has been grilled – I love the smokiness of it.
Jody: I never thought octopus could be so tender. Honestly, I think it tastes a wee bit like chicken.
Sarah: It does, but in a good way.
Jody: I am definitely coming back for this dish. And the tartare. Hey, do you think I can go another few weeks without getting my roots done?
Sarah: No! You ought to deal with that now.
Jody: Right. It’s just that the older I get, the more my hair is growing. And like, not where it should be!
Sarah: I’m not really noticing it, but your arms could use a little TLC. Did you know the Epilady is making a resurgence?
(Fascinating hair removal discussion for the next 10-minutes.)
We were stuffed, but sharing dessert seemed the logical next step. Both being monarchists, we went with the sticky maple pudding, a Canadian take on the British classic. Sitting in a pool of toffee sauce, it’s dusted with a crunchy topping that will remind you of the trashy cereal you ate Saturday mornings as a kid. We licked our spoons clean, completely content.
Sarah: I’m blown away by the insane amount of work they do in every dish.
Jody: Agreed. Now, if you were me, would you wax or thread?
For a taste of Canadiana that isn’t hokey or contrived, you’ll want to check out The Guild.