- The Holy Roller
- Location: 8222 Gateway Blvd. NW
- City: Edmonton
- Province: Alberta
- Phone: 780-540-4659
- Website: theholyroller.ca
- Price: $7-$100
- Cuisine: Globally-inspired
- Atmosphere: Art-forward, sophisticated design with multiple seating areas providing a mix of atmospheres.
- Drinks on offer: Cocktails, wine and beer.
- Best bets: Shishito peppers, lulas fritas, Hawaiian pizza
- Vegetarian friendly? Yes
- Additional info: Only open for dinner and cocktails. Open until 2 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.
It’s always interesting when certain dining experiences trigger memories of certain scenes from films. It happens to me every once in awhile.
When I’m really hungry and finally get to sit down for dinner with friends, my mind immediately moves to that scene in Hook in which Robin Williams (i.e. Peter Pan) has the imaginary feast of epic proportions with the lost boys. Eating spaghetti, I think most of us have had images of Lady and The Tramp dancing in our minds.
But while eating at Edmonton’s the Holy Roller, just around the corner from the city’s ever-hectic Whyte Avenue, I had flashbacks of watching a teenage coming-of-age comedy. You know the ones where everyone is about to graduate and they have a party at someone’s beautiful mansion that ends up getting trashed by wiley teens lusting after one another while intoxicated? The act of seeing something beautiful (and expensive) become trashed from within is a cinematographic analogy that has stuck with me in this particular situation.
Stationed at the restaurant’s back bar with a friend, tucked into smooth leather seats against a sleekly tiled bar in a room with no shortage of artistic finishings – such as custom neon lighting and a striking black panther mural – I felt pretty cool. This interior, like the restaurant group’s other neighbouring concepts El Cortez and Have Mercy, has a cool factor all of its own.
Even walking from the bar to the bathroom, you can’t help but notice the attention to detail that was put into every single aspect of the room. It’s commendable and it captures your attention.
It’s also a shame this drive for design perfection does not translate to the Holy Roller’s menu. Around the world in 40 or so clumsy plates of food might be an adequate phrase to describe the restaurant’s menu, which presents a myriad of weakly executed dishes from different global regions. Classic dishes and ingredients from countries peppered across the globe are for the most part either painfully executed or achingly reimagined.
The Thai Crunch Salad is a most peculiar ode to Thailand by way of a seemingly prebought salad mix of shredded brussel sprouts, kale, cabbage and carrots in a sesame lemongrass dressing that feels as though it was lazily drizzled on moments before arriving in front of us. Yes, it is as awful as it sounds.
A Spanish patatas bravas arrives as a handful of terribly undercooked roasted baby potatoes smothered in a tomato sauce and squirts of mayonnaise. Spain would certainly not be pleased.
China’s Sichuan region is embodied by a mapo tofu dish made (confusingly) with fried, firm tofu that comes swimming in a syrupy sauce that includes Yves Veggie Ground Round. After one bite, I am not overly sure what’s happening, but find a small amount of solace in sending the dish back.
Does the kitchen truly use sour oranges in their ceviche preparation? I find that hard to believe when the ceviche’s “milk” tastes more like orange juice than anything. And the chilled seafood dish comes with a bowl of store-bought nacho chips?
The tropical flamingo beautifully painted above the bar encased in the electric glow of a pink neon light seems to look down at the situation unfolding at the bar and think, “You spent a pretty penny on me, so the least you could do is make your own tortilla chips.”
Perhaps my imagination is just running away with me …
The most palatable dishes here after visiting twice in the evening are somewhat of a juxtaposition. First, a simple vegan dish of roasted shishito peppers that are finished with a bright citrus salt and dusted with umami-inducing nutritional yeast. It is genuinely tasty and “inspired” by Japan. Second, a Detroit-style Hawaiian pizza sees decently crispy edges around it’s deep-dish dough, topped with fennel sausage, onion, pineapple and cheese with dollops of pizza sauce on top.
Although the real question of the day is, if you do find yourself at this restaurant for dinner, do you dare order “The Rodeo Drive” pizza with a cool $100 price tag? Judging by the two troublesome around-the-globe meals here at the Holy Roller, I’d have to say no. Absolutely not.
There is some salvation here (holy, even, if you will) to be found with the cocktail menu. With a well-stocked bar and able-minded bartenders, classic drinks are prepared with ease. The signature cocktails mostly lean to the sweeter side of things, but concoctions such as the “Dr. Griffin” (gin, Luzardo Bianca, tonic and bitters with fresh mint) or the slightly sweeter sister of a gin sour, Roller’s “Old Strathcona Hotel 1891,” pack a pleasant punch.
I’ll forever be confused why some restaurants spend so much time and energy making themselves look memorable while leaving their food to be simply nothing but an afterthought.