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When it comes to this restaurant's menu, it feels as if corners have been cut

The Elbow Room restaurant in Calgary offers a tender charred octopus with fingerling potatoes, sautéed kale and shallots in a slightly smoky, pungent harissa lemon butter sauce.

Elbow Room Britannia

802 49 Ave SW, Calgary


Price: $11-$45

Cuisine: Globally inspired, “something for everyone” menu

Atmosphere: Fairly narrow, two-level space and slightly noisy

Drinks on offer: Cocktails, decent wine list

Best bets: Octopus, beef striploin, Bananas Foster

Vegetarian friendly? Minimal vegetarian options

Additional info: The restaurant is located in Britannia Plaza, so there is plenty of free parking


When you're trying to analyze restaurants, it's always important to see how they market themselves. Elbow Room, which sits on Elbow Drive on the edge of Calgary's Britannia Plaza – about a 15-minute drive from downtown Calgary – promotes itself as a "restaurant that specializes in Canadian cuisine that highlights local ingredients."

Who doesn't like the sound of that? Setting the menu aside for a moment once sitting inside the eatery, it was worth pausing to appreciate my surroundings.

There are no qualms to be had about the interior of Elbow Room. The owners have spared no expense, enlisting one of Calgary's most sought-after design firms (Sarah Ward Interiors) to create an elegant space that's brimming with lovely finishings to marvel at during a meal. Pale, thin wood panelling backs banquette seating that runs the perimeter of the room with cool grey chairs positioned across warm wood tabletops. Mellow green highlights on the walls and ceiling as well as a bright white tiled open kitchen and a textured wooden bar front all add to the room's cool factor. The upper level and cozier bar area feels just polished and inviting.

The owners have spared no expense, enlisting one of Calgary’s most sought-after design firms to create an elegant space that’s brimming with lovely finishings to marvel at during a meal.

Though one can't help but wonder if the apparently mountainous design budget had cut into the kitchen's monetary allocations because, when it comes to the menu, it feels as if corners have been cut and local ingredients take a back seat to out-of-country and out-of-season items.

The most painfully memorable dish from my initial visit in the fall came by way of chef Ryan Blackwell's smoked chicken and mushroom agnolotti. Oddly shaped and resembling mushi-gyoza much more than properly prepared Italian pasta, they arrived sitting sadly in viscous sauce that boasted an over-abundance of salt and not much more. For garnish, the – let's go with – "dumplings" were topped with diced tomatoes, raw red onion and what appeared to be preshredded cheese from a bag.

Arriving alongside the confused pasta was a decent wagyu beef carpaccio with shaved mushrooms, cured egg yolk and a yuzu and truffle emulsion, a plate of mediocre grilled tiger prawns with mango salad and fried, but gummy flecks of sweet potato (this has since been revised on the menu) and a cilantro crema as well as a vegan mushroom pâté. The four thick slabs of pâté boasted gel caps made with agar (a thickener derived from algae) that was so rubbery, it took a forceful push of my fork to get through it. At least the cocktails were good.

The steaks are cooked sous vide in clarified butter before hitting the grill.

Coming back again in the new year seemed like a fair amount of time for the restaurant to properly grease its gears and have everything running in tip-top shape. On my second visit, we made the mistake of not making a reservation at 6 or so on a Saturday night and were turned away with no option of coming back as the hostess told us they were booked solid from open-to-close. Perhaps a third visit was to be the charm then.

Indeed it was – sort of. On this particular evening, there was a pleasant plate of octopus, tender to the bite with a nice char and accompanied by perfectly roasted fingerling potatoes, sautéed kale and shallots in a slightly smoky, pungent harissa lemon butter sauce. A dish of crispy pork jowl with miso pumpkin purée, soy-braised daikon and crispy green kale also left a decent impression.

Against my better judgment, I ordered agnolotti to see if there had been any notable improvements. The pasta still arrived as poorly prepared as ever, but thankfully, the prebagged cheese and red onions were nowhere to be found.

Chef de Cuisine Stuart Leduc is pictured on Feb. 15, 2018.

This restaurant's claim to fame, so to speak, are its steaks, which are cooked sous vide in clarified butter before hitting the grill. It's an indulgent dish for the inner carnivore that lurks in many of us and did not disappoint. Coupled with jalapeno potato gratin, grilled broccolini and a mustard jus, it is one of the more unique and delicious steak dishes you can find in Alberta.

Dessert was a hit and a miss with a fun take on bananas Foster –a plate comprised of a Belgian-style waffle, bruléed bananas, rum butter sauce, chunks of cashew brittle and a mascarpone white-chocolate mousse– and impossibly dense beignets that resembles deep-fried, crumbly biscuits more than anything.

It's not that Elbow Room Britannia is absolutely dreadful, but I find it misleading to sell your diners on the idea of Canadian cuisine when I have spent the evening sitting at your kitchen bar watching cooks slice into under-ripe, out-of-season tomatoes in the winter, plating salad after salad and serving me croquettes studded with frozen corn kernels and artichoke hearts.