Death by Chocolate at Fairmont Palliser

To celebrate a friend’s upcoming birthday, a group of friends and my better half and I went to try the famous all-you-can-eat Death by Chocolate buffet (a “Lovemark” for many) at the Fairmont Palliser (Calgary) last night. It is always fun to be with friends and we spent a great evening.

Now, after the fun I had in translating and writing “NOBU Hong Kong – a restaurant review“, I thought it may be nice to play food and hotel critic a little and share my experience of Palliser’s Death by Chocolate. By the way, since I am no food critic, ah, I forgot to take pictures last night! Big mistakes by me as many of the deserts were really a work of art.


Now, before I write my review of Death by Chocolate, I like to say I have been interested in hotels, food and hotel buffets for years. My parents and their friends were quite generous to us kids and weekend buffet lunches at top-rated hotels in Hong Kong happened quite frequently. Believe it or not, I live in Calgary, Alberta, “home of great beef” but I still think the roast beef I had when I was a kid in Hong Kong were much tastier than the beef I tasted here in any buffet lunch in Calgary! (smile)

Smugglers’ Inn used to do a pretty decent buffet with really good slow-cooked roast beef and a restaurant full of customers (taking up three wings of the Inn when it was in its best days). Until we started to see the quality slip and the once wonderful Sunday brunch slowly self-destruct as time goes by. And the customers went with it. A year or two ago, we ultimately stopped eating there when the roast beef was just painfully bad. Oh well, I digress.

Again, I am no expert but my love and attempt to understand great hotel services probably started over 20 years ago. I remember, one day I picked up a copy of a hotel review article talking about the unassuming five-star Mandarin Hotel in Hong Kong (see Wikipedia) by pure accident. The location of the hotel was centralized (next to the Legislative Council (like our parliament) where the rich and powerful were and still are) but the hotel entrance looked plain (ok, I mean awful, the opposite from “grand” from the outside). But I remember the article went on to explain that the Mandarin’s world class services are what made it stands out and turned it into a five-star hotel (by the way, I assume it is still a five-star hotel). The attentiveness to its guests are unparalleled.

Now, having talked a little about my experiences in hotel buffets, food, and hotels in general, let me to tell you a little about Palliser, the Fairmont Hotel chain, and then my review of the Death by Chocolate buffet.

Fairmont Palliser is an established and centrally located hotel with a long history of being frequented by the rich and powerful in Calgary. It is now owned and operated by the Fairmont hotel chain (a private hotel chain owned by the rich and powerful Prince Alwaleed and partners). For more information about Prince Alwaleed, take a look of this Dec 2006 McKinsey Quaterly article. Prince Alwaleed loves hotels (and investing in them) witness his other love in the world class Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts (which he and his partners are in the process of taking it private).

Palliser is a nice hotel and I have visited a few times but I guess I never quite get the sense of “wow” that I experienced when I visited some other world class hotels. Don’t get me wrong, many Palliser hotel staffs offered great services but somehow, as a whole, I don’t quite sense the greatness in Palliser (in services and ambience).

Now, lets get ready to review the Death by Chocolate buffet. I just love chocolate or the art of making it. See my post and this great video. So the following are just my personal views and experiences as others may have different views than mine.

I think I might have set a sky high expectation on Death by Chocolate last night that it was bound to fail to meet my expectations. The following are my impressions,

  • Varieties – Me and my better half actually expected a much wider selection of chocolate deserts last night. The small tables and limited choices of chocolate deserts (may be around 15) sent a strong signal of limited choices after a round or two. You see, there is only so much of the same chocolate deserts one can eat and enjoy after a while. In my mind, I was expecting a lot of varieties that I had to try them all. That kind of “death” can be quite pleasant. (smile) I wander if the desert chef has been constrained by cost or freedom to try new things? I suppose a wider varieties of chocolate deserts can definitely be attempted without raising the cost by too much.
  • Chocolate fountain – In the beginning of the night, the fountain was well maintained. Although an hour and more later, I can’t say the same as the chocolate inside the fountain kinda look messy. On this note, may be the staff needs to monitor the “health” of the fountain better. Some minor clearing of dropped fruits, etc. can and will certainly make the fountain looks a lot better.
  • Fruits – The fruits used for the chocolate fountain are all fresh but nothing more than what we can buy from the store ourselves. I actually expected nicer quality strawberries for example.
  • Freshness – The deserts were quite fresh in the beginning of the evening. But they seem to get dried and then hardened up as the evening went on.

I sincerely mean Palliser well and I am trying hard to shed some light to try to improve the experience of other dinners. You see, Palliser used to hold the Death by Chocolate buffet on two nights a week (Tuesday and Thursday) and it has now been reduced to just Monday night. I wonder if the management of Palliser has decided to reduce the frequency because of lack of business? And if that was the case, was it a life-style change by people or was it resulted from the declining quality of the buffet itself? Ultimately, it will be sad to see a once upon Lovemark like the Death by Chocolate at Palliser simply disappear because of slipping quality.

I encourage the management team at Palliser to use possibly techniques like mystery shopper to help constructively evaluate the strength and weakness of the Death by Chocolate experience at Palliser. And hopefully with a well structured and reasoned report and list of recommendations, the fundamental strength of the Death by Chocolate experience can be recreated.

Me and my better half have seen too many, once good or even great, restaurants went on the slippery slope and disappear from our list of favourites. I missed all of these restaurants because I knew them when they were good or great. When an institution like “NOBU (its Hong Kong branch at least)” can show signs of slipping greatness, no one is immune. Lovemarks and the respect we grand them have to be constantly re-earned, and that is what differentiate a great Lovemark and an also-run brand.

Finally, it took me much longer than planned to write this entry. But I surely hope people at Palliser or other restaurants can benefit from this “review” and my ranting. After all, good and great restaurants are difficult to come by and it is sad to see them dropped off from the good and great list.

These are just my 2 cents and views based on my personal experiences. Please be fore warn that I am often wrong on many many things. Thinking about it, I aspire to make mistakes faster. (smile)

5 Responses to Death by Chocolate at Fairmont Palliser

  1. […] On top of these two interviews, Glenn and I chatted for another 10 minutes about food and pastry, etc. I mentioned my passion for good food and I even shared with Glenn a bit of my less than satisfied “Death by Chocolate” experience at Fairmont Palliser in Calgary. […]

  2. Quynh-Mi says:

    [K: Here is a comment from my friend Quynh-Mi]

    It’s been two or three years since I’ve been to Death by Chocolate — at that time, it’d been inside the Rimrock, whereas now, it’s in the lounge area — not a change for the better. Still, chocoholic that I am, was really looking forward to doing this again. Googled it to get current info, and stumbled upon your blog … having read it, wasn’t sure what to expect this time around.

    Glad to report we had a very different experience from yours! Absolutely, the buffet was well-maintained and there was always someone available to serve guests. The chocolate crepe was my favorite. However, what wasn’t stellar is the initial lack of service! Guess it’s a Calgary phenomenon, but it was over 30 mins from the time we sat down that we were able to get started. In fact, when we arrived, we were told you could sit in the lobby or the lounge area. When no one stopped by our table, I again inquired, and was told this time that due to staffing issues, it’ll be in the lounge only. Wish we’d known that earlier! The desserts were very decadent and quite worth the wait, though. I was satiated way too quickly, so wasn’t able to sample nearly as much as I would’ve liked!

  3. kempton says:

    Hi Quynh-Mi,

    Thanks a lot for your feedback. I am happy to hear that the dessert buffet is better maintained now.

    Thanks for sharing your experiences.


  4. Jessica says:

    How much does it cost?

  5. kempton says:

    I don’t remember anymore as it was in 2007. I don’t even know if they offer it anymore.

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