Chef Michael Noble has created a dining destination outside of the downtown core with his popular northwest restaurant.
Which do you think is more difficult? Being a restaurant in the downtown core and trying to stand out against your next-door competition or building your business in an out-of-the-way location and making the people come to you? After some contemplation, most people would decide that they’re equally difficult, but making a restaurant a destination is always quite the feat, so when a person aims to do just that, he better do it well!
Equal parts cosy, refined and, most importantly, delicious, Michael Noble’s dining destination nestled in the Montgomery area of the northwest of Calgary, has been attracting diners like bees to pollen since 2010. Choosing a location like this at the time was (and still is) a bold move for a chef-driven restaurant like Notable.
“Even when a lot of people thought I was crazy opening Notable where I did, that was my whole philosophy…People work downtown, but then they live in their communities and they will support a community restaurant.” says Noble as he recalls the initial reaction to his location. “I was either really right or really wrong with that idea. Ha, ha, ha.” If the recent proliferation of casual fine dining restaurants infiltrating the suburbs (think Bistro Rouge, Vin Room West, Mercato) is any indication, it’s hard not to think that Noble was well ahead of the curve when it comes to location selection.
No stranger to time in the kitchen, Michael Noble’s career has spanned an impressive thirty years and counting. Born in Calgary, his family relocated to Vancouver when he was just a young boy. Once he fell in love with cooking as a teenager, the chef quickly grew to the top of the kitchen food chain working in Monaco, then back to Vancouver at The Four Seasons, followed by Diva at The Met. During his time back in Vancouver, Noble also became the first Canadian chef to appear on Iron Chef in his now infamous ‘Battle Potato’.
Forget the glossy ‘Iron Chef America’ you can catch on-air nowadays where the competitors are more ‘celebrity’ and less ‘chef’. This was the real deal. “The original Japanese version, it was always [real] chefs. In those days, it wasn’t even on the Food Network in North America. It was only in a couple markets…in Hawaii and San Francisco. Heavily Japanese populated cities that had it on their local cable network.”
After being gone for twenty years, the chef returned to Calgary in the early 2000s to open a new restaurant concept named Catch (perhaps you’ve heard of it?). “When I came back, it felt so familiar to me. Bigger, but somehow I still sensed the essence of what Calgary is and, to me, it’s a very community-based city,” says Noble matter of factly. “I just love the community feel of Calgary and obviously during the flood, that was very well documented. Not many cities could have pulled together like we did, because I think we have this natural sensibility.”
Noble began working on the restaurant concept for Notable in 2007 with the doors officially opening three years later. Now, what’s in a name? Always a topic of conversation, diners may wonder why there are so many ups and downs (read: capitals and lowercase) lettering in its title. Right off the bat, it displays one thing to the mind, the chef’s last name.
“It was never about ‘Oh, here’s my name!’ and working backwards from there, but what is [the name] going to be? What is the word?” explains Noble on brainstorming during his restaurant conceptualization. “Notable…I wrote it down on my scratch pad because I was sort of puking ideas out and I knew that this was the name.”
After opening, the ever-busy establishment also quickly garnered the nickname ‘no table’ with Calgary diners due to its consistent popularity. “When someone says that, we always pretend that it’s the first time we’ve ever heard that. Ha, ha, ha, but there was also a third derivative that we wanted to avoid – ‘not able’ – and that’s really why it became the capitals and lowercase. ‘No table’ I’m totally cool with, but not ‘not able’.” Needless to say, you should make a point of making a reservation.
The interior of NOtaBLE exudes a certain level of elevatedcomfort. The room, while warm and inviting is also polished. Wood-stacked walls and dark tones surround a room that’s well separated for different levels of intimacy. The setting here lends itself to a variety of situations. One can find the perfect two-seater for a one year anniversary, a long table for a family affair with grandma and the cousins, or even just a stool at the bar for a well-crafted cocktail and a quick bite. Going back to Noble’s earlier point, the interior of Notable matches the ‘community’ sort of feel; come as you are and eat good food.
Table or ‘no table’, going into the cooler seasons of the year, everyone can appreciate dishes here like the lamb sirloin over creamy risotto or the free-range roast chicken, both courtesy of their eye-catching rotisserie, the focal point of the kitchen. Noble laughs as he explains that he was hoping to be the first restaurant in the city with a centrepiece rotisserie until construction delays (which are always the case in the restaurant world) saw a downtown dining hotspot open up with one and steal his roast-y thunder. Nonetheless, it’s not who has it first, but rather, how you use it and Notable is now synonymous with expertly executed rotisserie.
Then there’s Chef Noble’s famous Stilton Cheesecake. If a chef has ever left a unique sugary legacy, it would have to be this sweet slice of heaven. “It’s one of the only dishes I’ve ever conceptualised that I’ve never heard of someone else doing [before].” explains Noble, “I mean, everything I cook is mine, but all these other generations of chefs have done it before. Hollandaise is not new, braised lamb shank is not new, we [as chefs] just put our own personal touch on them.”
If you haven’t tried this cheesecake, then you haven’t really had the full Notable experience. Even if blue cheese isn’t your cup of tea, this dessert is by no means overpowered by it. “It’s not Stilton like a punch in the face, it’s this subtle, little thing,” he points out. The tender cake comes to the table perfectly bruléed with a complement of rhubarb compote. Tried and true, this recipe has stuck with Noble and his menu since 1996, originally making its debut at Diva at The Met in Vancouver. “From that moment until now, Stilton Cheesecake competes with chocolate as my number one selling dessert on my menu.” Noble says proudly. “Month in, month out, year in, year out!”
All of the success of Notable would not have come around with the support of Noble’s dedicated staff. He works closely with his long-time executive chef, Justin Labossiere, to ensure that all patrons leave Notable with a good taste in their mouths, both figuratively and literally. “I have these great people at the restaurant, but in order to allow them to keep growing, I need to step away…I’m letting Justin mould his team. I’m mentoring him to mentor. I’ve become expendable in a great kind of way [here]…The culture of a restaurant is like a good starter for a good sourdough bread. You can divide it, take it over there and make a nice sourdough bread.”
Possibly hinting at what is to come in the (near?) future, the well-seasoned chef ends with this, “When I’m really ready and have the right opportunity, it’s the natural progression for me. I have two choices: Open another restaurant or semi-retire. And, I’m not ready to retire yet!”
Photo by Ingrid Keunzel