River Cafe: Calgary spot makes Canada's 100 Best Restaurants top 10

Jun 3 2022, 7:03 pm

River Cafe is an upscale Calgary restaurant built inside a chic restored park concession building.

Sitting along the river in the scenic Prince’s Island Park in the heart of the city it’s a dining experience like no other in Calgary. The food focuses on locally sourced meat and seafood entrees using regional and locally sourced ingredients.

Everything about the dining experience at River Cafe, from the locally sourced menu designed by Chef Scott Mackenzie, the impeccable wine list created by Sommelier Bruce Soley, the beautifully picturesque patio space, to the entire creation that the restaurant showcases in every seasonal menu.

Canada’s Top 100 Best Restaurants were just announced for 2022 and River Cafe made the top 10!

Mackenzie was “a little shocked when the announcement was made on Monday evening,” he told Dished in an email. After the shock wore off, he was “so honoured and happy to be on the list in the top 10.”

Eleven different Calgary restaurants made the top 100, but River Cafe was the top-ranked Calgary spot at #10.

“The restaurant team has persevered over the last two years and it is nice to be recognized for the dedication from everyone,” Mackenzie told Dished.

Dished was lucky enough to visit River Cafe following the announcement to get an intimate inside look at what makes this iconic spot so special.

 

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Before you even reach the restaurant, it’s obvious it will be a one-of-a-kind experience.

Prince’s Island Park is extremely quiet, even though it’s in the heart of the city and right on the edge of downtown Calgary. Next to the babbling, quiet portion of the Bow River and underneath the large trees overhead, people come and go along the path — but everyone notices River Cafe.

It’s impossible to miss. It’s an unlikely restaurant because there’s nothing else around here. There are no other buildings or food spots and this is no summer concession stand. This is an upscale, top 10 in Canada restaurant. The patio outside has views of the river and park, even though you still feel hidden in a Calgary oasis.

If you don’t get a spot on the patio, the dining room is just as beautiful. It offers two entirely different experiences in many ways, with the rustic and exposed wood, stone, and brick of the inside feeling cozy during the winter months.

river cafe

Dished/Daily Hive

river cafe

Dished/Daily Hive

Sitting down, the service was refined but extremely warm and approachable.

We ordered a couple of drinks to start, and we started with wine. When you have a selected list recognized by Wine Spectator Magazine with its Best of Award of Excellence, you don’t pass that opportunity up.

Favouring regional wines from mainly small artisanal producers, the wine list at River Cafe celebrates the style, philosophy, and dedication to sustainability in the vineyards represented.

Of course, we also had to get a margarita since the weather was so sunny.

river cafe

Dished/Daily Hive

To start, we tried the chicken liver mousse, grilled Pacific octopus, a new morel mushroom dish, and one of the popular Forno Baked Flatbreads.

Every single ingredient in the chicken liver mousse worked perfectly and was something we had never seen in the dish anywhere else before. Buckwheat, preserved blackberry, pickled cipollini onion, and Mint all made this decadent dish perfectly balanced.

The Octopus, a visually stunning plate of food, came with espelette harissa, sourdough crisp, poplar bluff potato, dill oil, and red onion. We had seen these flavours in fresh seafood before, but never with so many different textures at play.

The flatbread was a perfect example of even a fine dining restaurant never being too good for a type of dish that has people coming back. Topped with fennel sausage, oyster mushrooms, roasted tomato sauce, and red onion, this would be one of the best pizzas in YYC if we were allowed to call it that.

The moral mushroom dish with an egg emulsion came with asparagus and house made-pasta. It was straightforward but excitingly fresh. Everything ingredient was distinct and exploded with every bite, especially since all of the produce, including the morel mushrooms, were locally sourced.

river cafe

Dished/Daily Hive

river cafe

Dished/Daily Hive

river cafe

Dished/Daily Hive

There are six exquisite mains on the lunch menu and seven on the dinner, and while it was challenging to pick just two for the table, we made some choices we were delighted with.

The tagliatelle, duck confit, and beef burger were hard to pass up, but ultimately we went with the pan-seared Yukon arctic char with a green goddess dressing and Benchmark Angus Beef flank steak that came with crispy potatoes, charred baby peppers, Spanish onion, and topped with a chimichurri using house-grown herbs.

There are herbs grown right in front of the restaurant and a large herb garden in the back to ensure every dish is as fresh as possible.

“We are always pushing ourselves, how can we elevate our dishes and highlight the local ingredients even more,” said Mackenzie.

“We only use local ingredients so we are always finding new techniques or items to use to replace ingredients like lemons or olive oil for instance.”

river cafe

Dished/Daily Hive

So what’s next for Mackenzie and the River Cafe team?

“With Michelin Guide coming to Canada, we will continue to push that thinking forward and hope to receive a green star one day if the guide ever did come to Calgary.”

This is one of the most beautiful spaces in Calgary — inside and out. Get down to the park for a culinary experience unlike any other in the city and the entire country.

 

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River Cafe

Address: 25 Prince’s Island Park SW, Calgary

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