River Cafe dates back to 1991 when it started as a full-service café on Calgary’s Prince Island for the summer only. In 1995 they enclosed the space and began operating year-round. The desire was to create a restaurant space that would blend into the Bow River setting and they ranked at #22 on the 2023 100 Best In Canada. Attempting to serve cuisine from local areas was also part of the plan. To this day there is no access to the place except to walk there across the pedestrian bridge and through the friendly geese. It’s a fairly large space with bare wood tables set with towel-shaped napkins, faint music in the background and decorated with a fishing/nautical motif. An open kitchen is part of the rambling room as is a long bar. They are open 7 days a week and serve lunch/brunch as well as dinner. At dinner, they offer a Chef’s Tasting menu as well as an a la carte menu. We chose the tasting and they were willing to give me a copy of the night’s menu, but the dessert listed was not accurate. Service was friendly but the pacing was off and the food was good but not outstanding. It’s such a pretty spot, though I would recommend you try it.
Bread service was house-churned butter with Vancouver Island sea salt and Highwood Crossing Red Fife sourdough bread. The bread was crusty with a good doughy center and served at room temperature. The butter was nicely softened for easy spreading. Both tasty.
The tasting started with Whipped Ricotta spread on grilled Red Fife sourdough and topped with brandy pickled peaches and Sambal (Indonesian chilli sauce). It was the same bread as that given to all the tables but this was lightly toasted. Topping it was wonderfully sweet and perfectly ripened peaches that had been pickled in brandy. A fair amount of spiciness was in the sauce that blended nicely with the ricotta and pickling seasonings. It was a great start – absolutely delicious.
Tempura Fogo Island shrimp was plated with roasted garlic buttermilk and red pepper foam. The small shrimp from north of Newfoundland were shelled and lightly fried in a puffy tempura batter. They were lovely but lost the battle with the creamy sauce, which dominated the flavor profile. No spice in this one and it was good just not shrimpy.
BC Fire morel and asparagus were mixed with plum gel, hazelnuts and buckwheat. Everything was fairly finely diced and the roasted hazelnuts were on the top to add a crunch. The asparagus was cooked perfectly and added lots of flavor. This dish had a fabulous amount of flavor and blended together perfectly. A winner.
Haida Gwaii Halibut was in a bouillabaisse with baby sweet peppers, Parisienne potatoes, Broxburn tomato, Southern Skies butterleaf and dill. The fish was overcooked, except in the thickest parts. Most of the potatoes were cooked nicely and blended well with the soupy sauce. We waited quite a bit for this course to arrive and it was not worth the wait.
Spruce Tip Mousse with raspberry coulis and a sunflower dacquoise was what was on the menu. It instead had a rhubarb coulis inside the spruce mousse and was topped with pistachios. The cookie/dacquoise could have been made from sunflower seeds but I’m not sure but it was slightly chewy, in a meringue kind of way, and good. The rhubarb was not too tart or fibrous and so I was quite glad of the substitution. It was an adequate dessert.