It’s been in the works for a while, and I couldn’t wait to see what the group behind Alloy was up to in their new space. Candela, located in Mission, can best be described as a lively tapas restaurant and lounge, similar to what one would experience in Barcelona.
Unsure of how busy it would be (reservations are only accepted at lunch), my husband and I visit around 9 p.m. on a bustling Saturday night. The hostess lets us know that we have a reasonable 20-minute wait ahead of us and leads us to a huge standing bar in the centre of the room, where we take in the sumptuous space. It feels like Rick’s Café from Casablanca, with bold, Moroccan tiled floors, art deco chrome lights, planted fronds and a lovely leaded glass wine cabinet. Above the bar is an impressive (and massive) skylight.
Designed by McKinley Burkart, Candela is divided into three sections — the standing bar, a seated section with red banquettes and tobacco captain’s chairs, and a private dining area with a magnificent cluster of Moroccan lamps.
At the bar, cocktails range in price from $10 to $16. Eclectic concoctions like the blood orange daiquiri ($10) or rhubarb mojito ($10) are on the list, not to mention a cherry sour frothed with egg white and black walnut bitters ($12). And if you’re really hungry, you can order food while you wait.
We start with the chicken lollipops ($9). The dish includes three drumsticks where the meat of the chicken has been pushed to the tip in a ball (hence the lollipop handle). Prepared with ras el hanout (Morrocan spice rub), the chicken is sweet with a spicy after-bite, and served with a full head of perfectly roasted garlic, hummus and roasted preserved lemon.
Upon finishing our starter, we are seated at a cozy banquette where our server promptly greets us and takes our drink order. Wine enthusiasts will appreciate Candela’s European take on pricing, with red and white selections offered by the glass or by the half-litre for less than $20. It’s a decent list with a good range of options to suit any palate.
Like the drinks, the food menu features an accessible and varied selection of globally inspired tapas. Dishes are categorized by preparation, including ceviche, fried, grilled and baked/braised — no dish exceeds $15 in price.
Our second of the night is the tuna ceviche ($13). The dish features four beautifully plated servings of thinly sliced tuna on circles of watermelon with halved grape tomatoes served alongside. The plate description also notes coconut, lime and Aji amarillo as ingredients, but if they are present, they are subtle. I like this dish for its fantastic tuna and overall freshness, but I would have liked bolder flavours — it just didn’t have that typical ceviche punch.
Our next dish is the fantastic paella arancini ($9). Two rich seafood-stuffed cakes arrive in a decadent saffron sauce spiked with peas, slices of spicy chorizo and a large mussel. I love this deconstructed take on paella — this dish is a must-have for seafood lovers.
We also try the shrimp taco ($10), and I can say this is the best I’ve had in Calgary. Served on a long white platter, three double-shelled corn tortillas are stuffed with pico de gallo, black beans and succulent shrimp. Topped with lime crèma and green onions, this is a refined and mucho authentico representation of Mexican street food.
My favourite dish of the night is the veal ($10). Slow cooked to perfection, the tender veal pairs perfectly with the accompanying polenta cake and roasted cherry tomatoes. My only complaint with this dish is that it could have used a few more of the succulent tomatoes — there were only two on the plate, and it left me wanting more.
Finishing off our tasty meal, we have the crèma Catalana ($7), an aromatic crème brûlée topped with thin strips of candied orange and fresh vanilla bean. It’s a lovely variation of the dish, and the sweet, creamy citrus flavour is the perfect way to end our experience.
I’ll definitely be back to Candela to try more of the kitchen’s unique dishes and revisit some of my new favourites. With friendly, professional service and a cozy atmosphere, this spot is a no-brainer when it comes to planning a great night out — for groups and dates.