Isabelle Restaurant and Lounge’s exquisite food matches its exquisite views
In fall 2021, Pearle Hospitality – which also operates Spencer’s at the Waterfront, Bread Bar, Ancaster Mill and Elora Mill – opened the Pearle Hotel and Spa in Burlington. The hotel restaurant, Isabelle, was launched in December. After touring the facilities and meeting the chef, I was looking forward to visiting. My visit was delayed until patio season and it turned out to be an enhanced experience.
The soothing interior decor is inviting, but the patio beckons. In addition to a charming ambience, Dominik Ociesa, catering manager, explained that the patio was designed to be active during three seasons of the year. In the open air but sheltered from the rain, top-of-the-range radiators will be, as the weather gets colder, embellished with hearths. The availability of blankets, if required, will add to guest comfort.
My previous post about the hotel referred to the Culinary Director, Chef Ben Heaton. Turns out he left two months before my visit. His penchant for Californian, Mediterranean, Italian, Spanish and Middle Eastern cuisines had left its mark on the menu perfectly executed by Canny Leang, the chef who had worked with Heaton for a long time.
The menu changed the day after my dinner at Isabelle. Cleverly, popular items have been kept, and the changes showcase Leang’s talents. The stated goal of “Ontario’s Finest Ingredients Prepared with a Global Flair” is in good hands.
By offering snacks, small plates and plates to share with main courses, the menu allows guests to shape the type of dining experience they prefer.
Always drawn to bread, we started with the Focaccia Za’atar. The fresh bread arrived with whipped tahini sprinkled with za’atar (the wonderful spice blend that includes sesame seeds and sumac) as well as zhug – a hot oil and herb sauce.
Next we had Kibbeh – a popular Middle Eastern snack. Bulgur balls mixed with meat, mushrooms or vegetables are fried. Chez Isabelle, the kibbeh was made with mushrooms and served on marinated cauliflower, delicately topped with a petal of marinated onion, and drizzled with farmhouse honey. An incredible taste sensation!
I saw another bread dish appear on nearby tables – baked pitas with dips. I decided to try this on my next visit. By the way, all of the above remains in the new menu.
There were six small plates on the menu but we moved on to the main course. I chose unknown pasta – Malfatti a Limone. These were dumplings slightly larger than gnocchi served with spinach, Meyer lemon and “ricotta salata”. The latter is aged, pressed ricotta that added a pleasant crumbly salty finish to every bite.
Earlier in the day I had met some friends at a pub and had (meh) pulled beef with chips for a cost of $20. The Malfatti, at $28 seemed like better value. Isabelle’s delicious offerings seem a bit underpriced right now, so get there soon until inflation hits the menu.
Our second main course was the breaded chermoula chicken. This was plated on shakshouka sauce, toum (garlic sauce), white beans and Swiss chard. Satisfactory in all respects. Throughout the experience we were served by Sahara who personifies excellence in hospitality.
Dessert was next and it soon became apparent that there was a pastry chef on board. It’s a sad fact that many restaurants no longer hire someone for this role. At Isabelle, you can appreciate the creations of Amberley Meisel. The Tres Leche was enhanced with salted dulce de leche and caramelized white chocolate. Coconut Chiffon Cake delivered toasted coconut highlights in a pool of lime custard. Light desserts completed the meal with great taste experiences.
This culinary experience has a postscript. I put Isabelle at the top of my list of places to take out-of-town visitors and this opportunity presented itself a few days ago. It was a Saturday and I hadn’t realized the brunch menu would be the only thing on offer from 10am to 2pm.
I studied the menu, noting down the list of plates to share. Of all the starters – Spring Greens (with yellow beets and pomegranate), Carrot Hummus (with fresh pita), Shishito Peppers and Halloumi – I decided to choose the salad. Much to our table’s delight, all entrees are part of the brunch package and our table was quickly covered with an abundance of food, including freshly baked pitas with a puff of hot steam inside. The display was like a feast for the eyes and everything was delicious. I was especially pleased to have the pita as I forgot to have it on my first visit. It was almost enough to fill us up.
Among the mains, we chose the Braised Beef Birria and the Avocado Toast Eggs Benedict – both of which turn the park dining experience on its head in plating and taste. Looking back, the Babka French Toast would surely have been a winner, as would Shrimp Fritatta or Shakshouka. The desserts were almost useless but the apricot cake and coconut sorbet were delicious.
The Brunch menu ($45 per person) is offered Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. with the last service at 2 a.m. Then, the regular menu comes into effect at 5:00 p.m.
Isabella nods. Answer the call!
Isabelle restaurant and lounge
The Pearle Hotel, 3 Elizabeth Street, Burlington
Opening hours: Wednesday, Thursday, Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Saturday, Sunday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Monday, Tuesday closed.
What I paid: Focaccia $8; Kibbe $15; Malfatti $28; Chicken chermoula $32; Tres Leche $14; Chiffon cake $14
Wheelchair access: Yes