We chose Bar Isabel as a spot for a social outing with co-workers, both of us ashamed we have not yet checked out this talk-of-the-town spot. In between the multitude of dishes, flowing conversation and our attentive waiter, it became somewhat difficult to put together a detailed review, but we were able to capture the more vivid memories of our experience below.
From the outside, the wooden clad facade with geometric beveled details and the simple script wordmark made of fluorescent light, created a classy first impression. Mind you, looking a bit further up one can see left-over marks from the name "grappa" - the previous life of this space. The odd part is that since the Isabel writing is not easy to read, Grappa still plays a role in the restaurant's facade.
The Moroccan colourful tiles at the entrance and the address written in mosaic gave it unartistic edge. Upon entering, we noticed that the restaurant was dimly lit, with old wooden clad walls and plenty of colourfully lit pendants of all shapes and styles. It was rather chaotic and inconsistent. We couldn't react in any other way but to stop and smile at the seating area by the front window - it seemed like a long thin armrest re-purposed as a thin table - there was something so charming and spontaneous about that.
Overall, there was a healthy hum of flowing conversation all around us and hushed music somewhere in the background. We also noticed that the vintage wood finishes used and aged wall coverings balanced well the older furniture. Holistically, we got the impression of visiting an underground Spanish restaurant of sorts.
As much as we enjoyed the warm, gloomier vibe, it made it difficult to read the menus and extremely difficult to take decent tapas photos. Our waiter only took a few seconds to get to us and we were promptly offered to go with a tasting menu. We were so happy this was an option. With a large selection of dishes available and our tummies growling, all we had to do was set a monetary limit per person. Our waiter politely asked us about allergies and preferences and we were impressed how very professional he was. The special for the day was a Punch Cocktail which we asked for right away. The local house option for wine was Xinomavro - Thymipoulous, Jeunes Viggnes 2014 from Naoussa, Greece which sounded pretty good to us too. If this restaurant is true in Western European fashion, we thought, it wouldn't let us down with the house wine selection.
In five minutes or so, the plates started rolling out with detailed annotations from the waiting staff and (for most dishes) an impeccable food presentation. Below we will go over some of the more memorable ones, from the plethora of plates which landed in front of us and hit our taste buds.
Lightly fried Shishito Peppers drizzled with olive oil and lime zesty juice were a perfect way to wake up the palate. They came with a side of large crystal salt. The peppers had a somewhat chewy texture with plenty of skin, making the smokey flavour linger a bit longer. Like the majority of plates, there was just enough food to get the taste for the four of us.
Chorizo Ibérico was of a traditional variety, made from dry-cured Ibérico pork (famous black-hoofed pig) and on a spicy side. Sharing platter was just enough to switch us up from the zesty taste of the previous dish.
Our next dish was on the sweet and sour side - Pan Con Tomate, thick slices of rye bread with great crust, topped with chopped tomatoes. The plate was simple, juicy and full of flavour, plus it also made a good transition piece to the upcoming Fois Gras which was a dish we requested from the beginning to be in our tasting menu section - we are big enthusiasts. It was served with Sobrasada (raw, cured sausage from ground pork with paprika), the delicate pate was grated on top with spicy sausage giving heat from underneath. We were a bit disappointed with not being able to enjoy a mouthful of Fois Gras, but the balance of this plate was quite different, and very experimental. The Sobrasada’s sharpness was softened up nicely in our palates.
Another spicy dish was making its way to our table - Potatoes Bravas. After the extravagant Fois Gras combination, the potatoes were somewhat plain. Topped with sour cream, green onions and hot sauce, they were easy to share and a fair amount per serving.
We also had Sorita Cheese, at least that was what we heard after asking twice for the name. Waiters either knew Spanish or had great pronunciation, as our difficulty understanding the dishes names was persistent all night. The cheese was smooth goat variety with thyme, not something we tried before, close to Manchego but not quite. We found this cheese to be a perfect match for the Xinomavro wine both in texture and fullness of flavour.
We had to have their much raved about Octopus, and it was beautiful in presentation and smokey in flavour as if it came right off the grill. Ma Cherie did enjoy the crispy skin after biting under which was soft shellfish meat.
We had to have their raved about Octopus, and it was beautiful in presentation and smokey in flavour as if it came right off the grill. Ma Cherie did enjoy the crispy skin after biting under which was soft shellfish meat.
By the time the smoky pork shoulder arrived, we were getting full. We though the crispy meat which topped the little sandwiches was tough tense in texture. We though this dish was difficult chew and enjoy due to that. Interestingly, it was Pork Secreto - a secret slice from the shoulder or at least the way it was introduced to us.
Lastly from our savour tapas and perhaps our favourite dish was the Adobo Pork & Quail Egg. It came on crisps with skewers to hold the little mountains together, topped with thin fried quail egg and curls of chives. These were all above the fatty and tender pork slices. Definitely worth leaving some space to try this unique dish – much unexpected taste and would have been great with a full-bodied red.
As a finishing touch, we had their Tarragon Chocolate Ice Cream which was one more unusual combination. Two finger-size ice creams in a waxy chocolate coating with an overwhelming tarragon taste. The herb overkill made the desert experience somewhat underwhelming for us.
o many dishes to try here with quite a few being unique flavours we did not taste before. The tapas format makes it perfect for sharing culinary explores, while going with a pre-set menu ensured dishes kept on flowing our way in the right number of bites for us all to enjoy. It was a great experience, but note that the constant flow of various foods might result in a hefty bill if we didn't agree on a price from the get-go.