There is a special kind of aura surrounding French cuisine. It’s classic – no, it’s more than that – it’s, ‘iconic’. It represents the early development of haute cuisine and is considered as the backbone of Western cookery. French food introduced many of the most elaborate, nee legendary, cooking techniques that we use today. For chefs, it is the one cuisine feared by many, yet loved by all.
There is a level of respect that comes with French food and no-where locally is that more prevalent than at Isabel’s.
We had been invited to sample their brand-new lunch menu, a first for the independent restaurant, having previously been known for only opening a select few nights a week. Well, after high-demand from regulars, they are now open for lunch Thursday to Saturday and Sunday’s for their signature roasts. So, in an on-going effort to provide our readers with reviews of the best local haunts, off we went.
We arrived at Isabel’s on a pleasantly sunny day. As we filed through the front door, we looked out over the cozy Parisian dining room. Velvet-lined booths and cherry-oak tables made for great little hideaways within the alcoves of the room. The back-bar was a floor to ceiling mantelpiece, packed with wine-filled cubbyholes and a single vintage desk-lamp lighting each trove. Rich red carpets lead the way to the front desk (just in-front of the bar), where a friendly face was waiting to greet us.
Seeing as the weather had taken a fortuitous turn for the better, we sought a table outside in their secluded garden. It was lovely. A gentle breeze blew, bringing the smell of freshly cut grass and flora with it. As it was a special occasion (we’d all made it to through the working week only merely perturbed by office life) we made the unanimous decision that a drink was unquestionably in order. Among our choices were gorgeous ciders, wine, beer and one “mocktail” courtesy of our newbie Matt (he’ll learn soon). Cider fans take note; their French cider is a must, so be sure to ask for the “Cidre Bouché’s Le Clos Fleuri”.
Isabel’s staff are a shining example of great service; with knowledge of the menu along with personal recommendations and the answering of all our questions, their team made for an extra special experience.
Their summer lunch menu or ‘Menu De Déjeuner Jardin’, as they say, is a compact list of only nine dishes (and three desserts). Most dishes are available as either and entree or a main, a fantastic testament to qualitative, simple food. Among our choices was ‘Moules Mariniere’, ‘Salade Á La Grecque’ and a definitive French classic, the ‘Fruit De La Mere’ platter.
The ‘Moules Mariniere’ was gorgeous, modest and delicious. Tender mussels, cooked in a beautiful garlic-rich creamy white wine sauce, paired with some simple salted French fries and plenty of sauce soaking bread. All the right ingredients in one place: my stomach.
Vicky had opted for the aforementioned salad, which she kindly shared with me, despite our shared ‘no food sharing’ policy. I remember her saying how incredible to dressing was; a honey mint dressing that lifted and indulged the palate all at once. The wild but wonderful combination of grilled halloumi, grapes, figs, pine nuts and capers set off awaked new and excited realms of my palate. The dish reeked of confidence and pride in the fabulous produce.
What French dining experience would be complete without the ‘Fruit De La Mere’? Crab, prawns, smoked salmon, oysters, mussels, crevette, marinated squid and green-lipped mussels, complete with a side of handmade turmeric mayonnaise. Served in a less opulent fashion to its ordinary ice-bowl presentation, Isabel’s platter allows you to focus on the fish itself, all of which was fresh and full of refined flavour.
For dessert, I decided that the only way to confirm my love for Isabel’s was in trying their chocolate brownie. They say diamonds are a girl’s best friend – but whoever said that probably had more money than sense – in reality her only trusted confidante is chocolate, especially in the form of a brownie and this one didn’t disappoint. It was moreishly gooey, rich in chocolate flavour and paired with the sweetest Morello cherries.
It’s safe to say that we thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Isabel’s and we can’t recommend their lunch menu enough. Be sure to book in advance, as we anticipate this hot-spot filling up over the summer.
By Charlotte Williams
t. 01202 747885
a. 32 Station Rd, Poole, Dorset BH14 8UD