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After Grant van Gameren (@GrantvanGameren) announced he was going to open a new restaurant, Bar Isabel (@BarIsabel797) became one of the most highly anticipated restaurant openings in the city.

Grant van Gameren became known to the restaurant scene after bringing Black Hoof to fame with Jen Agg. After leaving Black Hoof two years ago, he joined Enoteca Sociale for a short time before heading off to travel around Europe. Bar Isabel is the result of his inspiration from Spain.

At our table

The new restaurant has quite the roster including Guy Rawlings as the General Manager and Brandon Olsen as chef de cuisine (also formerly of Black Hoof).

Located on College street, just east of Ossington, the space has an old school, tavern feel to it. It’s quite spacious with space for 75 and the best part is, they take reservations! But not to worry if you don’t have a reservation, they save some of their seats for walk-ins.

The interior

Bar Isabel has a solid cocktail list, most of which hover around the $15 mark. We started off with  A Woman Scorned – Devil’s cut bourbon, amaro averna, campari, cinnamon/clove tincture, deathwish syrup, snake oil bitters ($16), Old Flame – rosebud infused gin, lemon juice, simple syrup, egg white and chartreuse flame ($14) and Baraganna – charred pineapple infused 1800 tequila, cointreau, padro pepper & sage simple syrup, lime juice ($15).

The “Old Flame” and “A Woman Scorned”

My personal favourite was the Baraganna which was strong but very refreshing. Later in the evening I tried the “Classy Gal” which I found too thick and sweet for my liking.

The Baraganna

The extensive menu of tapas is broken down into the following sections – “to begin”, vegetables, seafood, meat, bar snacks, cheese and cured meats. We started ordering and just as we were about to add a vegetable dish, our server said “I think this is a good start”… a subtle way of telling us this was more than enough food for the four of us.

Our first dish was the Devilled Duck Egg – with salt cod, Spanish blood sausage and hollandaise ($5 per egg). One order comes with one egg split in half so we ordered two for the four of us. I’ll be honest, I’m not usually impressed by devilled eggs but this was something deliciously different. While I couldn’t detect much of the salt cod, I loved the moist blood sausage and the topping of pork fat hollandaise. I highly recommend you start with this dish.

Devilled Duck Eggs

Next up were the Chips – with Boquerones, piquillo and jalapeno ($9). We had actually ordered the raw horse instead but there must’ve been a mix up since we received this instead. At first we thought this was a complimentary starter but realized what had happened when the bill arrived.

Chips with Boquerones

Despite how spicy the dish looked, the pickled jalapenos and piquillo peppers weren’t very spicy. My friend Vanessa, who has a very low spice tolerance, was able to eat this with ease. Overall, it was a solid dish but I was a little disappointed we didn’t get to try the raw horse.

Chips with Boquerones

You can’t come to a Grant van Gameren restaurant without ordering some cured meats. They’ve got quite the selection of meat here but we decided to leave it up to the kitchen by ordering a Salumi Plate ($16) which came with Iberico chorizo, Iberico salichon, bresaola and another I didn’t catch the name of. Each of them were delicious!

The Salumi Plate

Oh, don’t expect any bread with the meat as it has to be ordered separately. It’s well worth the $4 though. Their sourdough is amazing!

The Salumi Plate

Next up was our favourite dish of the evening, the Sea Bream Ceviche ($26). You’ll notice that the menu has something called the “Daily WHOLE Fish Ceviche” for market price, so you may not get sea bream.

Sea Bream Ceviche

I loved the presentation of the ceviche which sat on top of the fish’s fried head and bones. As for the taste, it was easily one of the best ceviche’s I’ve ever eaten. Fresh, perfectly seasoned chunks of fish with pieces of avocado mixed in which gave it a nice creaminess. The ceviche is definitely a must-order at Bar Isabel!

Sea Bream Ceviche

We had to order the playfully named Original Tongue on Brioche ($14) which references Grant’s time at Black Hoof. Thin and tender slices of tongue were sandwiched between two buttery slices of brioche. It had less sauce than Black Hoof’s version but I liked it better this way as it really let the taste of the tongue shine through.

Original Tongue on Brioche

Having heard so much about the fried chicken here, we had to get an order of the Fried Chicken & Spicy Sticky Eggplant ($13). The chicken had a nice batter and was certainly moist on the inside but I couldn’t help but feel a little let down by the fried chicken. Was it bad? No. But it didn’t blow me away. The side of cubed eggplant wasn’t very memorable for me either.

Fried Chicken & Spicy Sticky Eggplant

The next dish, Octopus – with chorizo and stewed peppers ($22) made up for it though. The grilled octopus came in the form of one thick tentacle. Given how thick it was, I expected it to be chewy but it was surprisingly tender. It paired perfectly with the saltiness of the chorizo and even the potatoes that it came with were delicious.


If you’re a big fan of octopus, you might be interested in the daily whole grilled octopus feature. The price varies of course but today’s was $59 to give you an idea of the price point.


Another enjoyable dish was the Tripe Stew – with chorizo and egg ($11 small/$19 large). It’s a very hearty dish which may be better suited for cooler weather but nevertheless was fantastic. In addition to tripe and chorizo, the stew consisted of chick peas, a poached egg and crunchy croutons. Tip: use your leftover bread to sop up the stew.

Tripe Stew

Our server was right – this was definitely more than enough food for the four of us. Even though we were stuffed, a meal can’t end without dessert! There are two desserts on the menu and we decided with the Basque Cake – with sherry cream ($8.50). You can add foie gras to it which would cost you $22.

Basque Cake

I had never had a basque cake before so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. It was soft on the inside and had a crisp exterior which resembled a cookie. It didn’t knock my socks off but it was definitely a nice way to end the meal.

Basque Cake

Sure, there were dishes that were better than others but on the whole, I think Bar Isabel has lived up to expectations!

Bar Isabel

At a glance:
• Owners: Chef Grant van Gameren (formerly of Black Hoof and Enoteca Sociale) and Max Rimaldi (Enoteca Sociale and Pizzeria Libretto)
• Guy Rawlings as General Manager and Brandon Olsen (formerly of Black Hoof) as chef de cuisine
• Extensive menu of tapas dishes
• Recommended cocktail: Baraganna
• Must orders: Devilled duck egg, whole fish ceviche
• Takes reservations (but some tables are saved for walk-ins); open everyday for dinner until 2am
• Located in Little Italy on College St. just west of Ossington
• Casual and loud atmosphere

Ratings (out of 5):
• Food: 4 stars
• Service: 3 stars
• Atmosphere: 3 stars

Bar Isabel on Urbanspoon

  1. Cateris Paribus (Reply) on Saturday 1, 2013

    Considering going to Bar Isabel in a day or two.

    You say it is “west of Ossington” — but the map above shows it as east of Ossington … which is correct?

    Thanks for the detailed review.

    • Jess (Reply) on Saturday 1, 2013

      Good catch – you’re right, it’s east of Ossington. I’ve changed it in my post 🙂 Hope you enjoy your meal!

  2. Mare Gladwell (Reply) on Saturday 1, 2013

    I liked the place, but what I didn’t like is how the tables are so close together and you can’t really hear one another. The portions were small… 🙁

    • Jess (Reply) on Saturday 1, 2013

      Hi Mare – I agree, it’s not the most comfortable or intimate space. All these new trendy restaurants really pack the tables in… I think I’ve just gotten used to dining with my “neighbors” haha

  3. Natalia (Reply) on Saturday 1, 2013

    Just hoping that what they call jamon “iberico” and chorizo “iberico” is actually REAL JAMON AND CHORIZO IBERICO from Spain and not a copy from their Salumi Store. Otherwise they are selling and charging lots of money for something that isn’t what they say it is. Same with la MORCILLA, what they call “blood sausage”.