The culinary gems behind the Restaurant at Pearl Morissette
Chefs Daniel Hadida and Eric Robertson take on international inspiration as they look to pair great wine with great food
Photos by Ian Patterson
Follow the bright white-feathered ducks down the driveway toward the striking black barn at Pearl Morissette, enter through its nearly hidden central door and climb up the concrete stairs: Welcome to one of Canada's most anticipated new restaurants.
Once upstairs, guests enter into a welcoming dining room, with rustic wood tables offset by modern white walls and black chairs. Large windows flank both sides of the room, one side providing a view of the winery famous for producing François Morissette's vibrant and iconoclastic low-intervention wines, and the other of rolling Niagara farmland. Mr. Morissette's wines have long been the star here, but from their perch in the shiny new open kitchen, Daniel Hadida and Eric Robertson – co-chefs of the Restaurant at Pearl Morissette – hope their French-inspired cooking will provide another reason for visitors to make their way to Jordan Station.
Mr. Hadida and Mr. Roberston are both Ontario natives and have cooked in some of Europe's best kitchens before finding their way home. Mr. Hadida previously worked for eight months at Le Châteaubriand and a year and a half at Septime in Paris, two of the city's hottest restaurants and trendsetters in the move away from the stodgy fine dining palaces of Paris's past. Mr. Robertson, meanwhile, spent most of his time abroad cooking in Belgium, first at the now-shuttered Michelin-starred tasting menu destination In de Wulf in rural Dranouter, and then running the kitchen at its more casual offshoot, De Vitrine in Gent.
In an exclusive interview with The Globe and Mail, they revealed plans for the restaurant that opened this week.
How did you end up working at Pearl Morissette?
Hadida: After I left Septime I went and visited all the farmers that we worked with there. I spent time on their farms – just working and learning. It was great because I already knew the importance of small organic farming for restaurants, but getting to see it that way was an awakening experience. Then I came back to Canada, worked at Edulis for a little while, before going to South America thinking I would set up down there. I spent some time in Lima and Mexico City but didn't really see what I wanted to see there. I came back here in December, 2015, and heard Pearl Morissette was just looking for someone to make lunch and cook a few dinners here and there. I figured I'd be here for a couple months and get back on my feet. It seemed like good relaxation.
In the end, I came up here and just meshed really well with setting up a garden and with this environment. It's a very interesting place because if you have drive and you're willing to put in effort, they basically just let you do your thing. I slowly floated the idea of opening a restaurant and we've been working on that for about a year now.
How did Eric come on board?
Robertson: I met Daniel back when I was working at In de Wulf. He came in for lunch with a mutual friend and then we kind of kept in contact being expat chefs over in Europe. In de Wulf eventually opened a second restaurant and I was running that one for about a year and Dan came over and hung out for a couple days in the kitchen. When I came back to Canada, I came by and visited him and I knew I was looking to set up something similar to this. Something a little rural – a destination restaurant. I had just taken a job at Langdon Hall, but I was talking to Dan and kind of just wanted to get him fired and take his job!
Hadida: While Eric was running the kitchen at Langdon Hall, a friend of mine who was looking to open a restaurant in Prince Edward County asked if I knew anyone and I suggested Eric. Right away, I thought to myself, why did I send him over there to someone else? He's like the best guy in Canada.
Robertson: Then we were just talking a bit and the project I was going to be working on kind of fell through and Daniel graciously said, "Hey, you wanna come do this together?"
How has working together as co-chefs been so far?
Hadida: I think because Eric and I come from similar backgrounds in the cooking world, our tastes are similar.
Robertson: Yeah, it's been a good fit so far. It's nice when you're looking at ingredients, having that second set of eyes. It's nice to have a lot of ideas floating around.
Hadida: Sometimes we'll definitely approach things in different ways and that's been a pretty positive thing. There may be some day-to-day disagreements, but ultimately, our core is the same and that's what allows us to work together so well.
What can we expect to see on the menu?
Hadida: It will be a carte blanche menu – so no menu put down. The main reason being that we're working so directly with so many small-scale producers that we don't have a giant supply chain behind us. It's all Eric's mom picking up vegetables for us, or one of us picking something up on our way into work – all small producers. This way we can always adapt based on what we have.
Robertson: It will vary depending on the season or what products we get in. Sometimes, portions might be a bit smaller. Like in the summer, with all the fresh produce coming in, we can do more courses if it makes sense.
Hadida: And we're charging $78 including gratuity for dinner and $48 for lunch. So that's the final price of the menu, exclusive of tax. We want to be very conscious that people feel it's worth it to make a long trip out here to try something they're not that familiar with. Providing value for money is massively important to us.
Are there any other restaurants you would say are similar to what you're planning?
Hadida: In Canada, not so much. The two biggest influences for our food here would probably be Septime and In de Wulf honestly, because those are two of my favourite restaurants in the world.
Robertson: And even if we try to go away from that, those are our mentors.
Hadida: But we want it to be something special and unique – a place where people can come have a great time. A big thing for me when I go to eat is I likely know someone working there, so my experience isn't like other people's experience. They take my menu away right away and start bringing complimentary snacks, they ask if I want to come see the kitchen and have a few courses there – it's always super fun. So we want to try to create a restaurant where people can have a bit of that same feeling, that they're being welcomed in that way.
This interview has been edited and condensed for length.