Niagara's Pearl Morissette eatery tops enRoute's best new restaurants list

Canada's best new restaurant sits on the second floor of a barn in Niagara wine country, according to Air Canada's enRoute magazine.

The Niagara restaurant is followed by two Montreal eateries

Smoked sockeye salmon with hibiscus and fig leaf is shown at Pearl Morissette in Jordan Station, Ont., in this 2018 handout photo. Canada's best new restaurant sits on the second floor of a barn in Niagara wine country, according to Air Canada's enRoute magazine. This year's Top 10 list crowns The Restaurant at Pearl Morissette, just west of St. Catharines, Ont., for a prix-fixe menu featuring ingredients largely grown on or foraged from the surrounding land. (Alanna Hale/Alanna Hale)

Canada's best new restaurant sits on the second floor of a barn in Niagara wine country, according to Air Canada's enRoute magazine.

This year's Top 10 list crowns The Restaurant at Pearl Morissette, just west of St. Catharines, Ont., for a prix-fixe menu featuring ingredients largely grown on or foraged from the surrounding land.

The winery restaurant is followed by two Montreal eateries — the Italian wine bar Vin Mon Lapin, which the Joe Beef team opened earlier this spring, and the wood-fired pizzeria Elena.

The Pearl Morissette triumph follows rave reviews for an ever-changing multi-course menu inspired by seasonal French cooking.

Chef Daniel Hadida said he and partner Eric Robertson take pride in serving fresh, high quality ingredients from small-scale organic farms.

"It's always exciting to get recognized for hard work," Hadida said Wednesday before an awards ceremony announced the winner, adding that the rest of the Top 10 included other chefs with a similar ethos.

"It's great to see some of our peers who are also getting recognized who are doing things that we're really excited about."

Rounding out the top 5 is the haute French cuisine of St. Lawrence in Vancouver and the classic Italian fare of Toronto's Giulietta.

They're followed by Aloette in Toronto, the more casual spinoff of the fine-cuisine Alo; Regina's Avenue from "Top Chef Canada" winner Dale MacKay; and the small-plate dishes of Bundok in Edmonton.

The list is rounded out by the seafood bar Sand and Pearl in Ontario's scenic Prince Edward County, and the Victoria dining destination The Courtney Room, an extension of The Magnolia Hotel & Spa.

Farm-to-table cuisine

Chefs Daniel Hadida, left, and Eric Robertson pose for a photo at at Pearl Morissette in Jordan Station Ont. in this 2018 handout photo. Canada's best new restaurant sits on the second floor of a barn in Niagara wine country, according to Air Canada's enRoute magazine. This year's Top 10 list crowns The Restaurant at Pearl Morissette, just west of St. Catharines, Ont., for a prix-fixe menu featuring ingredients largely grown on or foraged from the surrounding land. (Alanna Hale/The Canadian Press)
​Hadida says there's much to be excited about in Canada's culinary scene.

"Because Canada is a fairly young country and has not had a really, really deeply entrenched food culture it really gives us the opportunity to be explorative and kind of seek new ideas and take influence from other cultures without it seeming out-of-place or feeling unnatural," he says.

"We have a really, really broad palate here and that's really exciting for a cook because the less you have to limit yourself, the deeper into your own creativity you can go."

While he's become known for farm-to-table cuisine, Hadida shies away from that description because "it's become a cliche," he says.

"It should be a foregone conclusion that a good-quality restaurant (is) purchasing their produce from local farmers," he says, noting he places increasing emphasis on building relationships with his sources.

"Relationships are what is really important to us and supporting great producers and fishermen and foragers and ranchers across our little piece of Canada."

That shifting perspective is the reason he and Robertson expanded initial plans to only source seafood from Lake Erie, to now working with sustainable fish mongers in Atlantic Canada.

"That's evolved into something that's started to define the restaurant because we get incredible quality shellfish and fish sent to us by other small-scale fisherman who are very conscious of only fishing hand line and working in a very sustainable way," says Hadida, who texts his Newfoundland fisherman several times a week about hauls that can include sea urchin, whelks and cod.

The idea is the same when it comes to farm produce, all harvested within 30 kilometres of the restaurant.

"Not only are we trying to limit our negative impact but we're trying to increase our positive impact on our environment, on our community, on our structure on our culture."

Here's a look at Canada's Best New Restaurants list as determined by enRoute critic Nancy Matsumoto, who dined in more than 30 restaurants in May and June:

1) The Restaurant at Pearl Morissette, Jordan Station, Ont.

2) Vin Mon Lapin, Montreal

3) Elena, Montreal

4) St. Lawrence, Vancouver

5) Giulietta, Toronto

6) Aloette, Toronto

7) Avenue, Regina

8) Bundok, Edmonton

9) Sand and Pearl, Picton, Ont.

10) The Courtney Room, Victoria