“Something quiet, but with food so good we’ll spend half the evening talking about our dishes” was the request to my companion before making reservations at Pearl. What we didn’t know was that we’d also spend time raving about the service.
Just a few steps from Holborn tube station, in the Chancery Court Hotel, lies one of London’s best-kept culinary secrets: Pearl. Hotel restaurants have suffered a bad rep for years, but in London at least, more than a few have shaken off the stereotype to be embraced by the critics. Pearl is among them, and with good reason.
Strands of pearls hang from the ceiling creating a dramatic and sensual atmosphere in the bar, divided between stools and a slinky lounge area with private booths. The main dining room is large, with marble and columns giving away its past life as a banking hall. A wine cellar storing the 200 different bottles of wine on offer occupies the centre of the room, and tables are distant enough for private conversations. The masculinity of the room is tempered with oyster pink blown-glass plates and pink roses on every table.
Modern French cuisine is masterfully created by Jun Tanaka, whose CV reads like a Who’s Who of London’s finest chefs: Michel Roux, Marco Pierre White…the list goes on.
Pearl straddles the line of formal, yet relaxed, laying on canapés, amuses bouches and all the trimmings, yet without any of the usual pretension. Warm country bread arrived on a lovely wooden board, followed by five tiny tasters to get things going. I held out for a second round – a pre-starter of artichoke veloute which was creamy and smooth to begin with, but just to be sure it went down easy, was finished with a dot of crème fraiche and chives, perched on tiny diced squares of artichoke hearts in the centre of the dish. Wow. At this stage, we knew we were in for a treat.
We started with caramelised scallops, which, at the risk of sounding provocative, appeared at the table like a perfect pair of ….well you get the idea, bra and all. The D-cup sized scallops arrived each in their own shell, sitting on a bed of black cabbage risotto, and topped with lovely sea purslane which captured a hint of ginger. Equally, my companion gave 9 out of 10 to the duck tortellini, sat in a consommé, amidst pan fried foie gras, black radish, and ceps.
Satisfied with the starters, we awaited the mains. Mine, was a deliciously moist filet of sea bream wearing a thin veil of red pepper crumb and surrounded by a whimsical presentation of blanched courgettes almost dancing on the plate. A courgette paste, and caviar of aubergine with a distinctly Middle Eastern taste, enhanced the entire dish with light, but interesting flavours. I find about once a year, a restaurant truly knocks your socks off with a dish. Good thing I made it to Pearl before December 31st. It might have been an off year, otherwise.
There was a bit of order envy from across the table. A dish of Limousin veal rump was delivered with an herb crust, accompanied by girolles, pickled red onions, and a shallot puree which left me greedily wanting a second sampling. But the lasagne of veal tail, while dense with meat and pasta, would have been helped with a jus to make it melt in the mouth.
Still, we were both hooked. We wisely declined desserts (not for lack of choice) and cheese, though I’m sure this place doesn’t disappoint with fromages, and were relieved we did when an entire tray of sweets were set down to choose from as a nibble with coffee.
The food was outstanding, and matched with stellar service which left us both wondering when we’d last been to a place where our water glasses were never empty. The waiter immediately picked up on cues about aiming for some of the healthier dishes and helped navigate the entire menu, right through to dessert. It was enough to make this American rave, and you know how tough we are on service.
Pearl provides the kind of atmosphere, service, and thoughtful, clever cuisine one gets from big name chefs like Alain Ducasse or Marcus Wareing, but at a fraction of the prices, and with a more relaxed vibe. I feel slightly sorry for other restaurants; from now on, with Pearl as a benchmark, the stakes just got higher.
Pearl Restaurant and Bar
Chancery Court Hotel
252 High Holborn, London
+44 207 829 7000