Another restaurant review of mine has been published on the fabulous online lifestyle site The Arbuturian. Yesterday, I had another dinner with Jonesy, so there are more reviews to come. This dinner at Pearl in Holborn was one of the best I’ve had this year.
Pearl would be my preferred burlesque name, I unexpectedly thought as I walked through the doors of chef Jun Tanaka’s decadent Holborn shrine. You might wonder how such a thought could materialise, but it’s not too far-fetched. Classy, sophisticated and highly coveted, Pearl works as much as an alluring name for an haute cuisine restaurant as for a happening cabaret showgirl. The differences end there, however. Pearl might be a glamorous restaurant spot that lures the most intrepid gourmet in, but scantily clad it is not.
It wasn’t exactly buzzing as Jonesy and I walked up to our corner table, but probably for the first time ever I didn’t mind. There was a pleasant hum coming from the diners (we would soon be humming along in awe of the food too) and with tables spaced wide apart, this is as intimate as a 70-cover restaurant can get. The 5-metre or so high ceilings, pearl chandeliers and marble pattern on the walls create a refined atmosphere in which you wouldn’t be surprised to find the likes of Jackie O nibbling away.
Three little amuse-bouches were placed in front of us before the five course extravaganza started, and frankly this was the only mediocre point of the night. Therefore, when the first course reached the table I wasn’t expecting wonders, but how wrong was I to assume such a thing! The fireworks were just about to start.
The caramelised scallops with ginger, chives and lightly battered baby squid were carefully placed on top of black cabbage risotto in a decorative sea shell. This, I learnt, is the essence of Pearl’s kitchen secrets. French modern gourmet fare paired with modest Japanese undertones such as ginger make the food anything but stodgy. After five courses I was full, but not in a sickly way, and that is rather admirable for such an extensive tasting menu.
The scallops were followed by roast bone marrow with onion confit, beef cheek croquettes and wild garlic. Bone marrow, like sweetbread or foie gras, is only manageable in small portions but this was a perfect serving, and we secretly wished for more. For the third course, we once again saw Japanese elements being cleverly used in an otherwise Mediterranean composition. The poached monkfish with seaweed, oyster tortellini, strings of shaved cucumber, squid and seashore vegetables simmered in a broth that made us think of miso soup. It was fantastic. The monkfish, ever as meaty, couldn’t have been more perfectly cooked and the oyster tortellini were perfect bite-sized bundles of the sea.
Jonesy’s Gucci shirt unbuttoned itself in what I can only assume was mere excitement for the culinary treats that were being served. Or did it feel threatened by the exquisite French cuisine that had us completely enthralled? As we all know, Italians don’t do jalousie very well.
For every new dish we were served wine selected by the very knowledgeable sommelier. Not only did he talk about the distinct wine qualities, but also gave small anecdotes about the regions. We started with a Riesling from Australia, moved to Europe with a French red Château de la Roulerie, came back to another Riesling “Smaragd” from Austria and finished in France again, with a Domaine Cazes from Roussillon. I can only recommend drinking plenty of water as these wines give a taste for more.
Pearl’s last chance to impress was the herb crusted veal rump with morels, wild garlic and lasagna of veal tail. The latter was only 1cm high and 3cm wide, but couldn’t have had more taste; the creamy texture resonated long after it was devoured. The veal itself was pink and perfect. Had there been any leftovers I probably would have asked for it to be wrapped up to go, but Pearl doesn’t feel like the kind of place that usually deals with doggy bag requests. Not that the staff would decline, they were very accommodating.
Neither Jonesy nor I are big on dessert, but the hazelnut parfait with yoghurt sponge delighted us both. The yoghurt sponge might have looked like sawdust, but didn’t share any other woody resemblances. Chocolate pralines ended the night and there were near-tears in my eyes when I had to lift my (considerably larger) rear and head for the exit. Pearl definitely glimmered in the Holborn night, and after such a meal, even a burlesque dancing girl would be seeking the comfort of her sofa…
Pearl, 252 High Holborn, London WC1V 7EN. Tel: 020 7829 7000. Website.