Wednesday, 3 October 2007
Say what you like about dining offer sites like Toptable or Squaremeal, but there's absolutely no way I would have visited Pearl in Holborn on a random Tuesday night if I hadn't learned of the £30 set menu. Normally meals like these are "special occasion" events, and I think it's fantastic that just for turning up slightly early (actually 7:30 isn't even really that early) on a weekday evening you can have starry food in spectacular surroundings for almost half the price of the normal dinner menu.
And the surroundings were almost worth paying £30 for on their own - a huge high-ceiling room, marble columns, sumptuous chandeliers dripping with glass pearls and well-spaced, round tables laid with fresh flowers. Our welcome, and treatment throughout the evening was the ideal of charm and efficiency, and what's more the staff seemed to genuinely enjoy being there. The sommelier in particular was so enthusiastic about his craft he introduced each glass of wine as if they were priceless artifacts in the British Museum. And speaking of wine, Pearl is the proud owner of a Cruvinet system, a clever piece of kit which can keep opened bottles of rare and exotic wines for a long period of time, allowing punters to try just one glass at a time. I took full advantage.
Even on our cheapo Toptable menu we were presented with prestarters of Scallop Cerviche (delicate and fresh), Smoked Eel (nice enough, if a bit cloying), Ratatouille (topical!) and Venison carpaccio with parmesan, the latter two which were tried by my dining companion who liked the Rat but thought the venison was swamped by the cheese.
Shockingly for me, I went for the vegetarian option for starter - Terrine of baby leeks with tarragon mayonnaise and shaved asparagus. Technically at least this was a very impressive presentation, with the leeks packed vertically inside a tightly-bound block. However they did just taste like... cold leeks, nice but hardly mind-blowing. Accompanying potato bites and the tarragon mayonnaise were great though. And though I hardly ever do this, I will just mention my companion's quail breast with chicken liver parfait, which was as dreamy and decadent as any starter I've ever tried. Clearly the wrong choice there, never mind.
Next course was grilled pork fillet with roast shrimp, kind of a surf and turf deal. The pork was cooked expertly, as you might expect, and the lentil salsa was actually a great accompanyment, not overpowering the meat but contrasting nicely in texture. Way over on the other end of the plate was a prawn tail which I embarassingly bit into without realising it still had a shell on. Oh dear. Anyway, once I had choked and fished around inside my mouth for the bits of shell for a minute or two whilst my companion looked nervously around the room and attempted to ignore me, I managed to swallow some, and it was pretty good. Not the freshest bit of seafood I've ever had and the red pepper sauce perhaps could have done with a bit more seasoning, but overall a very interesting dish.
Unfortunately, again, the best main course was my companion's gnocchi which was rich and satisfying, heady with truffle and with great texture contrasts between the creamy gnocchi and small slices of crispy toast in each mouthful. This was a brilliantly concieved dish and if I had my time in Pearl again (which I surely will) I would have the quail followed by the gnocchi, followed by:
Salted caramel mousse with almond crumble and hazelnut ice cream, which was the best dessert I've had at any restaurant for years. By this point we were both quite full and it is testament to the greatness of this pudding that we both finished every scrap of it off, from the crispy sugar casing to the creamy and amazingly light caramel inside. Chunks of lovely (I think) bramley apple provided texture and moisture to the fluffy mousse and the hazlenut icecream was made perfectly. There was no part of this dessert that was anything less than brilliant.
So at £50 a head all in (for the food and 3 perfectly chosen glasses of wine including a delicate Muscat for dessert served in an extraordinarily tall glass) this is a meal to remember at almost a budget price. Just go now - have the quail, the gnocchi and the caramel and you'll die a happy diner.
P.S. Apologies for the dark pictures - I was told off by my dining companion for trying to use flash and thanks to a weird underlit table the food was very difficult to capture. Rest assured it all looked a lot better on the night.