Pearl is attached to a smart hotel housed in the old Pearl Assurance building. The dining room is alongside a long bar area with little alcoves, separated by screens with hanging pearls (presumably not real ones!). The pearl theme continues into the dining room, where the overhead lights also have pearls hanging from them. The ceiling is very high, the flooring bare wood and the tables generously spaced, laid with high quality white linen. There is an air-conditioned walk-in wine fridge with glass walls on one side of the dining room. The overall effect is very smart, with good use made of the extensive space. Chef Jun Tanaka has worked at the Square and the Capital as well as with Marco Pierre White, and the strong culinary technique he has observed at such establishments has evidently rubbed off. The menu was ambitious, perhaps verging on over-complex. An initial amuse-bouche was a ceviche of scallop, a spoon of ratatouille, a cocktail stick of pork belly, and a little mackerel paté, deep fried in breadcrumbs and served on a teaspoon with a little fresh tartare sauce (15/20).
A further amuse-bouche was butternut squash soup with a new potato stuffed with foie gras. Mushroom risotto was not done in the usual way. Instead the risotto was made and then rolled up into a ball and deep fried, then placed on a bed of pan-fried wild mushrooms. The latter were of extremely high quality, and although the dish was perhaps unnecessarily elaborate the technical execution was excellent, nor did it introduce any unnatural flavours (16/20). My wife had smoked haddock, served in a raviolo with an egg yolk at the centre, topped with haddock sauce over a thin slice of crisp bread and with a watercress velouté. Here the pasta was a little hard and the dish not as hot as it should have been (15/20 just), though three langoustines served with the dish were very good. My wife's main course was sea bass, stuffed with mozzarella and pesto, served with caramelised onions and swiss chard, in which one could taste the butter. The ingredients were good, but again it was let down slightly by the sea bass being overcooked and too dry (14/20).
Venison consisted of two generous pieces of venison that were heavily seasoned on one side, served on a bed of red cabbage and accompanied by a medley of root vegetables e.g. parsnip, onions, beets and all flavoured with sage (15/20). My wife's dessert was rum baba, two small rounds, served cottage-loaf style, which tasted of rum but had a grainy texture; caramelised pineapple, diced fresh pineapple, a pineapple crisp, and coconut sorbet finished the dish. Cheese was served on a board and is supplied from Premiere Cheese. It was generally in good condition e.g. ripe Munster, Epoisses that was perhaps too runny, with just a Stilton past its best letting the side down.
Pre-dessert was a cold plum soup, which had considerable depth of flavour, served in a small glass and topped with yoghurt (16/20). Dessert of cheesecake was made with Brillat Savarin cheese, with an excellent base. This was served with a little terrine of citrus fruits, which worked well. Coffee was served with a selection of petit fours: chocolate fudge, sesame tuile, lime cake. Service was very good, with dishes remembered and the dishes appearing at a sensible pace.
The wine list was lengthy and extensive, with good growers in evidence. For example Zind Humbrecht Riesling 2001 was a great choice, the very finest grower in Alsace that you rarely see on restaurant menus. Torres Mas La Plana 1985 was £85, which is about three times retail, and was a fraction past its best, so drink up if you have any in your cellar! Moscati d’Asti was a refreshing way to accompany dessert. Bread was good, either black olive, white, granary or pesto bread, which tasted better than it sounds. Overall this was between 15/20 and 16/20. The dishes I had were pretty much 16/20 but there were some minor technical flaws e.g. my wife’s sea bass was cooked a little too long and had dried out slightly, while her starter was 15/20 level. Hence 15/20 overall is a safe mark, but clearly at its best Pearl is better than this. Three courses were £28.50 for lunch but £49 in the evening, which is actually fair given the amuse-bouche and the pre-dessert.
The criticism I would make here is over-elaboration. On another visit a starter of scallops also featured frogs legs coated in herbs, parsley puree and pools of garlic foam. The dish just had too many tastes for its own good, and yet the scallops themselves, while of good quality, were cooked a fraction too long and were not perfectly hot, presumably due to the elaborate plating required. This complexity was repeated in my main course: pork with red pepper puree and lentil salsa did not really need langoustines as well. I think the chef is trying just a bit too hard to get a Michelin star, and would be better to cut back a little on the number of components in the dishes and concentrate on making them perfect.