The Pem is part of the Conrad Hilton Hotel in Westminster, along with the pub The Blue Boar. As consultant chef it has Sally Abe, formerly of Harwood Arms. Sally was in evidence this evening, though I am a little unclear as to whether she will be cooking here hands-on in the long term, rather than being on a consulting contract and stepping back from day to day operations in due course. The room itself has no natural light but has well-spaced tables, and was smartly decorated.
The wine list had 126 labels and ranged in price from £35 to £995, with a median price of £90 and an average markup to retail price of 2.5 times, which is unusually reasonable by London standards, where 3 times retail is tolerable and where Mayfair venues frequently charge 3.3 times retail or higher. 56% of the list was French but there was a reasonable selection from further afield, including Hungary, Argentina and England. There were 40 wines under £75 (a third if the list) and a dozen under £50 a bottle. Sample references were Cíu Cíu Falerio Oris Bianco 2020 at £37 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for £12, Les Granges Paquenesse Savagnin La Pierre 2018 from Jura at £70 compared to its retail price of £31, and Arnot Roberts Sonoma Coast Syrah 2018 at £95 for a wine that will set you back £43 in the high street. For those with the means there was Jaboulet Hermitage La Chapelle 2006 at £249 compared to its retail price of £130, and Château Mouton-Rothschild 2014 at £722 for a wine whose current market value is £526.
“Knife and fork bacon” uses bacon that is cured in the kitchen, and was served with Scottish girolles, marjoram and a blob of sour cream. This was a pleasant dish, the mushrooms of good quality, the slightly earthy flavour of the marjoram going nicely with the bacon. The texture of the bacon was quite thick but its flavour was good (13/20).
My main course was fallow deer, red cabbage, pickled blackberries and black figs. The acidity of the figs nicely balanced the richness of the venison, as did the vinegar of the pickled blackberries, though the red cabbage lacked the depth of flavour that the best versions of this can possess. It is certainly a very logical pairing for the venison, which was served medium rare and had good flavour (14/20). A John Dory dish that I tasted was cooked all right but was exceedingly salty, even to my taste, and came with Exmoor caviar, which is arguably the least expensive and lowest quality caviar that is widely available in the UK, with a rather muddy taste.
Black Forest gateau was made with chocolate curls, English cherries and ripple ice cream. A dish that was very fashionable in the UK in the 1970s and was recorded as far back as 1934, though it may be much older than that. This version for me rather lacked enough cherry liquor flavour, though the chocolate was fine and the presentation was quite pretty (13/20). I also enjoyed a taste of lemon meringue with hazelnut, caramelised white chocolate and yoghurt sorbet, which had good balance. Coffee was from basic Nespresso capsules.
Service was very good, with a helpful sommelier and pleasant waiting staff. Overall Pem delivered a generally capably made and enjoyable enough meal, though it has to be said that the price point is quite high for what appeared on the plate. The bacon starter was £16, the fallow deer was a chunky £42 and the desserts £14, so three courses came to £72 before water, coffee, service and wine. My bill tonight was £153 per head, and if you shared a modest bottle of wine then you would still struggle to leave here with a cost per head below £105, which is not inconsiderable.