Days before arriving in London, my sister C emailed me about wanting to try out lunch at Pearl by Jun Tanaka. Sure, I replied, thinking we were going to eat some Japanese food. Imagine my surprise when we reached the restaurant and did not see any blond wood or calligraphy screens. Instead there was a double-height dining space clad in beautiful marble, while splendid columns of more marble and pearl chandeliers added light and sparkle. White tablecloths and an army of greeters, waiters and sommeliers completed the impression of a serious continental restaurant.
The staff were professional and endlessly patient- every time V dropped her napkins, and we were talking at least five times, someone would come by with fresh linen; even when we objected and said it was not necessary.
Lunch was a really good deal at 20 pounds for two courses and 24 pounds for three. Amuse bouches arrived quickly. Beetroot gelee, celeriac purée and parmesan was simple yet elegant, eating well on their own and with each other.
Husband's appetiser of mackerel fondant with horseradish cream came artfully presented. The ingredients may be inexpensive, but the mackerel fondant was rich tasting yet light. His main course of provencal vegetables was a more substantial rendition of more vegetables which was, truthfully, rather monotonous.
My main course was cornish plaice with artichoke gnocchi, caramelised chicken wings, girolles and baby artichokes. A substantial plateful but I wished they didn't remove the fish skin. The highlight was the three little nuggets of chicken wings- skin and luscious meat, all salty-savoury and sweet in one mouthful. Across the room a group of dark-suited executives was having a business lunch. I saw one of them, a bespectacled lady, popped a piece of the chicken wing in her mouth without realising what it was, also that the bones had not been removed. Probably without benefit of eating bone-in-chicken like I have since I was a child, she had a hard time eating this delicacy with dignity.
C's main course of braised pork cheeks with caramelised squid, white polenta and shallots was another generous serving. While excellent, we all agreed my dish was the best.
Dessert were complete crowd pleasers. Poached prune and almond crumble looked like a square version of mince pie, quite magnificient- the rich dark and slightly spicy fruit filling a perfect foil for the buttery almond crumble, the whole accompanied by an equally indulgent almond ice cream. There was also a chocolate dessert of dark chocolate brownie, pear granite and pear crisps; evidently it was good, for daughter and sister made short work of it.
That was just lunch. I imagine that dinner would yield even more surprise and gratification. Just remember to save room for desserts.
Pearl by Jun Tanaka
225 High Holborn, London WC1V 7EN T: 020 78297000