I've not, thus far, taken advantage of the fantastic offers available on Toptable at some of Europe's top restaurants. With Margit visiting from Germany this was a prime opportunity to sample one of London's finer dining venues, for a fraction of the usual price!
On the ground floor of Holborn's Renaissance Chancery Court Hotel, Pearl claims to offer a 'sensual dining experience' along with Jun Tanaka's modern french cuisine. The opulent decor hints at a fine attention to detail and I have, for some time, been wanting to eat here.
The Toptable deal entitled us to 3 courses and a cocktail for £37.50, an absolute bargain. We arrived early and took a seat in the bar area, I had an apple martini and Thomas had the caipirinha. Margit had the raspberry non alcoholic option and we were given a nice selection of nuts to nibble on. We pondered why blueberries are called blueberries and not bluecurrants, I just don't know.
The staff to diner ratio was staggeringly in favour of the waiters, they were everywhere and seemed slightly irked when we ordered only glasses of wine rather than by the bottle. The dining room is large and spacious, the acoustics are rather overwhelming, there was a piano player and singer and with few occupied table the sound echoed and somewhat interfered with our conversation.
We ordered and were given some bread (white or brown) I think made on site and served warm. This was very good. Then we were given 2 servings of pre starters and asked for a 3rd, this may seem bold but there are 2 of each and 3 of us, I didn't want to miss out on trying any of them. My companions asked why we were given 2 and the waiter explained it's to minimise waste. Like we would waste anything?
Anyhow, the best of these was the smooth and rich duck pate, topped with fig jelly and a crouton (Thomas' looked more like a pretzel, ha!). Next there was a beef tartare then a fried mushroom risotto ball. I forget what the 4th was exactly, didn't take any notes and can't make it out in this picture. they were all good the first definitely standing out.
We were each given (hooray) an amuse, a cucumber foam sitting on top of a bed of peas, feta and peanuts.
This was delightfully light and airy and tasted purely of cucumber, the peanut and peas underneath added, in turn, a crunchy and fresh note to each mouthful. I detected little, if any, feta which was disappointing as it's my favourite cheese. Still, this did it's job and amused my mouth in anticipation of the starters.
Margit and I had both wanted the pigeon but they had only 1 portion left so I instead ordered the rabbit lasagna (not on the Toptable menu at all so I was in fact rather pleased by this turn of events).
This was served with peas, broad beans, girolles and a pea veloute (which was actually more of a foam). The lasagna was dense and a little stodgy with a rather pellet like bit of rabbit perched on top. The roll of rabbit, nestled up against the tower, was tasty and tender and the addition of the girolles was nice. Tanaka is using seasonal produce, here peas and broad beans well matched with the meat, presented beautifully on a slate but I tend to find foams look messy and add little in terms of taste.
Thomas' starter of the heritage tomatoes with goats cheese mousse was quite exquisite. It was so intensely tomatoey with a huge variety of textures, chilled jelly and smooth cheese with confit tomatoes. There was no sign of the advertised rocket though, instead cress was added as garnish and I tend to find this a bit unexciting.
Margit's smoked pigeon was curiously paired with sweet flavours.
Yet again the dish was visually stunning. The chocolate mousse was smeared prettily across the plate and there was plenty of meat, even a little leg, to the far right.
For main course I went for the Pan fried John Dory. This came with yet more broad beans, in true veloute form this time and marinated courgettes.
The glass bowl was rather grand looking and the veloute was delicious. There was a notable repeat of particularly the vegetable elements in the special menu options, both Margit and I had courgettes (yellow and green) and asparagus and my main used confit tomato as did Thomas' starter. I assume there would be less repetition if ordering from the a la carte menu.
I liked the small tortellini nestled in the veloute with a discernible tomato note. The plate looked summery and light and the small pieces of dory were perfectly cooked.
Thomas' main course of pork cheeks 'pot au feu' with raviolo in this picture resembles a child like visualization of some far away volcanic island, a bit of a mess really but it tasted good. Plenty of vegetables (fields or pathways depending on the colour), borlotti beans (rocks/cliffs), raviolo (obviously the volcano) and a ravigote sauce (muddy rivers, swamps). I'm certain this is not Tanaka's inspiration of course, the use of the glass plate elevated the presentation somewhat. Again the ravigote sauce, which is sightly acidic, was more of a foam than a sauce.
Margit's main course which I did not taste was the provencal vegetables. This again benefited from being served on a plate and looked more tidily laid out.
The pithivier (a pie, in top hat form) top left of the picture was the main event, filled with mozzarella. The courgette flowers and red petals added a delicate beauty to the plate. Somewhere there too is aubergine caviar and courgette pesto. Margit was impressed with the multiple layers of flavour.
Our pre dessert was probably my favourite dish of the evening, a lemon and white chocolate posset served in a shot glass topped with a tangy sorbet. I neglected to take a picture in my excitement. For dessert Thomas and Margit both opted for the strawberry trifle which was grandly delivered in a preserving jar and was a huge portion.
There was a long thin biscuit for crunch and a strawberry sorbet. Each layer of the trifle was packed full of flavour yet remained refreshingly unheavy, a perfectly balanced combination.
I had the chocolate tart with ginger and pink grapefruit. I was full by this point so could not finish it. The tart itself was intensely chocolaty, not overly sweet, high in cocoa content and worked wonderfully with the ginger and grapefruit. The only gripe I had was that there was a thick layer of powdered cocoa which was irritating my throat and made me cough with each taste.
The petit fours, which I again did not photograph) were marvellous. The best was a white chocolate fudge sprinkled with hazelnut. I also had the marshmallow which was raspberry flavoured and amazingly pillowy. There was a great variety to choose from, most impressive.
In conclusion, this is astounding value for money, Margit has a double espresso and we had 2 glasses of wine, for all this we paid £50 a head. The one thing I would say it's lacking is impeccable service, there is definite room for improvement here. The venue suits a special occasion, the lavish setting makes for a far above average dining experience and it would be nice if the service could match it.
That said, I wholeheartedly recommend Pearl and shall be scouring the pages of Toptable more regularly in the hope that they can provide offers even a fraction as good as this one.
Renaissance Chancery Court
252 High Holborn