At first glance, Pearl seems rather forbidding. With its high ceilings, marble pillars and dark teak flooring, it looks like the atrium of a German investment bank, which isn't all that surprising considering it used to be the headquarters of Pearl Life Assurance. You enter through a set of revolving doors that are so heavy you have to be able to bench press 120 pounds in order to start them spinning. I made the mistake of turning up in jeans and a T-shirt and I haven't felt so inappropriately dressed since I wore a suit to the first night of Jerry Springer: The Opera.
Situated in the Renaissance Chancery Court, a luxury hotel on High Holburn, Pearl must rank as the poshest restaurant I've been to this year. When I eventually did make it through the revolving doors, I found myself facing so many immaculately turned-out members of staff I felt like the Duke of Devonshire returning to Chatsworth after a long absence--or perhaps that should read "family holiday". Not only was I with my wife and baby, but I'd arranged to meet another couple there as well. As the ever-helpful staff slotted a high chair between my wife and me, they told me it was only the second time it had ever been used. Not bad going for a restaurant that's been open since June.
I awaited the menu with some trepidation since I'd told the other couple that lunch would be on me. What kind of exorbitant prices would a place like this charge? Before I had a chance to find out, a waiter appeared with a champagne trolley wanting to know if we'd like an aperitif. I shooed him away before my guests had a chance to respond. I didn't want to end up in the embarrassing position of exceeding my credit card limit. The last time that happened was at Gordon Ramsay's flagship restaurant on Royal Hospital Road. On that occasion, the bill for six people, including tip, came to £800.
You can imagine my delight, therefore, when I discovered that the three-course set lunch was only £24.50. I thought the cover charge alone would be more than that. Just how much of a bargain this was became clear when the food arrived. My companions both had pork and black pudding starters that were exquisite, while my wife said her butternut squash soup was the best she'd ever tasted. I had a smoked pigeon salad that was so good my 14-month-old daughter actually preferred it to the omelette that the chef very kindly prepared for her.
Our main courses were, if anything, even better. We had a selection that included sea bass, thinly-sliced veal and beetroot tart, all of which were enthusiastically greeted by everyone. By the end of this feast--I must have eaten at least 50% of everything that was on the table--I had no room for pudding, but my wife assured me that the chocolate and pistachio millefeuille was a poem in the mouth. The chef, Jan Tanaka, could get away with charging at least twice as much for food of this quality.
As you'd expect from a restaurant that's only a stone's throw from the Inns of Court, the majority of Pearl's customers are lawyers. My wife, who used to be one herself, overheard two women at a nearby table discussing damages and costs as she led the baby around by her hand. "There but for the grace of God," she thought. Pearl is exactly the kind of upmarket establishment where solicitors take their high-profile clients to celebrate the successful conclusion of a case.
All in all, I was very impressed by Pearl. The formal atmosphere may not be to everyone's taste, but the food is really quite exceptional and £24.50 for a three-course lunch must be one of the best bargains in London.