8 Sheldon Square,
London, W2 6EZ
Tel: 020 7289 7000
Food type: Chinese
Food rating: 4/10
Nearest tube: Paddington
Website: Pearl Liang
With all the talk of Kai (a Malaysian owned restaurant no less) winning a Michelin star, good, honest, Chinese restaurants like Pearl Liang are easily overlooked. Runner-up of the TimeOut ‘Best Design’ category in 2007 (seriously who cares), Pearl Liang is located in the smart Paddington Waterside development, Sheldon Square, Paddington Central.
Not to be confused with Jun Tanaka’s Pearl Restaurant in Holborn, Pearl Liang is literally a pearl amongst all the high rise offices and luxury penthouse. Don’t blink or you will miss the restaurant. If there was an award for ‘the smallest restaurant sign it is almost ridiculous’, by God this will win hands down. We were literally standing 50m from the restaurant but yet couldn’t spot it. In fact, out of desperation, and the fact we were very late for our booking, we telephoned the restaurant. I bet their receptionist must have thought that this was some kind of practical joke or we were simply a bunch of idiots. I personally blame the rain which was chucking it down on the day of visit.
A ubiquitous fish pond greets you as you enter – the symbol of prosperity and good luck. The restaurant decor is feminine with paper lanterns, bamboo and a room-length painting of cherry blossom branches amongst a fushcia pink background. The cherry blossom theme is fleshed out with the tables draped in white cloth alongside purple chairs. Pink napkins are folded beautifully in a fan-like pattern. Certainly, the restaurant has an air of calm and serenity about it.
The team here is of great pedigree – both the manager and head chef are from the popular Mandarin Kitchen. Mandarin Kitchen was of course featured on Rick Stein’s Seafood Heroes who raved about their Lobster Noodles. That was of course some time ago, and according to some very reliable sources, the quality of their famed noodles has since detiorated… perhaps this had something to do with their head chef leaving.
The menu is a weighty tome of your mandatory selection of Cantonese dishes. Amongst all these are a few, more exotic offerings (well for the average white guy) such as fish maw broth, drunken chicken and of course ‘Buddha Jump Over the Wall’. The later, a soup concoction made from some of the most expensive Chinese ingredients (abalone and sharks fin to name a few) costs £22 a pop here – a fraction of what they are charging at Kai *cough* £108 *cough*. Naturally, dining amongst a Chinese crowd, we stayed away from the big six – spring rolls, sizzling beef, deep fried seafood, sweet and sour pork, egg fried rice and crispy aromatic duck. You can just picture the audible groan of Chinese waiters as yet another table of caucasian customers robotically name these dishes time and time again. Dim sum is also available all day.
A cold appetiser of drunken chicken had silky smooth chicken, gently poached, still having a lovely pink hue, cured with good quality Chinese wine. The chicken was perhaps served a fraction too cold but was still a good vehicle of the sweet and bitter wine. (5/10)
Peking duck here was served already carved. Much fuss is made about the Peking duck at Min Jiang – with its elaborate preparation and multiple methods of serving. Here, you only get the bare basics of skin, meat, the usual condiments and pancakes accompanied by the traditional plum sauce. The skin is correctly served separate from the meat and was crisp, melt-in-your-mouth affair with a slight honey overtone. I personally think that the Peking duck here is better executed than at Min Jiang (which supposedly specializes in Peking duck and make quite a big deal of it), although the pancakes were not as wafer thin here. (5/10)
Lobster noodles featured noodles, soaked in lobster flavour, which were crisp and bouncy – the Chinese call it ‘Song Hau’ which loosely translates to ‘nice on the mouth’. Generous chunks of the lovely orange crustacean were well executed – the lobster lovely, sweet and tender without a hint of chewiness. This is technically as precise as some of the best French restaurants. (7/10)
Braised pork with soya sauce and wine (aka Dongpo pork) was disappointing. The pork belly chunks were not cooked long enough to allow the meat to be melting tender and absorb all the flavours of the braising liquid. The dish, by all right, tasted fine, but was a bit of a let down after the promise shown by the first few dishes. (2/10)
A very homely serving of clay pot chicken, salted fish and bean curd was decent – the chicken and bean curd had good flavour from the salted fish. (2/10)
Steamed sea bass was well timed and served off the bone although it was pretty obvious (to me at least) that this was cheap farmed fish, and not of the wild variety, and as such suffered from a distinct lack of taste. A shame really, because seabass itself has a pretty subtle flavour to begin with. (2/10)
Stir Fried Kai lan was timed well – the vegetables still retaining its crisp texture and sweetness, with the addition of the shaoxing wine giving more body to the dish. (4/10)
Service was pleasant, unobtrusive and very capable. Staff were helpful and well trained (for example deboning of the sea bass and wrapping of the Peking duck parcels). One nice touch was that they were more than happy for us to bring our own birthday cake (friends birthday…) without any surcharge attached. Bear in mind, we were first time customers at this restaurant and as a result we were not having any desserts.
Overall this was a very capable and enjoyable Chinese meal. I have often been very cynical and critical about Chinese cooking here in England. I can’t name a single restaurant at China town which I could whole-heartedly recommend to a friend with a straight face. How refreshing it is then to have a restaurant like Pearl Liang which dares to serve good quality Chinese food without the pretentious glamour and ridiculous prices of places like Hakkasan or China Tang (seriously… £5 for a pot of tea???). Just writing this review, I am already salivating thinking about my next visit for my fix of Lobster noodles.
Oh and just before I forget, to all Chinese readers, I would like to wish everyone Happy Chinese New Year!!!