252 High Holborn
London, WC1 7EN

Telephone: 020 7829 7000
Website: www.pearl-restaurant.com

Why would you call a restaurant ‘Pearl’? Does it suggest food of great refinement in a rather dressy atmosphere – somewhere glamorous, with a certain modern formality? Well, that might be a reason, but the real reason is that this building, in the Chancery Court Hotel in London’s High Holborn, used to house the Pearl Assurance Company. Yes, it’s that mundane. Sorry.

But insurance companies tend to favour grandiose architecture, and there are enough classical columns and metres of marble wall here to satisfy the hungriest seeker of formality. And it’s all been lightened up with a modern design that hangs strings of pearls (possibly not real…) from the light fittings, and curtains the windows on to the street with more pearls.

The style of food is just as sharp. Head chef Jun Tanaka has Japanese parents, was born in New York and brought up in Britain – and he’s worked in no fewer than seven Michelin-starred restaurants, including The Square, The Oak Room and Le Gavroche. With that background, and that training, you’d expect something pretty international. And international is what you get.

He describes his food as based on French cooking, but using international ingredients. So you might get something like Tempura of red mullet with ginger escabeche; or spiced sea bream with sweet and sour aubergine and red pepper purée.

These are not the sort of flavours one normally associates with Rioja. But Pearl is keen on matching food and wine – in its A Taste of Pearl lunchtime menu of light dishes it suggests a glass of Rioja Reserva, Finca Valpiedra with Terrine of Chargrilled Vegetables with Rocket Dressing, and the Valpiedra is certainly modern and bright enough in flavour to cope. Another good food match for Rioja is Crisp Pork Belly with Lentil Salsa and Herb Dressing: this is happy with either a vigorous, modern Rioja, or a more traditional one with the flavours of maturity.

Pearl has a list of 450 wines, around 60 of which are available by the glass. (It has two excellent wine preservation systems, so has no fears about opening top bottles to serve by the glass.) It prides itself on offering wine that is different from the usual offerings: it wants people to come and have fun with wines.

Crisp pork belly, the Pearl way
This is not a complete recipe, just an account of how Jun Tanaka gets such scrumptious flavour and texture from this most fashionable of cuts.

If your pork belly has been rolled, unroll it. Salt it with sea salt, some picked fresh thyme, chopped garlic and crushed black peppercorns, and leave it for about five hours. Rinse it, dry it in a tea towel and leave it to air-dry properly for about 20 minutes. Cover it with duck fat and cook it in the oven for three hours at 140ºC/Gas 1.5. Take it out of the duck fat, weight it (put it between two plates with a weight on top) and leave it overnight. Then put it skin-side-down in a nonstick pan and cook it in the oven at 180-200ºC/Gas 4-5 for 20 minutes. This gets the skin wonderfully crisp.

This is not exactly a quick method of cooking pork belly. But it gives wonderfully flavoursome results, and all the fat disappears during the cooking.

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