Well past the risk of revealing myself as a complete nerd, but with its stylised steel-sculptured lights, muted cream colours that contrasted against glistening wall features and ultracool retro-modern fit-out, the imagery that first struck me as I entered Pearl Restaurant Richmond was that of a set out of Star Trek. Aside from a few dark timber trimmings which spoilt the illusion a little, I probably wouldn’t have blinked twice if its fabulously efficient wait staff had wandered about in body-hugging bi-coloured spandex. Thankfully however, they were simply and more conventionally attired in smart blacks and whites. And yes, at a time when many of us commonly complain about the lack of appropriate service even at fine dining establishments, the staff at Pearl needs to be credited for being great! The team on our visit still worked to the adage of nothing is too much trouble, let’s see if we can help you out with your requests, and all with a smile. These days seemingly rare as a pure seam of crystalline dilithium!
Bread rolls with lemon infused olive oil were a good appetite starter, as were oriental spoonfuls of a tangy shaved cucumber and sesame pickle. Ordered entrée was half a dozen large Smoky Bay Pacific Oysters ($24) shucked to order and served with a limey dressing of Mint and Green Chilli Nam Jim. These were glisteningly plump and fresh enough to convince us that they could have been plucked from the distant ocean, thrown into a transporter and beamed straight into the kitchen. If it doesn’t spoil your meal and you looked closely, you could probably still see their muscles twitching. But you can get two dozen of the same from the markets at that price and they’ll be just as fresh and lively, though I guess that really isn’t the point. We couldn’t really go past Pearl’s famous signatures on a first visit, so it was the Roast Red Duck Curry, Crispy Fried Egg, Shallots, Mint, Sweet Fish Sauce and Coconut Rice ($42). A dish inspired from Thai home cooking roots but now evolved into an impressively stylish fine dining offering. It’s not hard to imagine that if I’d hankered for nostalgia and voiced “Duck Curry” into the speech recognition module of some food replicator of the future, Pearl’s interpretation would be exactly what would have materialised. A somewhat redundant five minute tutorial to instruct us on how we should tackle the dish basically summed up into ‘mix everything together and enjoy’. The curry was certainly decadent. Meaty, sticky and rich but somehow lacked the effortless subtleties of genuine sauces from SE Asia that may have been its inspiration; it lacked chilli zing and the combination of a heavy-handed rendering of palm sugar, accompanying coconut rice, and fried runny egg eventually proved slightly challenging in its richness factor. It also got overly salty. Though we did share between us, perhaps it was yet another example of Asian inspired dishes that are meant to be passed around a shared table not translating well into one dish per person dining.
Now, request “Fish” from that replicator and you’re likely to get something looking like One Side Only Seared Yellowfin Tuna, Sweet Smoked Fish Salad with Galangal and Kaffir Lime ($38). This was more to our tastes, the rare ruby-coloured tuna fillet was perfect and inclusion of faintly sweet young coconut flesh into the combination of flavours was inspired. A simple Caprese style salad of Tomato, Mint and Buffalo Milk Mozzarella with Aged Balsamic Vinegar Dressing ($12) rounded up the meal and a White Peach Souffle with Vanilla Ice Cream and Vanilla Crumble, Caramel Lace ($22) was a delightfully airy bookend. Plaudits to chef Adam D’Sylva (and his team) who according to Pearl’s new (but less evocative and inviting) website is currently in New York furthering his career.
An architecturally perfect and subtly delicious White Peach Souffle to complete the evening
Whichever way you look at it, dining at Pearl is not cheap. Let me reiterate that, eating here is expensive! Fortunately for us, we visited with a $150 voucher courtesy of KB’s friends and ex-colleagues as a generous parting gift from her previous place of work. An unexpected benefit from folks around us knowing of our love for good food!
The barman smiled and nodded in acknowledgement as we made our way to the exit, then reached for a switch under his counter. The heavy opalescent glass door slid silently open by itself to let us out. Very cool...but oh so 21st century!
Food: 4 Spots - Innovative Pan-Asian inspired cuisine.
Service: 4.5 Spots - Exactly what I had been expecting.
Value: 3.5 Spots - Pushing the envelope too far, but for a special night out..?
R-Factor: 3.5 Spots - Perhaps we’ll wait for an opportunity for Pearl on the Peak.
Spot Score: 16/20
Pearl Restaurant and Bar
631-633 Church Street, Richmond, VIC.
I am not a Trekkie.
Apologies to Trekkies; all quotes and references used here are likely to be inaccurate, implausible and totally out of context so please keep your phasers in your holsters, or at least set only on stun. Blame and flame my main source of reference instead at Memory Alpha.
Apologies to all others; once I started, I found it hard to stop.