Pearl Liang. Pedestrian in Paddington
“It is no surprise that Pearl Liang is one of the busiest restaurants in the area”, boasts their website, which tells us that “Pearl Liang Chinese Oriental Restaurant is a stylish, cosmopolitan, London restaurant located in the heart of Paddington”.
Correction: the heart of Paddington Basin, with a captive audience of thousands, where the culinary landscape is, shall we say, somewhat lacking in decent restaurants not of the chain type.
Have you ever been to Paddington Basin? It’s a poor man’s Docklands. There’s a pretty canal by the side of Paddington Station but it has very little else to commend it. Especially in winter. And I know there are massive developments afoot which will, in developer-speak transform the neighbourhood but meanwhile, there is, in Paddington, a distinct dearth of decent dining destinations.
There’s a grassy amphitheatre though, at Paddington Basin. Such fun. The restaurant is located at its base and is much larger than would appear from the frontage and it has a separate private dining/function area, off the main drag, which I am sure is marvellous if you are having a wedding-type celebration. Not so marvellous if it is just the two of you and the only other people in there are a table of ten. There are no windows. It is airless and entirely devoid of atmosphere.
There are things in life which are easy to predict. One of those is that if you are sat in an enormous, almost empty room, behind an opaque screen, you will be ignored. I had to shout across the room to get us noticed.
I have not quite reached the pinnacle of embarrassing restaurant behaviour displayed by my late father, in the legend that was Blooms, Golders Green. On noticing that somebody seated after us had been served before us (we had been waiting only a few minutes) my father, raising himself to his full height of five foot three and three-quarters, marched to the front of the restaurant and demanded to be served straight away and would not sit down until he was accompanied by a waiter, ready to take his order. Voices were raised. People looked away.
Almost at the getting-up-and-going-to-the-counter stage, they brought the illustrated menu, made sticky by previous guests’ fingers. Always a joy.
I couldn’t help but raise an eyebrow at the section headed “Cold Toss”, which included five spiced beef shin and jellyfish with sesame toss. It doesn’t appeal. Maybe next time.
Not massively adventurous, we chose that old standby, quarter crispy aromatic duck with pancakes. Perhaps it should have been called micro-duck, the leg was so small. It was also slightly dry. The rest of it standard any-old-local-Chinese fare.
Also rather mundane, spare ribs with salt-and-pepper. I would be surprised if the total amount of meat on those ribs actually comprised a single mouthful.
I’m not sure that I would have ordered the thin-cut sirloin beef with Szechuan red dried chilli had I not seen the photograph. In fact, I am slightly surprised that I ordered it after seeing the photograph, showing as it did a sea of oil, with dozens of whole chillies bobbing about in it. But it had been highly recommended. C-nails, my companion, looked horrified. But it had to be done. And so it arrived, in an enormous bowl and lo, it was as exactly as photographed. Drowned, limp beansprouts, dozens of chillies and a huge portion of thinly sliced sirloin. I loved it.
Granted it may not be to everyone’s taste, but it certainly was to mine, with asbestos mouth. The meat was delicious, soft, almost falling apart, the chillies adding borderline-unmanageable heat and deep flavour which, together with the distinctive taste of Szechuan peppercorns made for a satisfying dish. C-nails gave it a miss. She concentrated on the lurid sweet and sour king prawns with pomegranate. I had forgotten that there was actually pomegranate in the dish when I tasted it, so lacking was it in any sort of pomegranate flavour. I’m sure what the point of the pomegranate actually was, other than to make the dish sound more interesting.
Not interesting at all were the Monk (sic) vegetables in a taro dome. It looked very tasty, the dome, like the thinnest, crispest vermicelli basket. Tip: treat it as decoration. Just because you can eat it doesn’t mean that you should. It tasted of nothing, but not in a good way. The vegetables were covered in gloop. I kept picking at the basket, wondering whether it really was quite as horrible as I first thought. It was.
I really wanted to love Pearl Liang, not least because it’s local. But it’s expensive, for a local and on this showing nothing out of the ordinary. There are a few dishes on the menu that look interesting and may warrant a return visit; the sirloin certainly does. But I won’t be rushing, not when there’s Phoenix Palace, just down the road.