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Chinese @ Pearl Liang [Restaurant Review]

Friday, 25 September 2009

I have a particular kinship for Paddington area, especially as I lived and trained in that part of town for a few years of my university life. Unfortunately, the area itself is a bit run down and one of my lecturers had said that the location is a “cesspit of evil in London” (but surely far better still than *gasp* South London). Regardless, times are a-changing and new developments such as Paddington Central are striving to bring up the market value of developments here, helped in part with fairly posh restaurant Pearl Liang.

Pearl Liang, London 01

Strangely, it was very quiet on a Saturday night, half full at most. Nevertheless, we had made a reservation for our group of 10. For Chinese dinners, numbering 10 to 14 in a party isn’t particularly uncommon, yet Pearl Liang doesn’t seem to have a lot of tables big enough to fit us. It was a bit cramp around our table and three of the seats were smaller than the rest, although I didn’t notice this until after the meal, despite wondering why my butt seemed larger than usual the whole dinner.

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We decided to go with three ‘appetisers’, the first being a ‘Mixed hors d’oeuvre’ set, very reminiscent of the ‘Four seasons’ course typically served in Malaysian Chinese restaurants; the head waiter was particularly helpful in making sure there was sufficient quantity to share amongst the whole table. Starting in the forefront of the picture, the fried ribs in salt plum and honey was delicious and the first to be finished. Moving clockwise, the peppercorn baby squid was not rubbery, fresh off the wok and had just enough salt. On the far side was the ‘Phoenix king prawns with crispy pastry’; I felt this to be quite ordinary but the PigPig enjoyed it especially with the generous drizzles of mayonnaise (she also reckons the mayo has some wasabi mixed in). I quite enjoyed the fried spring rolls but the PigPig reckoned it was a bit mushy inside. I’m not a big fan of fried seaweed (in the middle) but other people around the table were and they said it was good and didn’t reek of oil.

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Mixed hors d’oeuvre

Next up was the ‘Soup of the day’ which happened to be made from preserved pak choi, carrots and pork, quite a traditional recipe. Although I’m not a big fan of soup myself, the rest of the predominantly Malaysian Chinese table were, not a big surprise as most of us had grown up with soup being part of the normal dinner menu (sweetcorn soup not being a traditional dish). Anyway the soup was good, tasty and had all the sweetness from its ingredients.

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Soup of the day
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Ingredients of soup served separately.

The much anticipated Peking duck was magnificently presented on a pile of prawn crackers. The skin was indeed very crispy while the duck meat was also getting good comments from around the table – juicy, tasty, less than average fat content. All in all, very good (I prefer Peking duck to Crispy aromatic duck as the latter is deep fried and can be a bit greasy and the duck taste is a bit dulled by the cooking process).

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Peking duck
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Following on from the appetisers was several dishes to be eaten with rice. I chose a ‘Drunken chicken’, a cold dish, which was well received by the entire table. The sweetness of the wine combined well with the chicken to enhance its flavour.

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Drunken chicken

One of my friends absolutely loves this – ‘Beef with Sze Chuan chillies’. This is a truly authentic Sze Chuan dish and is genuinely spicy, so you have now been warned. The dried chillies gives a very potent spiciness whilst the fresh chillies provides some sweetness to the soup. However, the real danger in the pot is the peppercorns – my tongue was numb for a while after I foolishly ate a spoonful of beef and peppercorns. The beef itself is incredibly good though, very tender. I’ll recommend this dish to anybody who loves the spicy dishes.

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Beef with Sze Chuan chillies
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For a healthier protein dish, ‘Enoki mushrooms & silken bean curd with crabmeat sauce’ was a good choice as the sauce was flavourful and was a good companion to eat with rice.

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Enoki mushrooms & silken bean curd with crabmeat sauce

Being very unimaginative, we ordered the same vegetable dish we always do in all Chinese restaurants – ‘Stir fried tau miu (sweet pea shoot) with garlic’.

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Stir fried tau miu (sweet pea shoot) with garlic

The PigPig requested for one of her favourite pork dishes – ‘Braised pork in soya sauce’(Dongpo Pork 東坡肉). However, I am very disappointed with this dish… mainly because it disappeared so quickly; I only managed to get one morsel and five minutes later it was all finished. From the one piece I took, I can understand why though, as the meat had a good fat:meat ratio so it remained tender and juicy, but not overly difficult to stomach.

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Braised pork in soya sauce (Dongpo Pork 東坡肉)

Another dish I eyed from the menu was the ‘King prawns with salted egg yolk’ which I personally enjoyed but other people may not enjoy as much as it was a bit oily (and also exceedingly unhealthy).

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King prawns with salted egg yolk

With that, we moved onto the dessert section; the PigPig opted for a ‘Mango pudding’. The pudding had little cubes of mango strewn about and was one of the nicest she ever had.

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Mango pudding

Most of the table however chose a ‘Grape fruit & tapioca with tapioca’, also known more simply as ‘mango sago’. The sweet mango juice had bits of grapefruit peel to give a bitter taste to counter the sweetness. Very refreshing and one of my favourite desserts.

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Grape fruit & tapioca with tapioca

Two ladies had a ‘Black sesame ball’ which I found to be lacking in the sesame taste and the pastry was too soft and not chewy enough.

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Black sesame ball

Another favourite dessert of mine is the ‘Steamed sponge cake roll with custard yolk’, or ma lai ko. The swiss roll style used here is different to how I normally encounter this, but it was still very good with just enough custard. (My favourite ma lai ko is still from the Oriental restaurant in Jaya 33, KL).

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Steamed sponge cake roll with custard yolk

For the coup de grace, the PigPig ordered a ‘Chrysanthemum custard bun’; we were told it could be either steamed or fried – naturally we took the unhealthier option. The crispy skin gave a nice contrast to the rich thick custard in the middle.

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Chrysanthemum custard bun
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Altogether, the cost of food and Chinese tea to drink came up to £30 per person.

Food – 6.0
Service – 5.0
Atmosphere – 7.0
Value – 4.0

Simply put, the food here is pretty good with no real complaints lodged at any of the dishes. Although the recipe of the dishes here wouldn’t be amiss in other cheaper Chinese restaurants, the quality and technique here is definitely a step up. Nevertheless, it is still twice the price of a standard meal in other places so whether it is “worth it” or not depends on the size of your wallet. Myself, I prefer the cheap greasy spoons when eating Chinese food; they just feel a bit more authentic and homely.

Would I eat here again? If someone else was picking up the tab, i.e. Dad, or other senior statesmen of the family.

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Toilet sign. The question: Female or male?

Pearl Liang
8 Sheldon Square,
W2 6EZ
Tel: +44 (020) 7289 7000
Official website

Pearl Liang on Urbanspoon

PS. Regarding the South London dig, I didn’t realise at the time of writing how negative it might be viewed. In retrospect though, I suppose I would be pretty miffed if I read people bashing my hometown on their blog, so I can appreciate the feelings behind some of the comments. I apologise if it offended anyone and I’m sure South London is a great place to be brought up in; in as far as a boy who grew up in a little town in South East Asia which did not have McDonald’s or any reliable working public transport will be able to guesstimate as much.

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