The Pearly Queen

Pearly Queens (along with their Kings) are a dying breed, a flamboyant offering from a bygone era of ‘Cor-blimey, guv, ain’t it a scorcher!?’ summers when Chas and Dave played the Joanna on Top of The Pops, East End families holidayed in Margate and the mobile phone wasn’t even a sparkle in its creator’s eye. Feted for their charity work and attire, their jet-black suits glisten with pearls which are, of course, found in oyster shells. Brand architecture going a go-go, here, whilst oysters don’t dominate, it should come as little surprise that The Pearly Queen’s menu is strictly seafood.

The restaurant opened in November last year to some anticipation, it being the second endeavour by feted young chef, Tom Brown, who earnt a Michelin Star with Hackney’s Wick’s Cornerstone. Sat on a corner of Commercial Street, towards the quieter, Whitechapel end but still just a stone’s throw away from Spitalfields, Brick Lane and the Truman Brewery complex, it caters for city workers and hipper young things craving an idiosyncratic dining experience, searching for dishes they wouldn’t find elsewhere.

A few tables and chairs are optimistically placed outside, on the still Spring pavement. A slim but buxom mermaid with flowing hair and raised hands functions as an eye-catching and themed door handle. Above a long banquette on the left, a Tracey Emin like neon sculpture glows with the words ‘The World is Yours’ (yep, another oyster twist). It’s a small but slick interior with painted white brick walls and a poured concrete floor. It’s full upstairs so we head downstairs which is even smaller but, with candlelit tables, cosier. There’s also a hideaway nook (or is it cranny?) for about 10 which looks like great fun, ideal for a birthday party, etc.

It seems rude not to try the oysters, of which there are four on offer. The Raw Oyster is the meal’s most dressed down dish, as its title suggests, but is still served with seaweed hot sauce and lime. The Crispy Buffalo Oyster is coddled in fine breadcrumbs and egg, and covered in a snake of ranch sauce. In appearance, it could be a cousin of the McNugget and it’s hard to distinguish the oyster’s identity within.

The ranch sauce reminds, as much as it might contain dill, of American bars and football nights. Nonetheless, the serving’s irreverence and joie de vivre is hard to resist and my regret is only having ordered one. The Oyster Paté, with prune and bacon, is a molluscular reconstruction; take the oyster out of its shell, give it a make-over, and put it back in its shell. The prune jam adds a sweetness and the bacon pancetta crumbs, practically crystallised, add a texture not dissimilar to popping candy (before the popping). It’s fishiness is silky and smooth with sweet and savoury vibes and it’s quite delicious.

One of the Pearly Queen’s signature dishes is the Crab ‘risotto’ fritter with wild mushroom butter and celeriac. Essentially it’s a swollen arancini settled in a moat of creamy sauce and evokes a similar ‘WTF’ness to the oysters. Cut it in half and mushroom butter floods out so that a handful of flavours, parmesan and black pepper as well as the above, vie for your taste buds’ attention. It’s very moreish, once again, and could easily be described as extravagant comfort food, albeit with attitude.

Next up, if not exactly beautiful, is an intriguing dish to behold and speculate upon. Speckled with microdots of herbs or just pepper, a perfect sun of egg yolk sits on top of a viscous, almost muddy mixture of something impossible to identify whilst bends of chicory, two lettuce like, two burgundy in colour, curve vertically up half of the bowl. This is Trout Tartare, Tomato Ponzu, Egg Yolk and Chicory and it is not for the feint-hearted. Mix it up, as our waitress instructed, and it turns into a visual free for all with the small chunks of trout swimming in the sea of other ingredients. It’s quite an ‘interactive’ dish and you use the chicory as if it were a taco shell, scooping up the tartar. The trout works, here,  more as a texture to the oily, ponzu dominance.

This dining experience is certainly a tastebud roller coaster, a textural bumper cars so it’s important to have a bottle of water to cleanse the palate before and after each dish. The Candover Brook Brut from Hampshire also helps. This sparkling wine is mainly a Chardonnay but has a mixture of Pinot Meunière and Pinot Noir. It’s award winning and comes from the estate of Lord Sainsbury. It’s not necessarily the first tipple one would associate with fans of The Strokes, The Smiths or Tame Impala, but, hey, this is Shoreditch, and, frankly, three hurrahs to The Pearly Queen’s jukebox jive for bucking the trend of most restaurants’ innocuous dance/elevator/lounge music.

If the Lobster sauce, similar to a bisque, is very generous in portion, then so is the John Dory it hides. It’s not one of the prettier dishes, more a mess of sauce than a celebration of fish, but the Dory is super fresh, chunky and meaty. The cauliflower is a purée, smooth and velvety. 

The 1/2 Native Lobster, Chili Crack, Dashi Hollandaise is smaller in size but no less delectable. The kitchen has, considerately, cut the lobster meat so no fussing around here with crazy tools and obstinate flesh, just easy forking, luxury eating at its most indolent. There’s a spiciness to the sauces but the chunks of lobster are incredibly satisfying. To describe the Mashed Potato, Guinness and Oyster Gravy and the Grilled Spring Greens in Mussel Butter as sides diminishes their status as both are outstanding, but sides is what they are, adding more intricacies to an already brimming table.

In for a penny, in for a pound, as the saying goes, we’re pretty stuffed but given the overall ingenuity and, I think it’s fair to say, decadence of what has passed, we can’t refuse dessert. Cashel Blue Cheese, Walnut Cake, Honey is the final eyebrow arching, jaw-dropping conceit which is literally, half soft, tangy blue cheese, half walnut cake. Honey sweetens the cake, candied walnuts decorate the plate, and a brown sauce which could be related to HP but is actually a walnut vinegar/pickle, provides an unexpected kick. The dish is discombobulating. It’s hard to know what to eat, how much, and in what order so that, in the end, with little decorum, we shovel it down, all of it, completely randomly, as quickly as we can. 

If you’re looking for a plain, simple, purity of fish experience, The Pearly Queen is not for you; this is no competitor to Scotts, Sheekeys, or Wheelers. It’s a smorgasbord of inventiveness, sometimes sensationalism, it’s a riot of ideas in a sea of sauces, a gladiator fight in an arena of wilful creativity. One minute you’ll be confused, the next delighted. The menu is constantly evolving and changes all the time, sometimes daily. It’s a lot to take in and a lot for your taste buds to register. If it’s a crazy ride, it’s also a lot of fun, and one worth going on – if you dare.

Contact Details

Address: 44 Commercial St, London E1 6LT

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