One restaurant’s loss is another’s gain. That was the concensus that crystallised when Mandarin Kitchen’s Paul Ngo moved onto another Chinese restaurant by the name of Pearl Liang, in Paddington. During his tenure at Mandarin Kitchen, he singularly forged their reputation for laying claim to the best lobster noodles in London. London is actually the bedrock for this speciality dish: visitors from China even make a point of getting it in during their stay here, as it’s surprsingly hard (I’m told) to come by a decent example in their home country. When Ngo jumped ship, he took with him his signature dish, which immediately elevated the appeal of the relative newcomer. So it has remained ever since.
The interior can’t make its mind up, straddling the line between corporate and regal. The dark wooden flooring and frosty overtones of the staff contrast with a space that is warm and sumptuous with enough purple to make Prince jealous. Wooden lattice screens create an illusion of separation, and giant lanterns hang from the ceiling, casting a subduing wash over the environment.
I know what I came here for, but the chances of me ordering just one dish at a restaurant are about as likely as Adam Richman of Man v. Food having a healthy liver. There’s the usual affair you’d expect to find on any Cantonese menu worth its salt, plus some abalone dishes for those with deeper pockets.
They are part of a dying breed of Chinese restaurants in London that still keep shark’s fin on the menu. Following the Gordon Ramsay documentary that opened members of the public’s eyes to the grisly business of the shark trade, many establishments swiftly dropped it from their menus in an attempt to distance themselves from any potential backlash. I suppose the notion is no longer as fresh in the minds of diners as it may have been directly following the airing of the programme. Regardless, witnessing the unsettling footage of a shark having it’s fins severed from its body whilst still alive on the back of a fishing boat, was enough to ensure that I steer clear of it these days.
Dover sole with salted egg yolk £38
I go for a whole dover sole that has been goujoned-up, battered in the yolk of salted duck eggs, and snuggly placed back on the edible skeleton which now serves as a kind of throne. It’s presented in such an attractive way, it almost jumps off the plate. As you bite into the goujons, there’s no resistance whatsoever. The traction of the powdery coating caresses your tongue and the salty, eggy flavour hits instantly. The brittle bones have the kind of crunch that resonates through your jaw. Look, you can see one diner in the background of the shot that was so blown away by my dish that he appears to be shoving his fingers down his throat to free-up some room in his stomach, so he can order one for himself.
Lobster with ginger & spring onions on noodles £33
Then along came a big square plate of the vaunted lobster noodles; shell-on, but dismantled enough to make for straight-forward eating. It all glistens with the ginger and spring onion sauce and smells just like it reads. The noodles are mostly drenched in the sauce, but with a few strays that it missed, which is just the way I like it, for the added texture. This stupefying dish is really intended for 2-3 people to share, as is the Dover sole, yet not a trace of either remains by the time I am done – this would be an appropriate time to mention that I’m dining alone.
So having eaten roughly five people’s quota of food, I feel a bit like the guy in the photo probably did. Maybe this is just the inevitable fate of being predisposed to gluttony: to overdo it and be faced with the dilemma of whether or not to keep it down. As sexy as the imagery of me vomiting up my barely digested meals is, I’ve never actually gone through with it, but I must admit the thought has crossed my mind. Presumably you now find me a little odd and no longer wish to spend another moment in my company. That’s a shame, because I was just starting to like you.
food : 8.5/10
service : 5.5/10
ambience : 6.5/10
value : 7/10
8 Sheldon Square, Paddington Central, London W2 6EZ
0207 289 7000