Test Driving Pearly Queen - Tom Brown's Spitalfields oyster bar makes a big impression

The ground floor at Pearly Queen - you should aim to sit at the bar, ideally. 

What can you tell us about Pearly Queen?

This is the second restaurant from chef Tom Brown, whose Cornerstone restaurant in Hackney Wick has been a big success (and won a Michelin star to boot). Like that restaurant, Pearly Queen is all about seafood although it's much more of a casual affair, partly modelled after NYC-style oyster bars. Tom told us that he had the Grand Central oyster bar in mind when thinking of the overall feel, and there's definitely some of that here, albeit through an East London lens. 

The counter at Pearly QueenThe man in charge

Where is it?

You'll find it on Commercial Street, almost opposite Som Saa. Aldgate East is the closest station, but it's not too far from Liverpool Street, or Shoreditch High Street if you're on the Overground. 

roomThis is what you're looking for - the "oysters" sign should give it away.

Where should we go for a drink first?

The best bet in this area would be a quick drink (or pint) at The Culpeper, which is only a couple of minutes down the road. 

That said, it's well worth kicking off with a cocktail at Pearly Queen. It's a list which has clearly had a lot of thought put into it, as you'd expect from Three Sheets' Max Venning who is the man behind the cocktails. While you'll find classics like a Tommy's Margarita and a Sbagliato here, it's well worth heading straight for one of their original concoctions. 

roomTwo of the cocktails on offer, created by Max Venning, and both are excellent. The Pearly Martini (Grey Goose or Bombay Premier Cru, Picpoul, pearl onion, £15) and the Salty Dog (Grey Goose vodka, salt, grapefruit, Timur pepper, £14). 

Where should we sit?

Assuming there are only two of you (or you're dining solo), we'd say that either of the counters are the place to be. Ideally, you should sit up at the main bar, but we do like this space looking out onto Commercial street too.

The counter at Pearly QueenLooking out onto Commercial Street, this is a prime spot. 

There are more standard tables if that's not quite your thing and more seating downstairs too. Plus, if you're looking for somewhere with a little more privacy or for a group booking, we loved this little hideaway downstairs. 

The counter at Pearly QueenDownstairs (actually under the stairs) you'll find this hidden semi-private room, ideal for groups. 

So, onto the food. What can we expect?

It's pretty much all seafood, so if that's not your thing you're out of luck here. But for the rest of us, there's an awful lot of good stuff to choose from.

Billed as a restaurant and oyster bar, the menu begins with a mix of oysters, raw and dressed alongside small and large plates that are largely shellfish, taking its influence from the East End location. It's a pretty great menu and we made our way through a fair chunk of it. Here's a taste. 

The counter at Pearly QueenCrab hummus and celery (£5) - A great way to kick off, the celery pairing perfectly with that crab. 

The counter at Pearly QueenCarlingford oysters, with scotch bonnet hot sauce (£3.50) - There are a few oysters to choose from, including Gallagher Atlantics (£4.50) and Atlantic Edge from Wales (£7.50) but we're always suckers for Carlingford oysters. 

The counter at Pearly QueenCrispy buffalo oyster, ranch dressing (£5) - We've had a few fried oysters this year, but this put them all to shame. A stunning, crispy, spicy joy - an absolute must-have.

The counter at Pearly QueenSourdough, Seaweed Butter (£4) - A quick shout for the excellent seaweed butter mixed with olive oil. 

The counter at Pearly QueenLangoustine, XO barbecue sauce (£17)

The counter at Pearly QueenExmoor caviar, deviled egg, soldiers (£65) - it's the most expensive item on the list, but it's worth it. 

The counter at Pearly QueenOne of the "soldiers" with the caviar balanced on top. Indlugent, sure, but very, very good. 

The counter at Pearly QueenChilli crab, milkbread, dashi hollandaise (£28) - While it's not exactly served in the most practical of dishes, this spiced crab on milkbread toast was amazing. Just about the most perfect crab on toast we've ever had. 

The counter at Pearly QueenCuttlefish lasagne, Parmesan, tomato (£28) - one of the signature dishes of the restaurant, this is essentially the perfect seafood lasagne. An awful lot of work goes into this, which you can see here.

After all that - any room for dessert?

There are only a couple of desserts on the menu. First up is a lighter dark chocolate ice cream with Guinness and lime caramel (£9), but we'd strongly recommend you go for the following: 

The counter at Pearly QueenSticky toffee madeleine, sea salt, clotted cream (£9) - We love that they keep a little of the seafood motif going here with the shell shape. It's surprisingly light and a good dish to share.

What about drink?

There's a larger sparkling and Champagne list than you might expect, starting with La Cavea Prosecco at £41 a bottle, and heading upwards until a Perrier Jouet Belle Epoque Brut at £447 (there are plenty of City workers nearby, after all). As for the wine list, that begins at a reasonable £37 (for Amelkie le Blanc from Languedoc) with a predominantly European list (and the odd South African or American wine in there too).   

Overall thoughts

Cornerstone's reputation has only grown over the years and the Michelin star that it won sealed its reputation. While Pearly Queen is a different affair, and certainly more casual, the food on offer here is uniformly excellent.

Every single dish we had was extremely good right from the crab hummus to the astonishingly good chilli crab toast and the cuttlefish lasagne. It's one of the most consistently great meals we've had all year. If you like your seafood, and particularly shellfish, a visit to Pearly Queen is an absolute must. 


More about Pearly Queen

Where is it? 44 Commercial Street, London E1 6LT

How to book: Book online

Find out more: Visit the website or follow them on Instagram @pearlyqueenshoreditch.

Hot Dinners ate as guests of Pearly Queen. Prices are correct at the time of writing. 


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