“You have to order the chips!” said a friend when I told her I was going to Cora Pearl later that week. I promised I would. After all, eating fried potatoes is hardly a chore. I wondered, though, just how special could they be? More on that shortly.
Allow me to introduce you to Cora Pearl first: a bright, elegant and intimate restaurant from the team behind Mayfair’s Kitty Fisher’s. Located in a Covent Garden townhouse with big windows overlooking Henrietta Street – also home to Frenchie – on one side and St Paul’s Church’s courtyard on the other, it could work for a relaxed lunch, a pre-theatre dinner or just an apéritif at the marble counter.
I visited for a weekday lunch with a friend, and the small dining room was busy but not full. The friendly maître d’ guided us through the menu of small plates, mains and desserts. It’s a cliché, but every dish sounded equally good, so we happily trusted her recommendations. I would reorder everything in a heartbeat. Chef director George Barson’s focus is British comfort food, turning simple recipes like bubble and squeak, ham and cheese toastie and, of course, chips into showstoppers.
We started with some bread and yeasted butter (£3.50): the former is made by a local supplier, the latter churned in-house. The burrata with three-cornered garlic and walnuts (£9) relies almost entirely on the great quality and freshness of the cheese; the herb, garlic and walnut dressing brings in texture and, crucially, without hiding the milky taste of the burrata.
I adored the ham and cheese toastie (£8) filled with ham hock, pig jowl and Montgomery cheddar, pan-fried with garlic butter and precisely sliced to allow it to be dipped in a tiny pot of homemade pickle. My only problem was that after one bite I didn’t want to eat anything else again, ever.
But the dishes kept on coming. We enjoyed an excellent cow’s curd agnolotti with peas and truffle (£11.50), which can also be ordered as a main, and a rich bubble and squeak risotto (£18), cooked al dente and served with half a Scotch-style egg on top.
Then came the fabled chips (£5): rectangular blocks of potatoes, thinly sliced and squeezed together with butter in a roasting tin, where they are left for hours to firm up, then finally sliced and deep-fried – just once. They are served in a small bowl that fits about six chips – each shiny and golden, crisp yet delicate, almost translucent. It would be crazy not to order them.
And yet still the best had been left for last. Both desserts were sensational: Coffee & Cardamom (£8) is Barson’s version of a tiramisù with coffee sponge, cardamom ice cream and a bitter coffee mousse; Milk & Cookies (£8) was messy but delicious. My friend Jennifer Earle, who as founder of Chocolate Ecstasy Tours tastes chocolate and ice cream for a living, called the broken chunks of thick chocolate-chip cookies and piped chocolate ganache covered in a foamy milk mousse and ice cream “totally heavenly”. It’s a description that well covers our entire experience at Cora Pearl.
Giulia Mulè is a food and travel writer based in London who is passionate about sharing food photography on her Instagram feed (@mondomulia) and blog Mondomulia (mondomulia.com). Originally from Rome, Mulè has spent over a decade living in London and travelling the world. In her spare time, she organises brunch meet-ups with @IGBrunchClub and fundraising events with @CreatingForGood – a collective of Instagrammers who share their creative skills to raise money for selected charities.