Pearl Liang: Great restaurant; pity about the location (May 2014)

Paddington's Sheldon Square is by no means the most obvious location to go when searching for a new Chinese restaurant to enjoy, being sandwiched almost next to the train station and surrounded by faceless office blocks, think Canary Wharf relocated close to Little Venice. Nonetheless, Pearl Liang is well worth a visit based on the overall experience, from atmosphere through to food and service. The event began well as while loitering outside regarding the menu, a couple were leaving, enthusing about the place and endorsing that we enter (they had been for their 30th – pearl – wedding anniversary). On entering, it was also immediately notable that the majority of the tables were full, fortunately not overly populated by besuited office workers, and many occupied by Chinese families. The interior is furnished in a contemporary style but with some homage to tradition, think wood panelling and dragon carvings as well as much more modern mirrors and mood lighting. When the food arrived (the menu itself, like many Chinese, was extensive and took some time to consider), it was obvious why the place was so popular: two things stood out – there was not a hint of MSG and, hence, there was a clear emphasis on freshness of flavour. Spices were introduced to dishes with clear thought such that they were not over-powering and the vegetables were not cooked to within an inch of their lives or drowned in unforgiving sauces, bring allowed to speak for themselves. There were no failings and if I were to select one stand-out dish then it would be the pork Szechuan-style served with fried green beans, a wonderful combination with lovely harmony. Some previous reviewers have griped about service at Pearl Liang, but there was no cause for complaint, other than that the food perhaps came to the table too quickly. Staff appeared helpful and knowledgeable and seemed happy to chat with both local and non-Chinese customers. All of this does, of course, come at a price and it would be hard to get away with less than fifty pounds a head, not obviously cheap, but perhaps fair in a London context. One final piece of advice: if you go, then make sure to sit in the main room; the front bar area seemed to lack atmosphere and from there, Paddington's office blocks sadly loom into view.