The email confirming our reservation to Pearls on the Beach said: “Hi, Thanks for your enquiry. We can accommodate you on Saturday at 12pm. Just to let you know, it's a really busy day already with 2 groups of 15 guests and 3 groups of 9, so just want you to know that it may be a pretty lively dining room and naturally therefore, it could be noisy”. And went on to offer an alternative on the next day.
That’s what I call service. We went ahead anyway, prepared to enjoy the vibe. And, on the day, two of the larger groups cancelled.
It’s a gem of a place, a pearl among a pirate’s treasure chest of street names, with a real beach house atmosphere. Step off the veranda and your toes sink into sand. For 15 years Melissa and Scott Fox have been wowing locals, food critics and holiday makers with their innovative food, great location and attentive service. They’ve maintained their one chef hat in the SMH Good Food Guide since 2016.
The food swings from east to west. Seared sea scallops get a kick from fiery kimchi; cashew cream, cucumber and pickled kohlrabi provide a cool contrast. Fork tender octopus segments on splodges of melitzanosalata and Greek yoghurt interspersed with smears of black lemon-squid ink vinaigrette, oregano oil and powdered chilli is a symphony of sensory contrasts; texture, colour and taste. This Greek inspired dish is a stand out.
Calabria (spicy nduja, a spreadable pork salami) meets Syria (muhammara) in meltingly tender, but rich, pork jowl with confit black garlic, rosemary puree and grilled cabbage.
There’s more Italian influence with three free-form ricotta and pea tortellini, pickled mushrooms, charred onion with mushroom brodo poured over, the pea flavour underscored by fresh peas and pea tendrils; and pumpkin ‘parmy’ – a patty of panko coated, fried pumpkin, smoked Portobello mushrooms, tomato ragu, provolone and pepita puree.
A quenelle of duck rillettes with prune puree and charred bread, is pure French, the herb, caper, pickled onion and gherkin salad cutting through the rich duck. There’s even a nod to Scandinavia in small cubes of cured salmon and roast beetroot (cubed pieces and puree), red cabbage and mustard gel, topped with bitter radicchio. And ‘Bonox glazed quail, walnut salsa, roast tamarillo, petit cavalo nero’? Could this be referencing Aussie multiculturalism? Whatever, the crisp-skinned boned quail goes down a treat. If all this seems like a lot of food, rest assured. We were four and all the dishes were small plates, of which we tried all but one. The restaurant recommends three smalls and a dessert or one small, one main and one dessert. We didn’t even consider a main, the smalls looked so interesting.
‘Lime and hazelnut delicious, hazelnut gelato, hazelnut and chocolate soil’ was the only slight disappointment in an otherwise faultless meal; a little too much lime delicious and the hazelnut and chocolate struck a jarring note with the lime. Far better is the ‘Black sesame sponge, ice cream and halva, puffed rice, blackberry curd and gel, hibiscus meringue’; whisper light sponge, creamy ice cream and curd, jewel bright gel and crunchy meringue. Perfect.
Years ago, I reviewed this for the SMH Good Food Guide. What I said then hasn’t changed: “It’s all pretty gutsy; a far cry from any image of pearls and twinsets.”
- What: Pearls on the Beach; 1 Tourmaline Avenue, Pearl Beach; 4342 400; firstname.lastname@example.org
- Chef/owners: Scott and Melissa Fox
- Wines: Eclectic list from premium regions in Australia, Europe and NZ.
- Hours: Thursday-Sunday for lunch and dinner. Lunch Thursday and Friday $50pp including a glass of wine, until July 20.
- Vegetarian etc: Three smalls
- Bottom line: Smalls, $24/$25 each, large, $44/45 each, desserts, $18 each.
- Do try: Octopus, melitzanosolata, Greek yoghurt, lemon-ink vinaigrette, oregano oil, chilli
- Wheelchair accessibility: Excellent.