Beautifully balanced ... Sea trout with clams, Merguez sausage, champagne cream and saffron. Photo: Harrison Saragossi
Bistro, cafe or fully-fledged diner? Despite the "cafe" part of its name, Pearl has always stubbornly resisted pigeonholing.
For some people, it is a quintessential Sunday brunch spot; for others a weekday coffee-and-cake stop.
Last year, owner Daniel Lewis added "The Servery" – an intimate little space upstairs (actually Lewis's former living quarters) where you can sit up at the chef's table and watch the action while grazing on a cheese or charcuterie platter. The room next door, meanwhile, has been converted to a convivial spot to head with a group of friends for share platters of roast dinners far fancier than most of our mums ever cooked. As you enter, look to the wall on the right and you will see the scorch marks that are evidence of the fire that nearly spelt the end of Pearl in 2009. There's also the very popular weekly "Beast and Beaujolais" evenings. It all feels very community minded and so very typical of a relaxed new style of dining out being enthusiastically embraced by Brisbane.
The Servery ... The upstairs area of Pearl Cafe has been converted to a dining area. Photo: Harrison Saragossi
There has been a new addition in the kitchen of late, with Eileen Horsnell of West End's Mondo Organics joining chef Dru Kokkinn. She is a natural fit really, with the Pearl menu always having a local/organic focus. They use Baramabah Organics dairy products, Bendele Farm chicken, Bee One third rooftop honey and locally baked Leavain bread and make many of their own sauces and preserves under the "Pearl Providore" brand.
Like its dining category, its decor is hard to pinpoint. With more of an aged patina, Pearl could have been dropped complete from a suburb in Paris. Or Rome or Budapest, for that matter. Certainly it feels European, eschewing the current garage-sale chic trend for classic chic. The building itself deserves nothing less. Circa 1889, it has a rich history and has been home to chemists, a grocery store and (as the famous sign still visible on its side proclaims) Moreton Rubber, a tyre manufacturer. Given the famously demolition-crazed government in the '70s and '80s, we are lucky to have her.
Pearl's menu is seasonal. Apart from what are inarguably the best breakfasts in town, the al la carte menu runs from noon until 3pm, then from 5pm. Any hunger pangs inbetween can be filled with salads and sandwiches, and some pretty fine cakes.
Historic buidling ... Pearl Cafe. Photo: Harrison Saragossi
I'm hoping the dish of sea trout with clams, Merguez sausage, champagne cream and saffron will still be available when the winter menu hits. It has just the right balance of fresh seafood and spice and is a great trans-seasonal lunch dish. The venison, I have no such compunctions farewelling. It appears to have either been taken on a short cut with its "slow cooking" or was just an unluckily tough piece of meat. It was lacking seasoning, sat on a too thick slab of sweet potato and had way too little jus. The crinkly kale, however was delicious.
The wine list holds no real surprises but is well pitched and well priced. There are also heaps of other options, from champagne by the glass to brunch cocktails, Taylor's of Harrogate Teas, milkshakes and citron presse.
Desserts such as baked baby brioche with Pearl's own preserves, and cream fraiche or almond and polenta cake with butternut pumpkin ice-cream and soft caramel are served from 5pm, but there are plenty of constantly changing cakes and tarts throughout the day as well as a well-made Genovese coffee.
The fig, espresso and white chocolate tart with creme fraiche. Photo: Harrison Saragossi
Pearl deserves its status as one of the most popular cafes in Brisbane. What it does so well and perhaps the secret to its relative longevity is its ability to adapt with the times quietly and without much fuss, keeping one step ahead, always without alienating anyone who loves Pearl just the way it is.
- 07 3392 3300
- Prices - Coffee $4.30; pulled pork, cabbage and caramelised onion toastie, $17; slow cooked octopus, tomato concasse, potato, roasted baby garlic $20; homemade potato gnocchi, manchego, burnt sage butter, kale, hazelnuts, $26; espresso tartlets, $7.
- Opening Hours - Tuesday to Saturday 7am till late; Sunday 8am till 1pm.
- Author - Natascha Mirosch