Lotus Group’s mission to bring together Chinese recipes and native Australian ingredients has been a winning combination, leading to the opening of dumpling destinations all over the CBD, in Double Bay and the inner west. Now, the group’s expanding with the launch of Pearl, bringing a refined take on Cantonese dining to Circular Quay this September.
“Our other restaurants serve a variety of Chinese cuisines, [including] Cantonese and Shanghai,” executive chef Steve Wu tells Broadsheet. “But, for foreigners, it can be hard to tell the difference. At Pearl, we want to show people high-end Cantonese.”
Wu and culinary director Cheung Shui Yip, a Hong Kong native, designed the menu around the “three main elements” of Cantonese fare: dim sum, barbeque and seafood. Among the dim sum will be prawn dumplings, bean curd rolls and radish cakes. But, for Wu, it’s the steamed mud crab xiao long bao that’s really special. “The mud crab comes from Darwin,” he says. “We peel it by hand, then mix it with house-made pork-skin jelly, then hand roll it.”
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King of the barbeque menu is likely to be the roasted pork belly. Wu sources free-range pork from Borrowdale, Queensland, before spending three days passing it through 10 different cooking methods, including marination in rock salt and Chinese spices. The succulent-on-the-inside-crisp-on-the-outside result is served with crackling and house-pickled riberry, a native Australian fruit with a fresh tang and slightly spicy flavour. Another meaty dish that has Wu excited is the Peking duck. He marinates duck from France’s Grimaud region in salt, cooks it slowly, then – for a perfect crackly skin – finishes it at a high temperature. “The thickest, tastiest part is the breast, which we cut into tiny squares and serve with sugar for dipping,” he says. “It’s like a very nice, crispy waffle.”
When it comes to seafood, a hallmark of Cantonese cuisine is big cuts. Pearl will be serving premium Australian seafood – including Tasmanian lobster and West Australian coral trout – with a choice of sauces, such as ginger-shallot and typhoon shelter (a chilli and garlic number referencing the small fishing boats it was first served on, which would take shelter during rough weather events). “But most people order XO,” he says. “First, we prepare the dried prawn and dried scallop by steaming it for an hour, then add it to the oil with finely chopped chilli, garlic and onion, then cook it very slowly. It’s really, really aromatic.”
To match these dishes, the group’s head sommelier Karen Dollimore has put together an approachable – yet 200-strong – wine list, stacked with well-known varietals. There’s also an enticing cocktail menu, with both classics and twists like the Juana Spritz, which mixes Grey Goose with lychee liqueur, grapefruit and lemon, and the Kino Negroni, which adds Lotus’s own mandarin gin to Campari, vermouth and chocolate bitters.
Come opening date, the best seats in the house will be those on the balcony, where the sun pours in on clear days and there’s room for 30 overlooking the Harbour Bridge. Indoors, diners can also enjoy views of the bridge through a retractable glass wall – from the comfort of a banquette or high bar seating in the centre of the room.
Pearl is scheduled to open at Shop R1013, 50 Bridge Street, Circular Quay in mid-September.