Pearls & Caviar - Ode to the green pea.

An evening out at the trendy Pearls & Caviar the other night brought something interesting to my mind's attention. The pea is a bit of an anomaly. For years it has taken a back seat to so many other vegetables for numerous reasons: It can't come close to broccoli when it comes to health benefits. The French bean trumps it in crunchiness. The potato is much more versatile. The tomato, finally, is so good that both the fruit and the vegetable are trying to claim it. And of course who has the patience to scoop them up with a fork?

A growing favourite.

I was, therefore,  surprised when my entree arrived in the usual sleek manner that is so Pearls & Caviar. For my main I had ordered the Mediterranean sea bass "a la plancha" (pan fried) with creamy seafood risotto. While the pea is certainly a most welcome ingredient in risotto, I have seldom seen it take centre stage the way it did in this beautiful display. Chef de Cuisine Simon Attridge, who has been with Pearls & Caviar for 6 months, has certainly done an incredible job since the departure of the super-talented Chef of the year, Cyril Calmet to Bord Eau. It is as if in one dish, peas had been elevated from the ruins of incidental vegetables. Yes, there is new evidence to suggest that peas have great value, but come on. They are peas! One of the problems with peas is that they are either overcooked or undercooked. I am sure you have had the experience all too often with frozen peas just being horribly cooked.  Peas generally lend themselves to brief sautéing, for example, because they are so small, so I can never understand when it is badly cooked. However, on this occasion the peas were cooked just the right way. And who said that peas have no taste? It is delicate, but that is what makes it a perfect accompaniment to this dish.

The dish that inspired a thousand words.

The dish I had was a celebration of subtlety in flavour that worked so well. The lobster broth, the Scottish salmon and the gorgeous shrimps brought in from Vietnam were countered by the sea bass where the skin had a delicate salty taste. Furthermore, the beauty of the presentation was that with the sea bass and peas on top, you did not quite know what was in the risotto. It reminded me of being a  child, opening up a lucky dip ( a bag with a surprise toy inside) and beaming. Except this time, I was not beaming, but closing my eyes and inwardly smiling as I savoured the salmon and shrimps, which in themselves were wonderful contrasts in taste and texture.  Now imagine this mixed with the creamy broth, rice and of course the lightly crispy skin and the tender flesh of the sea bass, and last but not least, the peas...delectable.

And this is what I find exciting about Pearls & Caviar. There is an adventurous approach to dishes that sets it apart from other seafood restaurants in the city. The clever use of peas on the sea bass is a metaphor for an unpredictable and courageous approach to dishes. It shows a chef who is willing to surprise and astound with his combinations. It is more than a seafood restaurant. Indeed the Mediterranean influence is clearly evident if you look at the menu: truly eclectic. I will now view peas differently. No longer do they have to be overlooked. As I write this I am trying to imagine my entree without the peas, but I can't.

The pea is welcomed back in a big way, and I look forward to future Pearls & Caviar visits where my preconceived notions and comforts will be thrown upside down. Life is too short to stick to the familiar trodden culinary road, something shown so emphatically at Pearls & Caviar!

The low down
Starters  35-175 Dhs
Entrees 105-370 Dhs
Desserts 35 Dhs

Pearls & Caviar
Shangri-la, between the bridges
Abu Dhabi
02 5098777