Latching onto the bubble tea craze, this Chinese restaurant is about as authentic as it gets in Central London – complete with menus written in Chinese.
The setup of Ice Pearl is simple. Apart from the cartoonish logo with lots of circles (bubbles, perhaps?) etched into the very windows, it’s easy to stroll right past and barely take note of its existence, despite it being a sprawling spot. The Chinese writing and menus posted just outside are colourful and eyecatching. Inside, however, it’s a rather dull affair with neat rows of wooden tables and chairs and downlighting. The colour scheme is neutral and it’s the kind of spot that lets the food and – more importantly – the drink do the talking.
It’s a good sign that Ice Pearl attracts such a large Chinese contingent in its clientele, clearly enjoying the authentic Chinese food. Although it’s based a stone’s throw from the British Museum, in the heart of Bloomsbury, it’s not as touristy as it might be – probably because it doesn't look geared up to attract the tourist market. The staff are friendly and welcoming with an excellent knowledge of the menu, and they don’t seem too annoyed if you want to ask lots of questions about what’s on offer.
Although the setup of the menu is similar to any one of a hundred other Chinese restaurants in Central London (you know the drill, overpriced set menus followed by pages – and pages – of dishes) they have clearly gone for a more inventive edge. Even the soups sound exciting… Buddha Jump Over the Wall soup, anyone? No? How about pigeon with snow fungi (£8.80)? If you want to keep it simple then the choice is well priced with many dishes coming in at around £10, rising to £25 for dishes that contain lobster – an ingredient they make a big deal of on the menu. The hot-pots (£10.80) sound delicious with options like pork belly with preserved vegetable or lamb belly with yuba, although if you only want to have a nibble then the appetisers do the trick. The crisp, well spiced vegetable spring rolls are under 3 quid, and the sweet, tender honey roast pork on skewers is just £2.90 for two generous pieces. And, of course, the crisp Thai prawn crackers are a must. Priced at £1.80 they are far superior to any cheap Chinese takeaway crackers you’ll have ever tasted.
Bottled beer, including a very unusual Saki Gekkeikan, a handful of bottles of wine (starting at just over a tenner), liqueurs, juice, coffee. Yes, yes, all very nice. However, you’d have to be mad – yes, mad – to ignore their menu highlight: the bubble tea (or ‘ice pearl’, after which the restaurant is named). They make a big deal of it on their menu and in the window of the restaurant, hoping to draw you in, and it is no idle boast. Basically, it’s sweetened iced tea with a flavouring, but that’s really doing their selection any justice. For £3.30, it’s cheaper than a frappucino and so much better. You can go for a stronger version, like the black tea with milk, which tastes strongly of tea with a rich creaminess that lingers in the mouth. It also comes with coffee instead of tea. Or you can go with a sweeter option like the honey melon with coconut juice. Sweet mixes with creamy for a decadent dessert-like drink along the same lines as the Indian lassi. Drink it. Drink it now.
The Last Word
It may not be much to look at, but the authenticity of Ice Pearl is enough to win it some serious points. And that’s before you even see the bubble tea.