Last Updated on April 26, 2021 by Fiona Maclean
Dining Out in (al-fresco) Style – Cora Pearl, Henrietta Street.
Just after the last lockdown when dining al-fresco was the only option, we went along to Henrietta Street in Covent Garden to check out The Oystermen. One of those restaurants I’d been meaning to try, you’ll find a pescaterian’s dream menu with various shellfish on offer, including fresh crab served by weight together with a few other cooked fishy options. Cora Pearl next door was closed, though the far end of Henrietta Street was buzzing. We were impressed by the organisation – the street is temporarily a no-through-road and pretty planters marked the start and finish of a balanced place to eat and drink. While Soho seemed a social distancing nightmare at times, the Henrietta Street restaurants were beautifully set up, with glass panelling, neat tables for two, blankets and large parasols with heaters for those not-quite-warm-enough days which seem to punctuate April and May in England. And, I’m pleased to report that one or two of the restaurants which stayed closed last year have now reopened. Including Cora Pearl.
I’m not quite sure how I discovered that Cora Pearl would be open on 12th April, but, I didn’t bother to book and turned up on spec. Like all restaurants with outside space and the option of a reservation, they were fully booked. Even Flat Iron further down the street, which doesn’t take reservations, had an hour and a half minimum wait for a table. The cheery front of house team at Cora Pearl suggested we stayed for a drink to celebrate London’s re-opening.
There are two tables without parasols and heaters just in front of the restaurant which are used for just that. It would have been rude to say no and in the end we sat there for a couple of hours working our way through various ‘snacks’ and rather a lot of wine. But I had a serious case of food envy by then. We watched the organised folk with reservations dining out on some tantalising dishes and determined to return.
The following week, with a confirmed reservation in the diary, we were back. The best seat in the house (well, a corner table with a heater directly above it) perfectly positioned for people watching. It was easy to know where to start – with the same Crémant de Alsace Léon Beyer I’d enjoyed a week earlier.
In a fit of ‘we haven’t been out for ages’ we ordered all the snacks – a delicious tiny loaf of homemade soda bread and butter, crunchy salted almonds and a bowl of piquant green olives.
My companion won the prize for the prettiest starter – Asparagus Grebiche is a classic dish of seasonal green asparagus with a grebiche sauce (a creamy chilled concoction of mashed up hard boiled egg yolks and tiny chunks of egg with various herbs and pickles). Picture perfect, it definitely had the wow factor.
My ham and cheese toastie was a little more substantial than I had expected. You could probably order that and a bowl of the crab bisque and have quite enough for lunch. Or have I just got out of practise? Deliciously buttery toasted bread with a crisp shell filled with a rich mornay laced with ham, this was a lot posher than the one I make at home. And SO nice to have someone else cooking and serving the food!
Keeping the self-indulgence going, I ordered the Cora Pearl Cheeseburger with a side of chips, while my companion picked the altogether healthier Pea and Wild Garlic Risotto which arrived beautifully plated. I stole a mouthful of what was a perfectly executed, fragrant spring risotto and determined that I’d need to return again.
My Cheeseburger though, was exactly what I wanted. I’ve stolen the details from their instagram. A Swaledale butchers Yorkshire beef patty, flame-grilled to perfection, with lots of melted Highmoor cheese from Nettlebed Cheese, pickles, lettuce & burger sauce. I’m a sucker for a great burger – and this was spot on.
As for the chips – the Cora Pearl version are those immaculate oblongs of potato with crunchy exterior and lovely fluffy middles.
We probably shouldn’t have ordered quite so many nibbles to start because by this stage I was full and craving another portion of the Blood Orange Frangipane Tart I’d enjoyed previously. Instead, we drank coffee and reflected that this was exactly the right kind of experience to come back to.
There’s plenty of choice if you fancy dining on Henrietta Street and I can heartily recommend all three I’ve tried recently. Cora Pearl is the perfect place for a relaxed menu of Bistro dishes with a twist. The service was immaculate and the wine list ample. You could take a date, your parents or even have a business lunch there.
What more could you want? Well, as previously mentioned, The Oystermen is also open – and is another place I want to try again. Our third recommendation on Henrietta Street is the terrace menu at Frenchie. our experience of dining indoors pre-lock-down was superb and we are sure the well laid out terrace will be just as good. For drinks and lighter dining French style, it’s worth trying Lady of the Grapes around the corner on Maiden Lane. You’ll find a concise menu of charcuterie, cheese and more – and an extensive hand picked wine list with a focus on female wine makers.
30 Henrietta Street
London WC2E 8NA