DESPITE the fact that we had four main courses and a heap of starters, I am going to stick my neck on the line here and say that Cantonese and Peking cuisine in Liverpool, in light of my experiences, provides me little to write home about.
Often it's a bit like the little girl who had the little curl - except when it's good, it's a relief; when it's bad, you know about it.
There is no delicate way of describing the overall bursting and swallowing sensation which won't get me into trouble
with the euphemism police
Yes, I know, you are going to beat me about the head over this, remind me that there are one or two exceptions. And, no matter what I say, you all still cite the Yuet Ben as a pinnacle of the form.
But on all the evidence gathered over the last few years, the difference between one sesame prawn toast and another spring roll often depends on which end of the supermarket freezer your kitchen porter happened to visit.
I am jaded by Jade Gardens. So only when anything happens, of note, on the Chinese restaurant scene here, am I going to mince, or shred, 800-900 of my words bothering you about it.
On first glance, there is even less to say about Cafe de Pearl, the latest Far Eastern offering on Bold Street, which opened in December. It occupies the space vacated by The Tea House, and it is dwarfed by its next door neighbour, Leaf - the street's big new arrival 11 months earlier.
It is the exact opposite in every way. Plastic red chairs, clamped to Formica tables, are in set rows. It is bright and stark, save for the lucky Chinese cat on a shelf up high. The feline bobs its paw offering good fortune and protection, a world away from the higher hand of security staff who offer similar to other establishments about.
And let's not get snooty. “We are all from chippies,” manager Jackie Tse tells us brightly, without any hint of, well, chippiness, as she sits us down at one of the spotless tables. "Not by the door, it's too cold".
So while you may expect little, you suspect much: for a start, somebody has taken a great deal of trouble to design its branding.
Starters for ten: Ten people
that isUnusually, Cafe de Pearl has translated its whole menu for the gwailo, so you may now take your pick of dishes like chicken feet broth and, without a hint of tourettes, “fuckein rice”.
"What's fuckein rice?" one of us asked while another covered the ears of the eight-year-old.
But the menu is not not CdP's USP. No, that is bubble tea.
From Taiwan, bubble tea is best described as a refreshing flavoured fruit or milk tea served ice cold or piping hot, with chewy natural tapioca or fruity jelly balls that you suck up through a fat straw.
The drink craze migrated across the Far East and the Pacific Rim. Now the Soho set can't get enough of them, with bubble tea bars bouncing up everywhere in the capital. The combinations are endless - see the menu pictured here. They are also called pearl teas – ah... now I getchya.
We try two (£2.90, 50p extra for add-ons): a lychee-on-pineapple balls number and an orange with mango balls.
There is no delicate way of describing the overall bursting and swallowing sensation which won't get me into trouble with the euphemism police.
Let us just say that they are every bit as wacky as they look and far more toothsome than the earlier description.
For the nervous, Cafe de Pearl also does a good line in Tsing Tao and traditional green tea which go with our platter of mixed starters (£7.50). This is a dish remarkable only for its sheer size. Intended for two, the barbecue ribs, the seaweed, the cuttlefish cakes, prawn toasts and spicy chicken sticks were ample for four.
Seafood Chow Mein
Deep fried squid (£3.00) was ordered to catch the kitchen out, but while its coating batter was on the flaccid side by the time it reached us, the shoal had been boiled in oil to exact standards.
Fillet steak satayThe seafood was much better in the chow mein (£6.50, main picture). With trees of verdant broccoli in abundance, it was an octopuses garden in which huge frescoes of squid meat, scallops and king prawns frolicked among the long grasses of swaying soft noodles.
Thai fried rice (£6.50) came on the recommendation of the waitress who had been grilled on her favourite dish. Full of cashews, more prawns, duck meat, chicken and more, the heady scent of coriander and lemongrass was added as standard and it wafted across the table to where another of us was indulging in a fillet steak satay (£7.00), an embarrassment of tender meat which contrasted perfectly with crunchy vegetables in a good, dark broth. Possibly the winning dinner? It was hard to call.
The youngest of the party would have disagreed. After his initial surprise, he manfully munched his way through an entire pile of pork belly crackling (from that formerly-exclusive Chinese menu), despite it looking exactly like the aftermath of an axeman's day out at the Ginster's factory.
The whole bill worked out at £12.50 a head, making it a bit of a find.
That's 850-ish words of why you might go.
Four more? A dive for pearls.
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ALL SCORED CONFIDENTIAL REVIEWS ARE IMPARTIAL. Critics dine unannounced and the company picks up their bills - never the restaurant, never a PR company.
Cafe de Pearl
69 Bold Street,
0151 707 2088.
Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, cafes against the best cafes. Following on from this the scores represent: 1-5 saw your leg off and eat it; 6-9 get a DVD; 10-11 if you must; 12-13 if you’re passing; 14-15 worth a trip; 16-18 very good to exceptional; 19-20 As good as it gets.