Cora Pearl is the new, and second, restaurant from the people who made Kitty Fisher’s in Shepherd Market, Mayfair. Kitty Fisher was a celebrated 18th–century courtesan, as the saying goes, and Cora Pearl, whose shrine is in Covent Garden, was likewise the happy and well-paid whore of myth. (Her real name was Emma Crouch, she was from Ply-mouth and she died broke and working as a common prostitute, with not a pearl, if you will, to her name.) I suppose the raging second-wave feminist in me should mind that fashionable restaurants are named for women whose daily work was so bitter and intimate I can’t even detail it here, and that is fair enough, because I am reviewing dead, not living flesh.
But feminism is a swiftly sinking ship and it has better — I mean worse — things to do than mind wealthy Londoners dining on the graves of an unfortunate woman who was very clear on how much she hated men. Especially the kind of men who could afford to take her to Cora Pearl. So I will swallow my tongue and not spend this whole review facetiously calling Cora Pearl Emma Crouch, though it is tempting. Inside Emma Crouch and all that. What for? It is possible, nay likely, I will meet a whole team from Amnesty International inside Cora Pearl. Everyone is pro-prostitution these days. It’s a human right. There’s even a word to describe those who are troubled by it: whore-phobic.
If you can ignore all this, Kitty Fisher’s is wonderful, and I recommend it. It is a black and red cave in which to eat red meat and yellow potatoes in cream, and not think too much about the present. It is another Brexit restaurant for time travellers. David Cameron ate there when he was happy, which seems a long time ago.
Cora Pearl, though, is a subdued and blueish restaurant on Henrietta Street, a row of handsome town houses falling ever more deeply into leisure destination. Covent Garden is ordinarily silent after midnight these days, and this is a minor tragedy in a city of minor tragedies. But at suppertime it is still full of tourists drinking and shopping, as if Covent Garden were another, slightly prettier branch of Westfield, and many of them are inside Cora Pearl.
We slide in. It doesn’t have the charisma of Kitty Fisher’s, which looks like a Hazlitt’s Hotel that serves food. (Hazlitt’s is great for consensual sex, if you can afford it.) Cora Pearl is more muted and slightly more contemporary, although it could hardly be less contemporary than Kitty Fisher’s, even if it wrote a novel, developed consumption and died pregnant in a parsonage in Yorkshire. There are green velvet banquettes and dark wooden floors, interesting prints of women lurking behind foliage and, everywhere, gloom from dangling lamps. I like this gloom, in which we eat an excellent British-French meal, presumably because Cora — who I am still calling Emma in my head, because you can’t stop me — slept with quite a lot of French men, including someone called, idiotically, the Duc de Morny, whom I am happy to name in print, even if he is dead and can’t possibly mind.
I have a good veal chop for £26 and my companion eats a pork and turnip dish for £22, which tastes much better than it sounds. It’s the sound ‘turnip’. I can’t do anything with it. The cheese and ham toastie, for £14, deserves to become a classic in fashionable restaurant circles, and the milk and cookies pudding and banoffee pie are likewise glorious. If I didn’t feel like I was eating inside a passive-aggressive homage to a long-dead woman’s economic imperatives — and pelvic floor — I could recommend it heartily.
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