Find Bourke Street’s Midcity Centre – a tired-looking arcade mixing retail shops with hair salons, phone repair stores and a ramen joint or two – and take the escalator to level one. Look immediately to your right and spot a singular circular sign floating next to a fluorescent ceiling light and fire hose reel. It’s all exceedingly unassuming, but that’s kind of the point. Because behind the curved wooden door is one of the most exquisite fit-outs I have seen in a while.
“People thought I was crazy to put this much investment into this space,” says owner Jeremy Schinck. Schinck is also the owner of Pinchy’s, a lobster and champagne bar that occupies the adjacent room and peach-hued balcony. In fact, the only other entrance to Pearl is through a pink, fluted glass door directly from Pinchy’s. Once you make it over the threshold, you’ll understand what Schinck means about a large investment into what can only be described as a very small space.
In its previous life, Pearl was a nail salon. There are no windows, the ceilings are low, and you’ll have to walk in single file to fit between the bar and sidewall banquettes. But instead of feeling at all claustrophobic, it feels exclusive – almost like being backstage somewhere. If Pinchy’s is pink and kitsch, Pearl is gilded and luxurious.
The concept and design of the venue are all inspired by Jeremy and his wife Samara’s obsession (and I do mean obsession) with oysters. Crushed velvet stools and the waved underside of the bar are in ocean tones, and circular wall sconces set alight the gold accents and mineral shades of the marble benchtop – as if colour-matched exactly to an oyster shell. Even the butter is served in pats the shape of (yep, you guessed it) an oyster.
And if you thought lobster and Champagne was nature’s greatest pairing, you’d be wrong. Chablis, compared to locally produced chardonnay, is grown in limestone-rich terroir in France, which is literally enriched by fossilised oyster shells. Somehow, you can actually taste this. The saline, mineral characteristics of these wines bring out the complexity in the shellfish. It’s pretty close to perfect.
You’ll predominantly find rock oysters at Pearl. Schinck travelled the country meeting with growers to find the best of the best and learning how to transport and store them. The wine fridges behind the bar? They’re not full of wine. Oysters are kept at the exact same temperature as the water where they grow. This helps preserve their merroir – like terrior, but for seafood (mer = sea in French) – a tangible sense of place dictated by water temperature, algae, currents, tides and seafloor minerals.
The menu does extend to some select other options. Siberian or Russian sturgeon caviar is served by the gram, or in a brioche sandwich with cured, confit egg yolk. Or for a mere $1,450, pre-order the Pearl Caviar Experience to receive a whole butter-poached southern rock lobster with 200 grams of caviar inside. Duck liver parfait, beef tartare and sea bream crudo are also on offer if your budget is a little more... reasonable.
Luke Campbell of Vinified is the sommelier responsible for the comprehensive wine list, featuring the largest selection of chablis in the world. His expert selection allows you to taste the nuances of the chablis hierarchy, from petite to grand cru appellations, in tandem with oysters sourced from all over the country. It’s an experience that is as delicious as it is illuminating. You’re guaranteed to leave with a heightened appreciation for the pairing, delivered directly to you du sol à l’âme (from soil to soul).