William Sitwell reviews The Blue Pelican, Deal: ‘Simply presented, it swirls with thoughtful rigour’

The service is a sign of how far hospitality has come in the UK, says Sitwell
The service is a sign of how far hospitality has come in the UK, writes Sitwell - Seth Carnill

The pebble-beach shoreline of Deal seemed a bleak prospect. ‘Is Deal worth visiting?’ reads Google’s top-ranking question about the town, to which the answer on a wet and blustery day is an assured, ‘No!’

There’s the fading paint on the abandoned Royal Leisure Centre, off a high street laden with discount shops. Meanwhile, on the beach, a hardy few erect little pyramidal tents and shelter in them while their fishing lines stand proud in the wind, waiting for a tug of some kind.

But among all this I found a gem of warmth and welcome. The Blue Pelican, owned by the wife and husband team behind the acclaimed local hotel The Rose, is on the ground floor of a handsome town house, with a smattering of tables and an L-shaped counter around the open kitchen. It’s a neat little cooking set-up around an old hearth, with an impressive set of knives on one wall. The decor is a seaside-fresh mix of blues, whites and wood, and the service is assured and professional. The sort of service (I’ve mentioned before) that I’d like to parade around Britain to say, ‘Look, this is how it’s done. This is marvellous, proud, professional and a sign of how far hospitality has come in the UK.’

The food at The Blue Pelican is Japanese-influenced so you’ll see a menu filled with words you might not understand, like ‘soromame’, ‘tamagoyaki’, ‘tsukune’, ‘koji’ and ‘ochazuke’, but fear not, you’re in good hands – the head chef is Luke Green, a man of calm and quiet endeavour, who spent five years in Japan. He’ll give you the lowdown on these dishes if you so desire; otherwise just order loads and dive in.

Head chef Luke Green spent five years in Japan
Head chef Luke Green spent five years in Japan - Seth Carnill

My lunch started with a warming broth of mushroom and hojicha, which is a green tea. It had a stir of mirin – a type of rice wine – which, to me, rendered the broth a touch too sweet.

Mushroom and hojicha broth
Mushroom and hojicha broth - Seth Carnill

There was sweetness too, this time more palatable, in tamagoyaki (a rolled omelette) with tender, delicious eel on top. Then a diversion, miles from Japan, via two croquettes of reblochon cheese and Bayonne ham. These were utterly gorgeous: rich, soft-centred golden-crusted balls, topped with melting ham and accompanied by the bitter crunch of a chicory leaf. They would sweep the board at a canapé convention, get gold at the 2024 World Croquette Contest and, dining solo, I was aahing and oohing in such a way that people might have thought I needed medical attention.

Tamagoyaki (smoked eel)
Tamagoyaki with smoked eel

A dish of raw mackerel with torched skin was more challenging, more topic for discussion (a complex topic for a symposium, granted, rather than crowd-pleasing); it delivered a mix of textures, with crisp skin, soft, oily flesh, swirls of daikon (Asian radish) and oil.

The next couple of courses proved chef Luke’s talent for matching his Tokyo skills with Kent’s coastal produce. Cuttlefish, which is like squid for beginners, came on wooden skewers and was rendered golden on the outside by flame, with soft, white flesh, some cavolo nero for crunch and a deeply rich XO sauce, one of those magic Asian ingredients made with shrimp, garlic, chilli peppers and oil which, added modestly by an expert, adds an umami burst of flavour that makes you do Roger Moore eyebrow-raising expressions.

Cuttlefish, cavolo nero and XO sauce
Cuttlefish, cavolo nero and XO sauce

Asparagus, meanwhile, was a beacon of joy and perfection: al dente spears, with melting koji (a salty, floral form of fungus) butter and a scatter of charcoal dust.

Asparagus with butter
Asparagus with butter

The Blue Pelican, simply presented, swirls with thoughtful rigour. A rather fabulous achievement. In Deal.

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