The Blue Pelican

Zushi. What’s in a word? You say sushi. Chef says zushi. Gonna have to Google this one, yep.

There’s an obsessiveness here at The Blue Pelican, in all the right places, for all the right reasons, tiny details delivering big impact: within minutes of sitting down at the open kitchen counter I’m feeling confident that a meal here will be a very good thing indeed.

From the first sip of the limpid shimmering mushroom and Hojicha broth (Hojicha? Japanese roasted green tea, dontcha know), a deeply savoury boom of umami, silky and soothing, I’m charmed: the texture and weight of it, the depth, the smokiness…how is that possible? We buckle up for the ride.

Set in a seafront townhouse on the Kent coast in Deal, a stagger away from the cutesy Georgian terraces of the first Conservation Area in Kent (1968), that notes Middle Street and surrounds as of ‘architectural and historic importance’, the allure and attraction of the town now is hugely different to its smuggler-soaked reputation in the 17th to early 19th century – pirating, plundering of shipwrecks and general skulduggery was rife.

“Deal is a most villainous place. It is full of filthy looking people. Everything seems upon the perish”, wrote William Cobbett in his book Rural Rides while passing through in 1823. Today, you’ll be scrambling in a sealed bid scenario to secure one of those Grade II listed beauties behind The Blue Pelican.

Sushi to Zushi

Turns out that ‘sushi’ is a more general term when the variety is not specified, and I read that Head Chef Luke Jeffery-Green ‘doesn’t like things that aren’t specified’: obsessive attention to detail, right there. Battera Zushi’ is the dish in question, a form of box sushi with ‘battera’ referring to the boat-like shape of the sushi, rolled and pressed onto the rice and layered with chervil, made of diaphanous thinly sliced pickled bream. A layer of tomato ferment made with summer tomatoes from Luke’s garden is in the mix too. What else? White soy, mirin, red wine vinegar, the fish is pressed onto the rice while still in the box, flipped, and served in two joyful little slabs: one of the many humdingers on the menu.

Watching Midnight Diner is the closest I’ve come to going to Japan, watching brilliant little vignettes of Tokyo life as chef ‘master’ does his thing for a small group of diners each evening. Luke Jeffery-Green moves around the open kitchen with similar Zen-like calmness. Knife skills on show, intricate slicing and chopping, mesmersing Japanese cheffery. Focused intensity. Almost unnerving.

The Blue Pelican is a venture involving Jeffery-Green and co-owners of nearby boutique hotel The Rose, Chris Hicks and Alex Bagner, where Luke had previously cooked for five years after having spent five years cooking in Tokyo, meeting wife Miaki along the way. He had flexed his skills during lockdown with yakitori nights at The Rose, spawning the idea to open this Izakaya-esque  spot on the beach front.

Premier Pickles

The pickles, my goodness the pickles. Cucumber is given a flourish of katsuobushi, the smoked fermented bonito flakes more often seen waving and weaving a dance on top of okonomiyaki Japanese pancakes: the smoky counterpoint of the pickle is eye-wideningly good. The recipe is one learnt from Miaki’s mother. There are gorgeous mounds of pickled daikon with purple shiso and salted preserved cherry blossom leaves; plump shiitake mushrooms playing a funk with sherry vinegar and honey; pickled kohlrabi that has spent time in fermented rice bran, seasoned with mirin and sugar, with seaweed and chilli for another layer: labour of love obsessiveness.

Chicken Tsukune is a nailed on ‘Hero Dish’: torpedo shaped skewer of minced chicken balanced on top of a hedgehog and sherry broth, the mushrooms pickled in fermented honey, sherry and bay, the melange carrying the same depth-charge impact as that opening sip: kapow.

The rip-roaring Japanese-inspired menu has plenty of skewer joy coming off the tiny charcoal grill. Lamb hearts with a citrus spark of bergamot zest; chicken thigh with dabs of perky cured green tomato; pork collar and preserved greengage; glazed ox tongue and shiso; blushing slices of dry-aged rump cap with Tokyo turnips, top-notch meat from the estimable Oxtale butcher in nearby Kingsdown. A first visit sees us devouring stuffed and fried chicken wings, plump and juicy from their filling of minced pork , shiso and squid, a crisp carapace launching it into stellar drinking food.

Tonkatsu Moves

The larger sharing dishes need back-up assistance to take down, if you’ve already waded through every single one of the smaller plates: which you must. Tonkatsu is a fiersomely presented huge piece of pork cutlet, rustling with its panko coating and served with the fine crimson mottled Castelfranco lettuce and sesame dressing. Grilled squid coming off the grill is rather outrageous, beautifully presented in shimmering slices, stuffed with minced pork, pearly barley and chanterelle mushrooms – it’s in ‘let’s order another immediately’ territory.

Other visits kick off with homemade sesame tofu served with daikon tops, delicately nutty, soothing. Smoked eel sitting atop tamagoyaki’ rolled Japanese omelette (flashback memory of a Midnight Diner episode), topped with some snappy coastal herbs, is another hit: smoky and subtle. Delica pumpkin with lacy tempura, sprinkled with bottarga and ready to be smooshed through a smear of black sesame: yep yep. Raw dry-aged sea bass and clementine is a cleansing charmer.

Grand Cru Rice

Slabs of fried sushi rice, with another flourish of bottarga and raw fish, gets us talking about…..rice. I’m with a chef pal and colleague, Harry, who ends up cooing about how good the plain rice is in the clay pot Donabe of roast chestnut and rainbow chard, and asks for extra rice, just to have on its own: “great quality rice, properly cooked”, he says. “Fluffy light chew and delicate savouriness.” Those details again. Rice obsessiveness? For sure. Grand Cru Rice.

Sharp drinks list with frozen beer glasses, a raft of sakes and Japanese whiskies, and a flab-free ‘all killer, no filler’  wine list from Uncharted Wines – razor edged music completes the scene. General Manager Elliot Hewitt runs a calm ship with a steady arm on the rudder, flipping between here and The Rose.

There’s a skip and jump about this place. Maybe it’s also something to do with the Yoga studio upstairs, doubling as the ‘wellness’ side of the business with private treatment rooms. The attention to detail and welcome obsessiveness from the kitchen has inspired a Rat-a-Tat-Tat of several visits, both solo and with pals – I’m hopping and skipping out on each occasion feeling merrier than when I walked in: the X-Factor magic trick for any restaurant to pull off. Job done. Nailed. Get in and repeat.

I now say Zushi, too.




The Blue Pelican

83 Beach Street



CT14 6JB